Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Disconnects in Copenhagen Talks

I admit I have not been doggedly following the Climate Conference in Copenhagen, choosing instead to dip in now and then, hoping to pore over the conclusions on the 19th, or so, after it all ends.
What seems to be grabbing headlines this week is the nightmare in logistics - too many concerned lining up for too few conference-center seats - and the resulting riots and arrests. (I imagine only NGOs, comprised of brave and arrestable young folk, are those being dragged into paddy wagons by the Danish police, not governmental delegates.)
I was dismayed this morning to see that the head of the Conference, Danish Environment Minister, Connie Hedegaard, resigned her post (why?), and was replaced by Prime Minister Lars Rasmussen. I know little about him except his rightwing views. That doesn't bode well in these talks, where rightwing, bottom-line policies seem to hold sway.
Climate Change Disconnect # 1: when trying to draft an international CO2-reduction agreement, the emphasis remains stubbornly fixed on economics over ecology.
Whether the whiners are climate change activists or deniers, their main contention sounds like a warped mantra: how much is this going to COST?
Too many politicians are in thrall to Big Business and dare not make a false move lest they upset the people pulling the strings. Even Obama has been talking out of both sides of his mouth: delivering soothing lines about our grandchildren's future with one breath, and uttering noncommittal sound bites with another.
Not too surprisingly, ecology gets forgotten - the oh-so-fragile web of life affected by rising temperatures and other physical phenomena. In some cases it's culpable ignorance or outright defiance. In others, it's a plain lack of scientific literacy (something Obama, to his credit, has addressed - if only in a R&D context.)
The NY Times Dot Earth blogger, Andrew Revkin, today points out
Climate Change Disconnect #2: the absence of any mention of overpopulation.
It's easy to blame cars and other CO2 emitters with the blanket of heat-trapping gas around the globe. But how do you suppose it got quite so out of hand? There are no evil elves belching smog from the center of the Earth. The number of human beings on the planet correlates with the the number of cars, factories, intensive farming operations, and coal-fired power plants. The best way to minimize the growth of problem areas is to minimize the need for them in the first place - by limiting population growth.
The first Disconnect hits us in the wallet. The second Disconnect hits us where we live. Two enormous taboos clutter the road to a sustainable future.


  1. Way back, some twenty years ago, I read Paul Ehrlich's _Population Bomb_, for a college English class. So, this has been on my personal radar for a couple of decades. (Interestingly, I don't recall Al Gore mentioning population, except obliquely, in Inconvenient Truth.)

    We've been running up quite a debt over the generations, though. While record-high temperatures happen with increasing frequency, and still more of Greenland falls away, we still struggle to correct our ingrained wicked ways.

    Still, I continue to feel hopeful that we will "right this ship," before it's too late for us.

  2. Thanks for the comment, Eduardo.
    I don't remember Gore saying anything about population, either. I guess he figured he was skating on thin ice already! The caution paid off with Oscar and Nobel.
    We have to be hopeful, if only for our personal and collective mental health (who does anything when hopeless?). But we cannot allow hope to turn to complacency. Too many people are content to let other people do the hard work.
    Population always seems to be "someone else's problem." I hate to say it, but if more couples were a little less short-sighted and hopeful, then fewer would choose to bring another child or two into the world. (They could still be parents by adopting one or more already here.) Nature tries to get every animal to reproduce, not only by using the obvious tricks, but by shutting down pessimism! (Well, she fails with some of us.)