Copenhagen and climate change.

Specifically, climate change.

As everyone not living under a rock knows by know, Copenhagen was a disaster. The developed nations either refused to reduce their emissions or refused to pay others to do it. Then developing nations essentially walked out of the process when it was made clear to them that they were expected to sacrifice their economic growth on the altar of lower emissions without any assistance from the developed nations. That an non-binding resolution was signed by a few nations is simply a sop towards legitimizing the general lethargy as the beginning of a process of some sort.

I’m not too surprised, unfortunately.

There’s this strange expectation amongst members of the public that governments getting together to talk about a problem that they all recognise will somehow lead to action to actually combat that problem. I think stems from an idea that governments act something like a person would. A group of people, trapped in a burning building, would quickly recognise their plight and work together to escape.

Governments, however, do not behave anything like people. They are fractured things, split by the narrow calculus of politics rather than driven by some sort of universal understanding of where they want to go. In the analogy, imagine that every person in the burning building was split up in various ways so that various members of their bodies had their own agenda. One person’s arm could be opening the window while his legs wandered off to find the door. Worse yet, each semi-independent appendage is only aware of the past and future for five minutes both ways. Some people would have legs that were convinced that the fire was a myth while others would be working with hands who believed that the fire would go out of its own accord in a moment or two.

Having now tortured this analogy almost to death, imagine these demented, crazy, incoherent things trying to cooperate together to do anything. One having subdued his unruly appendages will make a dash to the door only for the other to trip him. Two will be in the process of wrestling the window and then start fighting each other over the size of their shoes.

Put simply, then, there is no hope for a multinational agreement unless an overwhelming majority of people in every country want it to occur. Given that the majority of people are much more concerned with the mundane business of staying alive (possibly with some entertainment of some sort thrown in), this is highly unlikely. Instead, we will get a patchwork of agreements based on political expediency (at home and abroad) and short-term thinking. There will be no grand plan to save the planet, because the nature of politics makes it impossible. Worse yet; because climate change won’t go away we are condemned to repeat this process of failure followed by proclamations of victory forever.

We are doomed to live out a version of Copenhagen for the rest of the forseeable future. I just hope the city itself lasts long enough for us to get something done before it sinks.


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