Greenpeace bannerCOPENHAGEN ALREADY APPEARS GLOOMY—as it looms, somewhat nebulously, just down the road in December as host city for the United Nations Climate Change Conference. What, with the week we’ve had here in the United States: first in NYC with with the ultimately lackluster U.N. Summit on Climate Change; then in Pittsburgh with the contentious G-20 Summit meetings. Moonwalk-worthy back-peddlings, ramped-up ridiculous rhetoric, bogus posturings and protests, protests, protests! Can we—the world, with the United States and China taking point (one-two producers of more than 40 percent of worldwide carbon emissions)—seriously tackle global warming issues and produce meaningful results, i.e., action plans that will be truly implemented, in Copenhagen? Can the human spirit triumph? Go ahead and cue the Michael Bay/Jerry Bruckheimer soaring soundtrack! Drop in Robert Downey, Jr. amid an ominous smoggy maelstrom of CGI! Time is short, the clock is ticking, it’s GLOBAL GEHENNA!!! and we need an … an army of everyman-and-woman heroes to demand real action!

UNDISAPPOINTMENT, WITH STACCATO BURSTS OF VIOLENCE, REIGNED THIS WEEK. Here’s a quick recap (by no means meant to be a comprehensive analysis of all that transpired):

Let’s start with Neil MacFarquhar, who reported from the United Nations earlier this week in The New York Times:

In speech after speech, presidents and prime ministers of countries large and small spoke with soaring promises about the importance of confronting the problem for future generations. But when it came down to the nuts-and-bolts promises of what they were prepared to do in the next decade, experts and analysts were disappointed that there were no bold new proposals, particularly from the United States.

Hats off to President Obama for at least acknowledging past U.S. failings on the climate conundrum/quandary/ongoing “issue of contention.” The world, he said, “cannot allow the old divisions that have characterized the climate debate for so many years to block our progress.” Other points he made:

  • Nations with a strong industrial base would need to accept curbing their emissions in any agreement
  • The poorest nations deserve financial and other aid to tackle current climate problems and future green development
  • He’s committed to having the United States make large investments in renewable energy
  • He wants to set new standards for reducing pollution from vehicles
  • He wants to make clean energy profitable

China scored some jade-green points at the conference, with President Hu promising to take four steps toward greener development:

  1. Reducing the amount of CO2 China emits to produce each dollar of GDP by a “notable margin” by 2020 (compared to 2005)
  2. Increasing forests by 40 million hectares (about 98.8 million acres)
  3. Expanding nuclear and nonfossil fuels to 15 percent of power by 2020
  4. Developing a true green economy

(Read Barack Obama’s and Hu Jintao’s complete speeches.)

MacFarquhar’s Times piece also quotes Andrew Deutz, director of the Nature Conservancy‘s international government relations program, as saying, “We need President Obama to step up and say, ‘I need an economywide emissions cap. I need money to negotiate. I need Waxman-Markey passed by X date so I can go to Copenhagen and negotiate.'”  Well, as we now know, it didn’t happen—and I won’t even get into the U.N. General Assembly that followed, Qaddafi’s babel-lacious fantastical run-on/off and other assorted craziness. What fun in the Big Apple!

PittsburghJump-cutting to Pittsburgh, Penn., where the G-20 meets through today, world leaders agreed on a U.S. proposal to end subsidies to oil, diesel and gas “in the medium term,” whatever that means. “Inefficient fossil fuel subsidies encourage wasteful consumption, distort markets, impede investment in clean energy sources and undermine efforts to deal with climate change,” a draft communique obtained by Reuters stated.

But it’s been the protests that have drawn the most attention—thousands, with a myriad of complaints, marched peacefully today. “It’s hard to believe the City of Pittsburgh is deploying this much firepower against a peaceful group,” Witold Walczak, state director of the ACLU, told The Nation. “If ever there is a time to protect demonstrators’ First Amendment rights, it’s this week.” On Wednesday, Greenpeace activists hung an 80-ft. x 30-ft. banner reading, “DANGER, CLIMATE DESTRUCTION AHEAD, REDUCE CO2 EMISSIONS NOW” (an image of this currently adorns the organization’s homepage). Fourteen, in all, were arrested related to this activity. In other action, police have used pepper spray, smoke and rubber bullets to disperse protesters.

Damon Moglen, Greenpeace’s Global Warming Campaign director, was reported as saying, “Global leaders need to realize that the activist community and general public [my emphasis] are demanding that they take strong positions on climate change.” Moglen added that he felt Obama had missed an opportunity with his U.N. speech. “What was striking about his speech was the complete lack of commitment to ambitious emissions reduction.”

Robert S. Eshelman, writing in The Nation (“Climate Change: Off the G-20 Agenda”), points out how numerous countries, including Japan, have recently put forward bold new reduction goals consistent with the IPCC‘s recommendations for 25 to 40 percent emissions reductions. Obama, he writes, “called for reductions that fell far short of what other nations have proposed, and the science-based IPCC recommends.”

Environmentalist/author/activist Bill McKibben, founder of, had this to say of Obama’s stance: “The words we heard today from President Obama [referring to the U.N. Summit on Climate Change speech] were new coming from an American President, but his words lacked the details necessary to lead the world in these impending talks—and the United States must lead. We do not have much time to motivate the world to action and we cannot waste even one opportunity.”

I hope observations such as these can be barbs to spur further inquiry and reflection in the administration, to get them saying, NOW JUST WAIT A MINUTE, OKAY! I know we’re embroiled in a no-holds-barred health-care debate, but let’s get some true traction on this climate change/global warming thing, too. A lot of people are making a big ruckus about this, are really concerned and are stepping forward to demand action. Perhaps it’s time to act more boldly and make our governmental actions speak louder than mere words!

Copenhagen1Can such a thing be? If we return to our Michael Bay/Jerry Bruckheimer opening fantasy film sequence for just a moment, try to picture that heroic everyman-and-woman army … in the streets, sure, but also in community meeting spaces, at grocery stores (or CSA pickup spots), blogging, tweeting or e-mailing madly away—saying—perhaps not as dramatically as Greenpeace did in Pittsburgh!—that, yeah, the time is short, the clock is ticking, we don’t want that blockbuster-to-end-all-blockbusters GLOBAL GEHENNA!!!, we must break past patterns, our involvement/engagement in Copenhagen is absolutely essential to success (we do not want to repeat the 1997 Kyoto accord, the first major attempt to limit emissions, which we never joined). A lot of grass- and netroots actions can add up. Bottom-up momentum can build. Politicians—oh yes they can—can listen.

Perhaps, soon, we can revise that gloomy forecast.


One Response to “Global Gehenna: A Wild Week of UN + G-20 ‘Action’”

  1. […] make some noise for real climate change now! (You can also read my take on the recent UN and G-20 talks that dealt with climate […]