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Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Nice work if you can get it


If you've attended every single one of the UNFCCC's Conference's of the Parties since the first in 1995, you'll have visited:
Berlin, Germany
Geneva, Switzerland
Kyoto, Japan
Buenos Aires, Argentina
Bonn, Germany
The Hague, Netherlands
Bonn again (lol!)
Marrakech, Morocco,
New Delhi, India
Milan, Italy
Buenos Aires again
Montreal, Canada
Nairobi, Kenya
Bali, Indonesia
Poznan, Poland
Copenhagen, Denmark
Cancun, Mexico
Durban, South Africa
And joy of joys, the next one will take you to Qatar in the Middle East, where the temperatures late in the year will be in the upper twenties Celsius (good thing it won't happen in July, when 41 degrees is the daily average high). In 2005, Qatar had the highest per capita carbon emissions, at 55.5 tons, so COP18 will take place right in the hot-spot in many ways. Women can legally drive in Qatar, which will make life easier for delegates, but for NGOs and protesters, be aware that the death penalty is used 'mainly for threats against national security'.
Nice work if you can get it. A sort of temperature-tourism. All paid for by taxpayers. (In Durban's case, stories surfaced in the immediate aftermath of COP17 teasing out exactly how many millions of tourist dollars the moveable feast had brought to Durban, as delegates ate, drank and bought the obligatory soapstone carvings and beadwork necklaces.)
How long will this circus continue to roam the world? What happened in Durban constitutes a grave threat to the world: we are simply not going to get it together fast enough to deal with anthropogenic global warming. But, as one person said to me, it's "the only game in town". How else, she askedf, are we supposed to get governments and business and all to negotiate and take action?
I believe it's time to deflate the circus tent and take away the clown's unicycle. Change has almost always happened because a groundswell of the people wishes it, not because governments or other major roleplayers do.
Governments have a very short time-horizon: they're looking to the next election. Some corporates have an even shorter one, but in the fossil fuel game, it is quite often longer - if you're mining a seam of coal, you may have to plan for a life of twenty years and up; coal-fired power stations are in operation for forty years and more. But that's not as long as yours and mine: our time horizon should only begin to fade away as our great-grandchildren utter their first cries.
So we need to pick up the reins of power and tell them what we want. We want food, clean water, clean air, health and a stable climate for ourselves and our seed. That is not a political goal: it's one that virtually every person, of every stripe, can share, whether you're a conservative or a radical lefty, Ba'hai or Roman Catholic, farmer or retail assistant.
How can we do this? It will take creativity and guts and commitment, but it can be done - there are examples in history to inspire us. I will be thinking a lot on these lines in the days ahead, and will share my thoughts here. ("Is there anybody out there?" Pink Floyd)

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