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Copenhagen 2009 Reports

(Most recent entries at the top.)


Report #6, Copenhagen-Gone But Not Forgotten, January 11, 2010

Report #5, Copenhagen and the Nature of Power, December 17, 2009

Report #4, Civil Society is Exiled, December 17, 2009

Report #3, Action Day?, December 16, 2009

Report #2, What is it the Copenhagen Climate Conference Like?, December 16, 2009

Report #1, En Route to Copenhagen, December 11, 2009


David Simpson is a long-time Northern California bioregional pioneer and community leader based in the deeply rural Mattole River Valley of Humboldt County. Having written about and performed theater pieces with his partner Jane Lapiner on the subject of climate change in many places for several decades, David went to the UN Climate Conference in Copenhagen, Denmark to participate in whatever ways seem appropriate. It's "Mr. Bioregion Goes to Copenhagen" judging from the following first account. Planet Drum will distribute all of David's impressions and welcomes your reactions at mail@planetdrum.org.


En Route to Copenhagen

Report #1
December 11, 2009
By David Simpson

The first challenge to our sortie out into the world, for which the intention is to be present at the higher councils where the climate crisis might be diminished, came before we’d even gotten out of Humboldt County. It was during the security check at the Arcata Airport. A friendly TSA guard, while waving his wand over our persons, asked where we were going. When we told him Copenhagen for the U.N. Climate Conference. he blurted out that global warming was all “a con job”. I suggested to him that it would be truly great if he were right.

We had no choice but to proceed into the ignominy of modern economy grade plane travel, strapped for long hours into seating spaces designed to be comfortable for legless pygmies with no more than one arm while our craft spewed large amounts of toxic emissions into the once-pure atmosphere 3700 feet above the earth. (There is a powerful but twisted sense of exaltation that sometimes emerges for the contemplative while perched, even in mild discomfort, tens of thousands of feet above the earth flying to or from some event of cultural or political importance. The perspective that such elevation and speed offers seems indeed higher, Godlike. If it weren't for the damned jet fuel, the emissions the biological and cultural bastardization and homogenization that air travel causes, it would be terrific.)

And to add insult, the guy whose sleeping self filled the seat on the aisle obstructing easy access to the bathrooms turned out to be a mildly phlegmatic German business man who, in a brief moment of wakefulness, turned out to be an adherent of the “Natural  Cycles” theory of greenhouse generation; the earth has always been  changing and all that. His position fell to pieces, by his own admission when challenged with a bare smidgeon of real information about how CO2 emissions increases correlated closely to industrial growth, but what made it worse is that  he still didn’t care.

A last informal poll taken on the short hop between Frankfurt and Copenhagen from another middle seat proved more encouraging. On my right was a man from Madras, India who was part of India’s formal delegation, His mission was to seek financing so poor Indian farmers could afford not to trash their little patches of forest and ag lands. I made him happy by knowing who Rajendra Pachauri and Arandati Roy were—one the head of the IPCC, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and the other the novelist who has emerged as India’s greatest anti-free trade voice in defense of the rural Indian poor. We became as fast friends as people can when each other’s spoken words were largely incomprehensible. The guy to my right was a Dane who was welcoming to the hordes of strangers invading his land He was returning from war exercises in a far place where weapons systems his company manufactures were being tested. He, an arms peddler, was a total believer in the dangers of climate change and the need to deal with them quickly and efficiently. Go figure.

The Copenhagen airport is a sparkling delight, especially if you’ve just come from the one in Frankfurt, Germany which is quite a bit less lovely .It was bustling and festive while outside the early darkness of this northern place approaching the winter solstice had spread. There were many delegates and others  who came less formally trying to orient themselves with the help of friendly airport officials. A number of pamphleteers were handing our reading materials which seemed as a whole to lean in the ‘greenwashing’ direction, often colorful brochures announcing products or processes that promised to help reduce emissions and challenge global warming with little or no sacrifice to comfortable, consumer driven ways of life. 

A brief update on context. There were two current  news events  that would have impact on the events that were to start with the conference opening tomorrow. One was the announcement that Obama would come at the end of the conference rather than his original commitment to get there in the middle and leave early well before any decisions with other heads of state might be made. This in its turn had come only after weeks of seemingly arrogant foot-dragging by the US administration as to whether Obama would come at all. It had angered many, especially insofar as the President had appeared in Copenhagen in early October accompanied by vast hoopla and the full Presidential security chaseri (Yiddish for clutter, sort of) to support the heady mission of winning the 2016 Olympics for Chicago (which he failed to do). There were signs held up that day by demonstrators along the route his entourage sped through which said “Right City, Wrong Time.” But it’s important that now he’s coming at the right time when it might count the most. (Keep in mind, though, that he has as of yet no formal support from the US legislature which he must ultimately have in order to commit America to binding greenhouse gas reductions at any level. This might produce a legislative battle that will make the one for health reform seem like a walk in the park.)  

A second piece of news, while less dramatic, offered the potential to rock the climate change responders even more. A bit of apparent foolishness on the parts of a couple of climate scientists has opened the doors through which the ever-eager climate change deniers, mostly conservative, have rushed with alacrity. Phil Jones, Director of East Anglia University’s important Climate Research Unit in England sent a series of e mails, it seems, mostly to another climate scientist, Michael Mann at Penn State University suggesting that Dr. Mann should try to keep research by scientists who questioned the human causation of global warming out of scientific journals.

The dogs are in full throat. The Wall Street Journal, a publication favored by the greenhouse skeptics has taken it up with a vengeance, publishing not one but two editorials yesterday suggesting that the whole IPCC is compromised and that this single limited event had raised central questions about science in general. One of the editorials was entitled "Climategate: Science is Dying’ More like when science stands in the way of profit, shoot the bastard. This is no doubt an effort to take the wind out of the sails of the climate conference. The fact that these messages were basically purloined, taken and exposed by a hacker, is likely a greater malfeasance than any the e mails actually indicate. The juggernaut of COP 15 likely has sufficient momentum to leave this episode in its wake like so much decomposing flotsam. If humanity's effort to unmire itself from a toxic swamp of its own making is to be rendered ineffectual, it will only be by its own hand.



Click on photos for larger images

The Belgian Contingent on the March, 12/12/09




On the March, 12/12/09

Inside the Bella Center-Youth Stand with Africa, 

What is the Copenhagen Climate Conference Like?

Report #2
December 16, 2009
By David Simpson  

Being at COP 15* in Copenhagen is an experience for which there is no adequate precedent, especially for a climate-change conference novice like myself. I admit that I have never before attended an event with 30,000 other people who were all talking about how to save the human species.

*officially, the Fifteenth Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC )

The Scene

COP 15 operates intellectually, as it must, on a grander scale than perhaps any human endeavor ever. The dimension of the physical operation alone inspires awe. The room, for instance, in which I sit preparing this report, the Media Center, is 375 feet long and 125 feet wide. Long tables fill the length of the room. On each table are rows of evenly-spaced laptop computers, almost 1000 of them, to be used exclusively for reporting about this conference. (The ratio of conference attendees to reporters or photographers approaches 10 to one, and it is an aberrant moment when at least one person within view is not being interviewed.).

Immediately outside this room, there are halls upon spacious halls where tens of thousands of people from almost every country in the world mill around engaged in earnest conversation Or they sit through long meetings in one or another of what seem to be endless side rooms of various dimensions, all working together on different pieces of the same puzzle and all in a single structure almost as broad as an Iowa farm. It is indeed humbling on all levels

Beyond humbling to the point of mild intimidation is the extremity of the reliance on absolute State-of-the-Art communications technology that COP 15 manifests. Starting with the high tech security and access scanning system, almost every function one must undertake is facilitated or otherwise handled by some state-of-the-art technology.

The very symbol of the conference, a globe of sorts more moonlike than of this earth but also like a roll of yarn or a baseball that has lost its cover, cross-hatched with lines running randomly in many direction that are not always geometrical but give the impression of being. It is other-worldy (or as an old friend used to say, “Off the Planet”) its lines mars-like canals, perhaps, a space-age abstract that would be entirely cold if it weren’t impressed softly on the page making the whole seem ethereal and delicate. It is a quietly captivating design but if one seeks for meaning in these things, one can’t ignore the implications of an earth overlain with circuitry and reduced to electronic vectors.

It fits well in the rarified medium of this climate controlled high-tech hall given over these two weeks to those who would save the world with blackberries and laptops and digital cameras all of which intersect and can be synchronized to give one at least the illusion of accomplishing the work of planetary survival.

The Alternative

Meanwhile, nearer to downtown Copenhagen, there is another event altogether that runs coterminous with COP 15. It is called Klimaforum and some refer to it as the Peoples’ Forum in a formula which implies that COP 15 is more corporate, cautious, business-driven which it no doubt has to be given its political environment and sources of support.

Klimaforum happens in an odd sprawling physical exercise facility called DGI Byen that has one of the world’s all time great swimming pools among other distinctions. (It is donut shaped. Swimmers stroke around a central, tiled island.) Clearly established as the purveyor of alternative perspectives, the Klimaforum seems to be motivated by the sense of urgency about climate change felt by environmentally oriented people who live, if not closer to the earth at least with less money, less insulation. More aware, perhaps, of the reality of our vulnerability.

The Issues

Which is a good lead-in to the central issues at both COP 15 and the Klimaforum. These issues are best viewed as lumped into one or the other of two groups. The first has to do primarily with reductions of greenhouse gases (GHG’s)as committed by the developed countries under the Kyoto Protocol of l997.

The other group was set up as a second track in Bali in 2007. It deals with mitigation, adaptation, finance and technology in the developing countries. Adaptive measures to combat the earlier symptoms of climate change are emerging necessities, especially in the so-called global south and the island nations which are already being destabilized by the onset of climate change.

The overall perspective is reduction of GHG’s in time to circumvent the wort impacts of climate change while developing nations adapt and develop clean energy infrastructures that allow them to impoorve their quality of life. Both adaptation and clean energy infrastructure are going to cost a lot of money.

Where that will come from is one of the largest issues hanging over this conference. The developing nations, especially those in the global south, believe that the wealthier nations should not only reduce their emissions significantly but also pony up a significant share of the costs of adaptation since they are the architects, albeit unwitting, of much of what others are now suffering. They have, on their path to development, overloaded the atmosphere. This is referred to as “climate debt”. The developed nations don’t like the concept much-- no surprise there—but understand there is some obligation. (Tonight there was a demonstration on the main hall at COP15 by the Pan African Climate Justice Alliance who demanded that the developed countries take the steps necessary to reduce CO2 levels in the atmosphere to the point where temperature increases do not reach the level of 2 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial levels.)

The Hope

Above all these harsh divergences and hurtful inequities, when you look more closely at the people themselves on the opening days of COP 15 and the Klimaforum something large and positive begins to take shape. Here are individuals from every far-flung corner of the world (193 countries) quietly at work, business-like and intent on solving this shared puzzle. Seeing all of these people gathered together working to assure our future, the future of our children and grandchildren is indeed impressive. The stages of disagreement, partisan divide and rancor at inequities still ahead on the path, the long hours of tedium wading through disagreements and divergent self-interests and subjectivities seemed like rocks in the path that could with effort be cleared. The big question is can it be done in time and is this awesomely complex mechanism capable of doing it.



Action Day? 

Report #3
December 16, 2009

By David Simpson  

A wet snow fell in Copenhagen last night, dusting the streets and putting an added new chill in the air. In the collective houses, houseboats and apartments of Chistiana, Copenhagen’s fabled squatter enclave, thousands of activists who have been marching and demonstrating throughout the city have been waiting eagerly for this day. Their numbers may have been slightly decimated during the night. Police raids on Wednesday night resulted in 200 arrests or detainments. The activists are expecting a lot more before they deploy today in their efforts to disrupt the conference. This is supposed to be their big push.

It is rumored that the police raids the night before last were mainly directed at confiscating the tools that activists have stockpiled to enable them to cut fences, climb walls or whatever else they think they need to penetrate the dense security surrounding the Bella Center.

In an interesting side note, the Chief of Copenhagen Police on Sunday morning, after 1200 people had been arrested or detained as a consequence of the big march, said that he regretted any discomfort they had caused and that the police were sympathetic to the cause of the marchers.*

The action today has been long-planned. It is basically composed of two elements--a demonstration outside the center by activists not allowed in, and the second inside the center by those who have been accredited and possess the much-desired access cards hanging from a lanyard around their necks. 

An action taken by the UN organizers, ostensibly to keep the numbers of attendees below the legal limit of 15,000 has become a factor. From the start, there have been three groupings of those in attendance—Delegates of the Parties, NGO Observers, and the Press, (the NGO’s were likely the most numerous). Starting on Monday, NGO leaders were given a limited number of daily passes to distribute to their membership. This number s going to decline every day until Friday when only a select few representatives of the NGO’s will be allowed into the Bella Center. 

This previously unannounced radical reduction of NGO observers has set off further suspicions that the conference managers are trying to quell dissent in the likelihood that a very modest agreement is all that is finally reached. Such thought processes both accidentally acknowledge and overlook the fact that it has all along been the NGO’s—representatives of civil society—that have carried the world’s environmental agenda forward. Left to their own devices. governments and large business interests would have in all likelihood put half the world underwater by now. 

*A note on the Copenhagen police: 

There are only 5 million Danes in the whole world so they represent a fairly limited gene pool. That pool tends toward producing tall individuals—not all by any means, but many Danes are substantial in the height department. Tall, blond, blue-eyed Viking-like people masquerading perhaps as modern Europeans. An inveterate fear, well-founded given the history of my people, nibbles at the edge of my awareness as I stroll around snowy streets of quaint little shops in immaculately kept medieval northern European brick buildings and pass by large rather grand looking blond men and women who look like they should be in a Leni Reifenstahl movie. I have to keep telling myself that these are Danes and that they all speak English without Hollywood accents and they think Jews are just people.

This niggling awareness, though, becomes an outright drumbeat of paranoia when I pass through the police barricades every morning on my way into the Center. Here, we are herded like willing sheep through an ever-changing maze of portable rolled steel fence sections by men who have obviously been chosen from among their tall people to provide the heft and reach to occasionally subdue the recalcitrant. In other words, the cops here are big and their grey-blue jump suits make them seem even bigger. Thank God their politeness does not seem forced and tight-lipped like that of some American policemen. But then I haven’t personally witnessed them running somebody in.

Bulletin: 10:00 AM 12/16

Word has it that several entire NGO organizations have been left out in the cold without a single representative allowed to observe. One these seems to be Friends of the Earth. If accurate, how could this have not been a political decision?



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Civil society marches out of COP15 amid a sea of cameras.

Civil society marches out #2.

Civil society finds it cannot come back in.

Abandoned booths after NGO exclusions. Notice more in the background.

Evo Morales, President of Bolivia, at COP15

Civil Society is Exiled

Report #4
December 17, 2009

by David Simpson

At the Media Center I hook up my computer daily and establish a post from which I can foray out into a world so rich with plenary sessions, side events, press conferences and special appearances that all choices require several sacrifices. The neighborhood—the particular section of the table at which I regularly sit--seems to endure swings of ethnicity. Today I am surrounded by French-speaking journalists. Yesterday it was Eastern Europeans. There’s a small press core from Kenya that for an hour or so a day occupies space down the table right next to a Palestinian contingent.

Its not a bad neighborhood all things considered. It could use a good coffee joint rather than the little nearby stand, replicated in form and content throughout the conference many times over, but let me not complain. It has a grace note or two, the morning croissants being a good one for a country boy whose usual early fodder is burnt toast.

People pretty much leave you alone here to your own thoughts and with your own notes. The only time I’ve been challenged by a neighbor was when a woman from a large DC daily asked Jane and I to be quiet because she had a deadline. We obliged but when the Kenyan group, on this occasion situated closer to us, got into a good mood a few minutes later and punctuated loud talk with raucous laughter, she was mum.

It is true to some degree that the Africans are in charge—not in the way that Americans act out power but in terms of their bearing, a stateliness of person and an apparent sense of mission that few others seem to retain with such tenacity. They come from places where modern civilities have a more tenuous grasp and even that is threatened. If this spirit is made manifest in one person, it is Sudanese minister, Lumumba Stanislaus DI-Aping who is the chief negotiator for the G77 (the developing countries).*

The big protest today came and pretty quickly went, leaving some with a sense of sadness and abandonment. It started in Center Hall as a chant about taking back the power and bloomed into a march led by indigenous people from North, Central and South America. It was hard to make a count of how many people were involved, about the only criteria the press has for measuring success in such things. The reason it was hard to estimate was the photographers. All anyone could see was the mass of cameras bobbing along, help upright or on tripods floating over the heads of those chanting and supposedly in the lead. Pretty soon there was no center, just a conglomeration of people and cameras heading toward the man exit in a rush of noise and enthusiasm. The camera men were, for the most part, not chanting.

Once outside, the marchers hooked up with activists who had no access to the formal event or who had had their access denied over the past twp days as O Day approached (if O actually does show up) It got active for a while and some tear gas was shot, a few young folks clubbed and subdued. but not many and not for nearly long enough, alas.

A painful moment came at the gate after the rally. The police had almost entirely closed off the entrance that led back onto the hall. Several hundred people were trying urgently to get in, some still in line from the morning’s process to get formal access. Others were NGO reps whose established access had been honored as usual in the morning before marching out later with the protestors. The police, apparently in retribution, were not letting them back in and the crowd was not happy.

If this indeed was the last gasp of effort to drive Copenhagen toward a strong resolution, we are in trouble. A bright note occurred toward the end pf the day when Evo Morales and Hugo Chavez spoke pretty much back to back, Morales in the big Press Briefing Room and Chavez a half hour later, to the entire Plenary.

Morales’ speech was the more memorable of the two. Given the incredible mass of high sounding rhetoric people here had been subjected to, all seemingly meant to distract us from the puny progress actually being made by a long line of UN officials and Heads of State, Morales words were a breath of fresh air. He started out by acknowledging the people out in the streets and sending his regards. He invoked Karl Marx, in this instance a quote about the terrible ghost stalking the grim streets--the ghost named Capitalism. He suggested that if the climate was a capitalist bank the great governments of the world would have already saved it. Moreles called for a Climate Justice Tribunal to judge those who misuse the planet. (You can just see the U.S. Senate jumping on that bandwagon.) As for carbon marketing, he dismissed it outright saying that we should “stop making money off the disgrace of the planet.” And if that weren’t enough, he concluded by saying outright that we must “end the capitalist system to save the world.” He pointed out the fatal anomaly of the US spending $647 billion on Afghanistan while offering only $10 billion to help the developing counties collectively fight the effects of climate change.

Chavez spoke in similar terms though, from my perspective, a little less sypathetically.

He condemned capitalism and invoked the sanctity of the earth. “Let not the earth become the tomb of humanity”, he concluded.

Together, the two speakers—both heads of state and as such, participants of irrevocable status—spoke in some way for the exiled NGO’s. It was some small redemption for the harsh way that civil society had been almost entirely excluded from this conference.


* DI-Aping has emerged as a powerful spokesperson for the African Group as well as the G77. He is tall and stately and emanates a passion as quiet as it is powerful. He speaks softly and thoughtfully. He first attacked the 2 degrees C warming maximum that most rich countries currently consider acceptable. He called global warming of 2 degrees “certain death for Africa”, a type of “climate fascism” imposed by high carbon emitters. He said Africa was being asked to sign on to an agreement that would allow this warming in exchange for $10 billion, and that Africa was also being asked to “celebrate” this deal. “Ten billion dollars,” he said, ”ought to be enough to buy Africa coffins.”



Click on photos for larger images

Jane Lapiner in the Abandoned Civil Society Hall

Senator Inhofe at Press Conference

Ethiopians Protest Sellout by their Prime Minister

Hillary's  Press Conference

The Prime MInister of Tuvalu  Press Conference

Copenhagen and the Nature of Power

Report #5
December 17, 2009

by David Simpson

To readers. Please forgive the tardiness of this essay. I think you will find it still quite relevant even though the COP 15 has been declared officially over as of about 3 PM today when UNFCC Director, Ivo De Boer, gave his last press conference. He did what he could to paint a happy face on a sobering event, portentous in its lack of success. A concluding report will follow.


There was an eerie quiet Thursday morning in the area of the Bella Center
where participants of COP 15 first enter. Right across from the expansive
coat check area are the booths and tables that NGO’s occupied as late as

yesterday where bright displays had told of their various missions
throughout the worldprotecting ecosystems, forests, indigenous peoples,
communities. Some offered new processes or products that could help 
communities achieve sustainability, others financing concepts to make
idealism work. Overall, these organizations represented the incredible
breadth, dedication and diversity of citizen-run efforts to overcome the
threat of climate change.


This morning, though, they were unmanned, the photo displays, the
brochures, the bright statements of decades of accomplishment in
protecting or renewing some precious aspect of the great planet
puzzleFriends of the Earth, Greenpeace, Climate Action Now, on and
on....All gone. [see photo above]

Some of the places still had bits and pieces of their displays in place,
half-taken down, half packed to go, their crews probably waiting for
permission to reenter after the event was entirely over. Many others
were barren except for simple white signs with this message printed
on them, “Civil Society Has Been Removed. How can they decide
about us without us?” All were untended. It was a ghost town of good
intentions that offered mute testimony to the nature of power.


It seemed especially egregious in light of the fact that it has largely been the work of these non-profit warriors who over many decades have fought against abuse and corruption and brought to the world’s attention the damage being done to our mother planet. Government has been involved for the most part only after citizens and civil society initiatives have forced them into conscientious action.


One could too easily jump to the conclusion that now, when there are huge
amounts of money at stake in a vast potpourri of market-related
potentialities, the big boys in the dark suits have moved in, shoving aside
the foolhardy idealists and dedicated activists, especially since these same
activists have shown clear common cause between environmental urgency
and the plight of people in the poor nations who are helpless before the
onslaught of a warming planet, the sacrificial canaries in this coal mine of
blind power.


One thing is for sure, The event has lost a good deal of its color, literally.
The displays and the very clothing, mostly informal, worn by the civil society
component were filled with color and ethnicity. The spectrum that meets the
eye at the Bella Center has been reduced. In these closing days blackas
in black suitshad come to dominate.


The black suits, though, have not yet indicated that they can succeed.
There is considerable doubt that an agreement can be reached at all now
or if it can that it will have any teeth to it. It seems that the process, at least
in the minds of many of the developing nations, has been hijacked by an
elite core of some 25 or so nations led by the US.


After experiencing the a small draft of the desolation that blew through
these empty booths, we forged on to the press room for the next blow to
good cheer. It was delivered in an impromptu press conference held on
a stairway in the media press center where the press congregate was
assigned to work. US Senator James Inhofe had made a more or less
spur-of-the-moment trip to Copenhagen, intended to last all of five hours.
Inhofe is a fiercely conservative Republican from Oklahoma for whom
climate change is the biggest hoax ever perpetrated against the American
peopleby the environmentalists.


He had come for only five hours, he said, and his ambition was simple; 
to disabuse as many of us as possible of any notion that something binding
could come out of Copenhagen. If it did, he said, “it would be rejected by
the American people.” And if that wasn’t sufficiently disabusive, he added
that “there was not a chance in the world that the US would be passing any
climate legislation” anytime soon.


Pressed for reasons for his stand, he cited the fact that China, which holds
a huge amount of American debt, was not, as an Annex 2 (developing)
country, obligated under Kyoto to achieve specific levels of emissions
reductions while the US, had it actually signed on, would have been. He saw
China’s recent commitment to reductions in “carbon intensity” as
unverifiable and untrustworthy.


In my first ever press conference question, I asked Inhofe if China were to
come up with a credible plan for significant greenhouse gas reductions as
well as a way to accurately monitor and verify the cuts, would he support
America making its own commitment to cuts. He humphered and
fumphered, sweat a little and finally said he probably wouldn’t. So much for
reason. The press corps openly reeled and then laughed. It was almost
refreshing to see a real dinosaur amidst the extreme modernity of the
Bella Center. Several reporters told me later that they hadn’t quite realized
up until then what Obama was up against.


Meanwhile, like the heartbeat underlying and sustaining the body as a
whole, the delegates of the Parties carried on their negotiations in the
backrooms and side tables scattered throughout the great Center. One
can only imagine the actual work getting done. A lot of it has to do with
drafting acceptable language about a whole slough of issues in sufficient
detail to represent what the Parties feel and that is not perforated with
too many loopholes.


Hillary arrived and stepped right into an afternoon press conference to
hang out the US flag, She’s quite a studyvery good at manifesting
America’s casual style of power. She delivers her message with complete
assurance which would be far more impressive if it were tied to consistency
and leavened with a little modesty.


The Secretary lay down for the first time the elements of a new Obama
plan. It included some things that no doubt Senator Inhofe would take
great pleasure in slashing. But he needn’t have worried. The Obama/Clinton
Plan seemed to be right out of Inhofe’s playbook. Blame it on the Chinese
even though you’re not really going to offer the world much anyway,
certainly not in legally binding language


The most interesting thing that the Ms. Clinton seemed to be putting on the
table was a commitment by the US to “join with other countries to mobilize
financing amounting to $100 billion a year by 2020”, but only if everyone
signed on right away and only if recipients agreed to thorough monitoring
and verification of use of funds and their successful applications. (Since,
as far as I know, the US has never shown willingness to compromise its
sovereignty to allow monitoring by third parties on its soil, what we seem
to have here is a “My Way or the Highway” kind of deal.)


Note that the Secretary of State did not commit the US alone to this
amount. (In fact, the only specific figures she seemed to be committing
the US to were emissions reductions at levels of about half of what science
indicates is required.) It is highly unlikely that she or Obama are still going
to be in office anywhere near 2020. So it is an easy promise. It should be
said, though, that this was the first time any Annex 1 Party had even
mentioned a figure high enough that it could actually offer real help to the
poorest nations.


As the day wore on, one head of state after another held forth at the
Plenary. Brazil, Iran, Mexico, South Africa, Israel...They continued for
quite a while,  carrying on about how grave the danger was and the
great sacrifices their governments were already making or preparing
to make in response. 


France seems to be playing a quiet but treacherous role. Sarkozy, by all
appearances, charmed or maybe bribed the Ethiopian Prime Minister,
Meles Zenawi, into coming on board with the great powers. Zenawi, as
leading negotiator for the African Group had been up until this intervention,
antagonistic to the agenda of the large nations. Chants of “sell-out" were
heard the next day outside the Bella Center from a team of close to 50
African demonstrators


At the end of the day, on the Metro heading to our Copenhagen home,
(made available to us by a wonderful family related to close friends in
California) I ran into Bjorn Lumborg, the  well known Danish business
academic, thinker and author of The Skeptical Environmentalist (2001),
and Cool It (2007). He claims that his earlier repute as a major greenhouse
skeptic (one who has doubts about the science of climate change as well
as its human origins) is entirely unearned.


Lumborg is open and friendly and had made himself available for interviews
in the Media Center over several days. He has a clear position now and is
extremely deft at fielding criticism of it. For him, this UNFCCC process so
many are now agonizing over is a waste of time and money. The cost, even
if we could come to basic agreements as to how to proceed, will be huge in
terms of meeting the needs of the poorest nations, and forgone productivity
from emissions cuts and other expenses. Better to direct a lesser amount
of money at research and development of new technologies. When asked
about the risks of putting all our eggs in the technological basket he retorts
that the known methods of combating climate change are just as or even
more risky. He is both persuasive and simplistic in his understandings of
nature and for both reasons he is dangerous.


I did share one perception with Lumborg, though. No matter what we do
now, even in the best case scenario, there is going to be a significant
climatic lag period before positive responses occur. We are already well
into that period as our small island, lowland and African brothers so
poignantly inform us. This is the reason why there is so much talk at
COP 15 about adaptation and financing it.


For Lumborg, though, the fix both for the lag period and what follows is 
geo-engineering. One examplea massive form of cloud seeding that
would establish a high altitude aerosol layer capable of reflecting sunlight
back into space and thus keep us cool.  One of the projects being
developed by his think tank/company, the Copenhagen Consensus Center,
happens to promise to do just that. (Lumborg’s Center has been backed
financially by Denmark’s conservative political party now in power.)


There is big moneypotentially very biginvolved here. One might be led
to conclude that Lumborg has a conflict of interest large enough to reflect
his intellectual position harmlessly back onto space. He runs from interview
to interview wearing a tee shirt, blue jeans and sneakers but one detects the
black suits waiting in the wings. Can the climate withstand the enormous
speculative surge which the attempt to provide technological fixes is on the
verge of precipitating?  Will the benefits of those technologies provide both
return on investment and survival for beleaguered people of the global
south, the island states and low-lying countries?

Some grave questions on the relative power of self-interest, compassion
and the simple desire for survival must soon be answered.




Copenhagen-Gone But Not Forgotten

Report #6
January 11, 2010

by David Simpson

This is a long, somewhat tortured essay on experiences and perspective gleaned by an amateur in both climate science and journalism in Copenhagen. If it does not subtract from the crucial ongoing dialogue, I will be relieved, If it adds even one small iota of perspective that is useful to the cause of dealing successfully with climate change, I will celebrate. Thanks for your patience

View From Above

Flying homeward, a little toy airplane-like figure with a long white contrail flew over a roughly outlined map on the TV screens above us in the cabin of our actual aircraft prior to commencement of the flight’s scheduled movies. Just before Julia and Julia, the little plane indicated that we were perched above Greenland on a trajectory that would take it and us over Baffin Island then down and across upper Hudson Bay and west and south toward the Canadian Rockies.

Below us, cloud cover obstructed our view of the land and sea. Way off on the far south- eastern horizon, a wan sun raced us westward. Across the airplane’s aisle, the view to the north seemed at a distance to be one of half darkness throughout the day. It was moving for me to know that we were skirting the Arctic Circle and that today, via a magic accident while booking the cheapest ticket, was the winter solstice, with the shortest daylight of the year when the northern hemisphere was tilted as far back and away from the sun as it would get.

I was thinking at the time that looking out over such an incredible scene was an illicit act. Here we were witnessing the frigid, beautiful heart of the Arctic on this momentous day whose rigors should have prevented access, that was—bought just for the price of an airline ticket ... It was a kind of voyeurism, witnessing something wildly erotic that by rights should have been available only to the most unsullied of heroes.

Then, as if to punish with further reward, the sky below opened revealing an oceanic scene I could neither interpret nor understand. The sea was whipped into a great horizontal gyre, a semi-cyclonic vortex of churning water and ice that seemed from 35,000 feet to be some kind of massive and stately procession from far to the south to the center of the vortex directly below.

Smitten by the awesome configuration below and bereft of clear understanding, I let my imagining run for the moment before the clouds closed back over that raw, powerful scene. I was witnessing a major engine of the biosphere. There below me, I fantasized, might be the actual place where warmer waters entrained by the great Atlantic current were spun into this vortex, churned and chilled, then forced back far under the surface toward the south, purged now of impurities, the Arctic cold performing its essential role of cleansing and renewal.

Sounds in the Empty Halls

The Great Climate Circus is over, the giant tents struck. The clowns have wiped off their greasepaint and the elephant manure, no longer steaming, has been swept into neat piles. (Six conservative Congressman and one Senator had made cameo performances at COP 15 that might, for how they promised to impact on African delegates, just as well have been done in whiteface.)

The halls of Copenhagen’s Bella Center have been cleared of the enormous detritus that this effort at climate salvation left behind, incalculable reams of paper now strewn about that had been the thick schedules of events handed out each morning still warm from the copiers as fast as thousands of hands reached for them. There, too, were the voluminous stacks of leftover literature; newsletter, announcements, brochures, studies, the handsomely tricked out propaganda of hundreds of civil society and NGO groups, and region-specific efforts at adaptation and sustainability that had graced these halls offering the passersby a view of missions that collectively, with sufficient support, might add up to a better world. 

Endless faux plastic coffee cups and dinnerware that had been so proudly vaunted by their hosts as...voila! Recyclable, but then thrown into inadequately marked sorting containers, have by now been gathered together by the cleanup staff and sent off, one fears, to the landfill--illusions of sustainability like games of three card monte out on the midway, a small diversion for the now-vanished rubes along the road toward their larger fools errand. 

The last echoes of the great buzz and hum of 45 000 people (only 15,000 at any one time) speaking in almost every imaginable tongue, is now but an imagined murmur. So many earnest conversations, so much complex information shared in pursuit of goals that were declared unachievable months before the actual conference. There’s the last whispers of one of the greatest environmental/social information exchanges ever known--the panoply of daily choices, side events that amounted to expert tutorials on a dizzying variety of crucial subjects, the array of press briefings a new one every half hour. The almost constant inspirational, sometimes pious speeches the last three days by one Head of State after another until they were indistinguishable. There had been a vast provision of information by some of the most environmentally and scientifically knowledgeable people in the world, some of them newly anointed celebrities.

Then there were the chants, like spice in the mix of sounds, subtly rising up from one periphery or another, that announced brief demonstrations by those who felt their positions inadequately represented in official processes, intended with little effect to nudge the parlay in one direction or another. Most of them, chanting their demands in slogans, were young and vigorous. They swept for their few moments through the halls, colorfully, trailing opportunistic photographers and cameramen like tawdry festoons or sectarian Christmas ornaments so numerous as to nearly drag the tree down. The collective effect of such demonstrations was to remind us both of the demands of the young and of the otherwise total cultural sterility of the surroundings at the Bella Center. This was an event longing for music and color, for celebration of unity in diversity, a tremendous outpouring of expression. Maybe a lament for a planet on the verge of disaster. Perhaps, a cry from ancient cultures whose very roots in the land were threatened.

Gone now too, is the tense hue and cry outside the great hall, the voices of protestors rising in direct proportion to the distance by which they were excluded from the dialogue. Gone are the parades, the festive seriousness that marked these outpourings, all now but the rustle of falling curtains, the last dust settling. The police freed from providing insurmountable obstacles to greater public participation, return to their more traditional Yuletide business of rousting overachieving hometown revelers. Denmark was once more free to alleviate conscience and consciousness in Christmas glug and Yuleborg. 

Right after the holidays, the Home Furnishing and Design Exhibit is scheduled to move into the Bella and a little later, the semi-annual International Fashion Fair will fill the hall. In the relative world of event-related commerce, these fairs are equal in social importance to the climate change event, but will require far fewer police. Within the confines of their missions they are likely fated for greater success. 

Oh that our mission had been so fashionable, our goals so simple and comfortable as a displaying the latest sectional sofas! Is selling furniture intrinsically different or easier, really, than selling the perpetuation of the biosphere? Perhaps next year in Mexico at COP 16, if there is a COP 16, survival will once more be in fashion. It is tempting to just stretch out on the closest sofa and watch the ship go down almost as if one weren’t on it. Sometimes it seems that this is what we are all doing.

It would be forgivable, this dragging of the feet of the great powers, some of them newly minted as such, were there accompanying acknowledgement of the disparity between their positions and where we need to go. It doesn’t take much to know what levels of greenhouse gas reduction are really needed—a calculator and a few accurate data points would do it. 

This deep-seated resistance by nations to forgo even the smallest advantage and prerogative without ironclad guarantees of indemnity for their own economies is at least comprehensible, even forgivable as long as it is clear that the little steps they are taking must give way to something far more ambitious soon. Nations, like people, are eventually going to have to take the risk of giving over some advantage to global competitors who might exploit the situation. It’s going to take a little more reality to convince them and maybe ourselves that the real risks are in fact clinging to the status quo.


Indeed, this is a vastly complex job, this business of realigning our human systems, our so-called civilization, with the biosphere. After all, let’s be realistic--our Ships of State are delicately balanced as it is, deep recession having already engulfed much optimism and many options. Every time I heard the eloquent, seething G77 spokesperson Lumumba Stanislaus De Afing demand the kinds of massive contributions from the US and developed countries that are really needed, I shook my head in a mild despair. Just about everyone I know in the States is pretty pinched right now and many green enterprises close to me heart are begging for more federal stimulus, which is unlikely to be forthcoming, to keep our local economies afloat. Also, these Ships of State even at their healthiest bristle with interests, little bands of buccaneers sharing, for convenience sake, the same craft, waiting on deck for our collective grapples to latch onto new prey. It is certainly unrealistic to stand between privateers and their prey.

We are told in so many ways that we should mould expectations to that which actually can be accomplished given those many bristling interests and the thick plasma through which our current commerce swims. This is all reasonable, but let’s inject a little ‘realism’ in here. Science says—loudly and clearly above even the newly recharged din of the skeptics—that 20 foot sea level rises are not only possible but likely even were we to accept the Copenhagen Accords as they stand now as the upper limit of our accomplishment. Following these Accords, it has been calculated, would still produce a 77% chance that global temperatures would reach 3 degrees Celsius over historic levels. (We are at .8 degrees now and that is already wreaking havoc among many poorer Southern nations.)

Then there is the equity issue in another light. Given the rate of emissions in the US in 2005 (the target year from which we will be reducing our emissions), and also the amount of our historic emissions still taking up atmosphere space, even with our 17% reductions, no space will be left for the CO2 that the developing nations will have to produce to minimally develop. Simple fairness demands that we back off much farther or that we pony up a lot of money to make sure that the developing nations have clean energy for their development. Congress won’t have a problem with giving a percentage of our GDP to poor countries, will they? 

Still, nowhere in the negotiations, as cautious as they may have been, was it suggested that anything over 2C was acceptable. Most African and low-lying nations and the small island states know that their futures are gravely endangered by any temperature rise greater than 1.5 degrees C. The claim in the Accords tthat we will achieve a 2 degrees limit would be at least encouraging compared to prior commitments if it was tied to commitment to actions that might achieve it. Without such commitment one has to understand that the document reads like an insult to Tuvalu and company and another slap in the teeth to Africa and Bangladesh. 

Even at 2 degrees, glaciers will indeed continue to melt, potentially leaving, for instance, the vast Indian subcontinent to the south and the rich Chinese rice paddies far below the Tibetan Plateau bereft of the sufficient snowmelt waters necessary to sustain agriculture and thus life itself for billions of people. Hundreds of millions will then be forced to migrate toward whatever dwindling little patches of earth are still adequately watered, setting off territorial conflicts of a previously unknown intensity. In some parts of Africa, these drought-induced migrations and the conflicts they unleash are already ‘reality’. How many other tipping points have already been tipped. 

No matter how often skeptics yell “alarmism” you can’t change the fact that the best science is indeed “alarming. It is hard to imagine that anyone who fully grasped it, could tolerate the half-measures we as a species are currently taking. The poles of what we refer to as “reality” are approaching a moment of long-awaited, necessary reversal. There will be displacements and a gnashing of teeth, but there will also be great planet-wide sigh of relief, too.

The Last Days of COP 15

The last days of COP 15 saw the further crystallization and concentration of power that had already resulted in the near-complete removal of civil society from having any influence over the final product that would ostensibly come to represent Copenhagen. Now, those being marginalized were the Parties themselves. Twenty eight made the first cut, five made it into the finals and were allowed to consult but only two were left at the end to control the final statement, the two biggest polluters. China and the United States in the persons of Barack Obama and Chinese Premier Wen Jaibow. 

Most of the rest were given one hour, starting at 3 AM Saturday morning, to approve or disapprove. There was resistance but in the end Parties had little choice but to sign on in some form. Only the objections of four of the ALBA nations (Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America) Bolivia, Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua plus Sudan kept the Accord from becoming more than a document which the countries of the COP simply “took notice”, the weakest term in the UN’s highly nuanced vocabulary for agreement. It is possible to see this evolution as China and the US, along with a few allies, divvying up what’s left of the atmospheric space just as the European powers divvied up Africa in the 19th century.

The process of elimination of alternative voices at Copenhagen was now complete, but -- in this process, the authority of the UN which was based on consensus of the parties was damaged and the Kyoto Protocol, the only legally binding agreement about climate change that had ever been signed, was on the rocks, a likely casualty to concentration of power and insistence on volunteer commitments as opposed to legally binding ones like those in the Kyoto Treaty (we’ve all seen in the US where they lead) and, finally,  reluctance to accept any limits on national sovereignty. (It must be said, that China agreed for the first time to some language, still very vague, that allowed for potential external oversight of it s greenhouse gas reductions—this is what allowed the US to sign on to the Accord.)

An irony in this two party partnership (and its many sub-partnerships radiating outward) is that the US cannot really play ball. Without a Senate bill joining with the one the House of Representatives passed last June, Obama and Hillary’s suggestions of a 17% GHG reduction, a $30 billion fund until 2012 to help poor countries adapt and implement clean energy technologies, or development of the larger $100 billion fund by 2020 are all wishful thinking. One of the two great powers then is tied up in knots by some of its bristling interests. And even if it could play ball, it will do so only in the field of Carbon Trading which is highly suspect in almost all environmental circles. We seem to have a long way to go.

The last two press conferences late Saturday morning witnessed first Ban Ki Moon, UN Secretary General, and then UN Framework Convention on Climate Change Executive Secretary, Yvo De Boer, both obviously exhausted, doing an entirely predictable jig, mouthing platitudes about the process and participants and generally painting the best face on the outcome that they could.

Representatives of 193 countries did indeed participate. One hundred and twenty heads of State actually showed up to talk about one thing, climate change. There were earnest discussion constrained of course, by the political expediencies under which the Parties worked, no Party more than the US.

The failure, as Bolivia’s Evo Morales pointed out at a tumultuous press conference with Venezuela’s Hugo Chaves and other ALBA statesmen, was not of intent or willingness to talk, it was of political will. Morales said that the Accord has been dropped into the middle of the conference as if by parachute


As the United Nations’ fifteenth Conference of the Parties and its rather tepid, patched-together agreement retreat rapidly in our rear view mirrors, fading into the cloud off our largely undisturbed tailpipe emissions, this is the moment to ask where we go from here, what route do we take and who is will be our best traveling companions For some, our President included, the Accord was an “unprecedented breakthrough”. For others, many in small island nations or in drought-ridden reaches of Africa, the very word Copenhagen itself is coming to resonate like ’Munich’, the scene of the l938 treaty that has come to be a metaphor for betrayal and the weakness of good intentions unsupported by specific restraints.

I questioned many African delegates in the Bella Center after the last press conference and later, out into the airports. They were long on D words, these Africans--“Disaster”, “Disgrace”, “Disillusionment”. These unwilling victims of our ever more burdensome emissions feel that the so-called Copenhagen Accord and its three pages of vapid text, it’s two pages of empty commitment lists, expose them to a potential anshlus of unmediated disasters spewing out of a warmed and wounded biosphere. 

In one intense group discussion in the Frankfurt airport, several members of the Ethiopian delegation insisted that if we in America were experiencing what they already are, that we would no doubt get serious. Their sense of grievance was intense. Not only were they being deprived of a share of the atmosphere to pollute with the gasses that their development would cause, they are being abandoned to the vagaries of climate systems unleashed from naïve restraints.. They had strong ideas about “climate debt” and “reparations.” Such concepts had earlier been“ categorically denied” by the chief American negotiator. Todd Stern, but nonetheless Hillary touted a new $100 billion fund by 2020 for adaptation and technology transfer to the developing nations, especially those most in need. 

In the long run, though, I think we might turn to the South Americans, the Bolivarians, for new models. Here are leftists actually running practical governments and for whom the environment is indeed a living thing worth of its own rights. It is fascinating to sense that with these South Americans’ living example we were willy-nilly thrust not only way beyond sovereignty, but into a roiling socio-economic cauldron where there are no easy ways to climb out of the soup except on each others’ willing backs. What has in the past been called environmentalism is at last being pureed into a richer soup along with newly forged non-ideological anti-capitalist—or better—non-capitalist, ideology. It seems like a conservative Congressman’s worst nightmare come true, the bad fate they had been fearing for decades, the horrible Red/Green Alliance…the Watermelons! It is not anyone’s intention, though, or pleasure to deliver bitter pills We just need solutions. Non-doctrinaire, truly sustainable and humane. We are going to have to accept good responses when we see them no matter what their shade or who their maker. 

COP 16 is scheduled for Mexico City late in 2010. There needs to be preparation for it on a grand scale. The Copenhagen Accord is an empty shell. It needs to be filled with real content. The so-celled world leaders need to be marched forward with a new imperative jabbing their ribs like a sharp stick. Those who have come to understand that we actually live in the biosphere need to wield the stick. It is our job, simple as that. Let us, in the name of our grandchildren and the planet’s ongoing engines, not shirk it. Our challenge is clear.

On December 14th, Ian Fry, the Tuvalu delegate to the United Nations Climate Change Conference pointed out a harsh fact. “It is an irony of the modern world,” he said. “that the fate of the world is being determined by some senators in the U.S. Congress.”