DAY FOUR: GRIDLOCKED
The Copenhagen conference is getting more crowded, noisy, and contentious. Monday’s attendance was said to be 11,000, with more people arriving every day. On the mundane level, this means that the hallways, eating stations, meeting rooms, and bathrooms are almost as hard to negotiate at times as the international climate agreement we want to see…. And the protests are beginning: a loud and insistent chant by Africans in the main hallway demanding the world deliver no more than a one-degree Celsius temperature increase because two degrees mean “suicide for Africa”; a group called U.S. Youth crashing an ill-attended meeting called by climate-change denier Americans for Prosperity, with the youth happily chanting “Americans for clean energy” but drawing a comparison to Hitler Youth from Christopher Monckton; and a request by Tuvalu — the fourth-smallest country in the world — for the conference to end with two binding agreements, one each for the developed and the developing world, leading to the suspension of the conference because of China's objection. The media is flocking to the conflict. Meanwhile, negotiators are said to be shuttling among delegates carrying suggested deals — or just paragraphs — to amend, replace, or entirely undo the Kyoto Protocol. The two delegates I talked to, though, seemed mainly confused.
In the meantime, the scientists are pouring in the data. James Balog, director of Extreme Ice Survey, lit up an animated, revolving planet Earth, some three meters in diameter, that showed sinking coastlines on every continent with sea levels increasing by one meter, an event some call a virtual certainty by the end of this century based on the accelerating ice loss in the Arctic, Greenland, and Alaska, even if the current rate of carbon pollution is reduced. Satellite data projected on the bright and beautiful planet showed huge clouds of black carbon drifting across oceans and onto glaciers, depriving them of their ability to reflect sunlight while heating the ice beneath them to bore holes far into the ice. The soot now forms ugly black deposits in deep blue lakes and ravines left by glacial melts. Time-lapse photography shows three miles of Greenland glaciers streaming away in months — an area large enough to stack up 3,000 U.S. Capitol buildings — and icebergs 1,000 meters high calving thunderously into the sea. An ice sculpture of a polar bear in a downtown plaza is melting slowly every day to reveal the stark skeleton beneath. Efforts by scientists and artists to translate climate change into a reality we can perceive have resulted in astonishing and shocking images.
Yet the countries at the conference are gridlocked in a continuing blame game. Blocs and coalitions are formed and break apart. North and South, developing and developed countries are divided. Expectations are so low that a nonbinding “operating agreement” to reach agreement in the future is now pitched as the best we can hope for. Indeed, some in the U.S. delegation maintain that they don’t know what else could be asked of America, since after all, China will make no binding agreement. It bends the mind to try to bridge the gulf between the science and the reality of these negotiations.
On the bright side, at least in Copenhagen, the complex lingo of the science of climate change is on everyone’s lips. And a vast array of solutions is proposed, including German houses that are carbon negative because they produce rather than consume energy. I saw a slogan called W-I-N, “worldwide implementation now,” to promote building retrofit solutions and other energy-efficiency measures that are ready to go but have not been funded. Indeed, unless the delegates embrace W-I-N for binding, deep, and immediate emissions cuts, this lumbering, incoherent conference cannot end well.
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