December 11, 2009
By David Simpson and Jane Lapiner
En Route to Copenhagen
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.