A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to +3°C or the Year in Climate Change Politics


On Thursday night about 500 people gathered in a Vigil for Survival, placing their hopes for the world in 2050 under candles at the end of the service. Photo: Matthew McDermott

When Barack Obama was elected I, like many people in the United States, placed many hopes in him in terms of climate change policy. Intellectually I knew he was constrained by the office of the presidency, by congress, but all his choices for prominent policy positions indicated he was serious about climate, serious about environment. Indeed, compared to the previous White House tenant, it is indeed night and day. But the last year has shown that, in many ways, it's a still a rather cloudy day:US Still Doesn't Quite Get the Serious of Climate Change
Obama showed up in Copenhagen today and spoke to an audience, both in the plenary hall and to we reporters without, all waiting with bated breath. Those of us not in the room itself huddled together around television monitors waiting, in vain it turns out, for some sign that the United States would change its still de facto obstructionist position on climate change.

It seems the nation that is the world's second largest emitter of greenhouse gases, and foremost consumer of natural resources, can't get out from underneath the pile of money oil and coal industry lobbyists have shoveled on top of it and take meaningful action on climate change.

On Thursday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton proclaimed with a straight face the US's proposed emission reductions: 17% below 2005 levels by 2020. We've known these for some time, watching the climate bill laboriously move their way through the House and Senate. But never mind that.

Never mind that the rest of the world uses a baseline of 1990 levels. Never mind that when recalibrated to that baseline, the US is pledging a 3-4% reduction, depending on how you want to round fractions. Never mind that the world's leading climate scientists say ten time those reductions are needed to head off sealing in 3-4°C temperature rise, even though G8 nations agreed that 2°C was the correct goal (even lower would be better) back in August at their meeting in Italy; and that those higher temperature rise figures seal the doom for hundreds of thousands, millions, of poor people in Latin America, Africa and Asia.

Forget all that. The United States is committed to leading the world on climate change and all that holds that back is China not being quite transparent enough when it comes to its own climate change efforts. Yeah, right.

Dirty money aside, how did we get into this position?
Was it just the unfortunate fact that the United States locked its own horns around a debate about healthcare that the rest of the developed world settled nearly half a century ago? I have to say that, contrary to received wisdom, it doesn't entirely ring true.

I'm tempted to say it's national psychosis, frankly. A pimple on our collective brain, one which continues to push pollution off to the future, continues to assume some bit of technology will come to the rescue, some financial mechanism raising the money. And ignoring that, just perhaps, we have a very basic problem with our relationship to the natural world; with the amount of natural resources we consider entirely necessary for a comfortable life; with humanity's place in the cosmos.

Climate Change is But Symptom of Greater Problem
George Monbiot laid it out accurately three days ago at the Fresh Air Center: Our problem is that, and I'm referring to the every nation now (perhaps save Bhutan and its Gross National Happiness), we continue to cling to the notion that more is better, bigger is better, economies can keep expanding disregarding ecological limits -- when in fact optimum efficiency is often less than maximum efficiency when it comes to business sizes and communities, smaller and specialized is better than one size fits no one, and that the scale of human civilization is such that prior economic theory no longer holds valid (if it ever really did, from an ecological perspective).

Yesterday Gordon Brown, in touting the same $100 billion in climate financing Hillary Clinton did later in the day, he spoke of nations being able to avail themselves of high economic growth without high carbon growth. He failed utterly, as every head of state seems to, that it is high economic growth itself that is the problem, of which rising greenhouse gas emissions and climate change is but a symptom, that is the problem. Increasing ecological throughput, beyond the rate of natural replenishment, that is the problem.

In slightly more simple terms, it is growing ecological footprints of both individuals and nations that is the problem. We are depleting the natural capital that is the grand trust fund laid down for us in previous millennia.

Let's Hope I'm Proven Wrong...
Whoa... whither climate politics in 2009? Ultimately, as various Oxfam spokespeople have been saying the gap between science and conscience with political reality has not narrowed appreciably in the past year. There's been some movement on climate financing in the past 24-48 hours, but that's it.

I hope I am proven horribly wrong in the next hour, as the rumor mill says Obama is about to have a press conference. Any guesses on what shade of greenwash has been chosen.

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Tags: Global Climate Change | Global Warming Solutions

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