Friday, December 18, 2009

Copenhagen Climate Change Conference - Power to the people.

Before hightailing it out of Copenhagen on Friday Dec. 18 2009, ahead of the snowstorm that was to smother Washington in the coming hours, President Obama met the press, to share his position on climate change. Environmentalists were underwhelmed – to put it mildly – by the cautiousness of his remarks. Such even-handedness may play well with globally vested interests, and disappoint anyone seeking a sharp turn toward the survival of the fittest. That's the humans.

I wasn't in Copenhagen but thanks to the magic of the Associated Press Climate Pool Twitter, I was able to track down Obama, at Facebook's White House Live page which pointed me to the actual White House Live page where the press conference was streamed in real time. I for one was surprised to hear Obama say; "Ultimately this issue is going to be dictated by the science, and the science indicates that we're going to have to take aggressive steps in the future." With all due respect, I felt that tossing the ball into the court of science was not such a good idea. It has been in their court a lot, and look what happened. So I clicked back over to the Facebook White House live page, which allows one to enter comments.

I typed in; "Way forward will be dictated by science? We're in this mess because science dictates. Time for people to dictate to science." Then Matt from Germany commented that this was stupid, it would be awesome for science to dictate but does not, because unfortunately most countries have democracies, and thus continue polluting and trashing the planet.

Ouch. Then I typed in; "@Matt: in fact, having democracy is a fortunate thing and could allow people to take charge of science, technology and policy."
Chris from Texas then weighed in; "It could if people would realize that and get their head out of their a.... for once."
Matt fell silent. By now the Copenhagen Press conference was on YouTube and I listened intently for something concrete, and heard about progress. It sounded well-worn so I commented again at the White House Live page quoting the President; "Our hope is...that by beginning to make progress and getting the wheels of innovation moving that we are in fact going to be in a position to solve this problem" — actually this has been true for a long time. Innovation would be for those in power to be shown, forcibly and democratically, that they themselves will be compromised by not solving this problem.

By that I meant voting with a majority of 80-90 rather than one or two percent, and I was also thinking of the London politicians who failed to act on cholera until 1858, when the infectious stench from the Thames became unbearable within the houses of Parliament. My next riposte would have been; "Progress is not progress unless at the same time, we learn how it affects the planet" but four hours later no-one had responded to my innovation comment at the White House Live page. Oh well.

The environmentalists at that point in the evening were labelling the Copenhagen conference a potential Brokenhagen and Flopenhagen – due to the lack of deadlines and emissions targets.

But wait. Maybe the policymakers have learned something. After being skewered by the scandal of leaked emails and falsified climate data, and with my constant harping about the folly of letting hard empiricism, rather than good judgment, determine policy – perhaps Obama and company are wise to hedge their statements.

It gives the rest of us a golden opportunity to take charge of science, technology and policy.

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  1. Anonymous10:53 AM

    Just saw a short video clip on CNN about geothermal heat source in Iceland, this led me to think, that you have a point.
    Could the developed countries not send groups to the developing countries, such as Africa and India and share their technologies such as 'wind power' and geothermal projects to offer alternates to fossil fuels and also to build up a spirit of co-operation, rather than recrimination?
    This could be a win, win for both sides. Those out-of-work mass of adventurers could do a short course at home on providing workshops with local people in developing nations. Shared make work programs but also finding solutions by using talents from all countries.
    Of course, a geothermal plant requires a large investment, but what are they going to do with those billions anyway?
    Actual projects which begin at the local level, could be a productive way of saving existing forests or providing clean water to a village or a family, A better use of our time than sitting at tables and working on drafts for something to happen in 2012 or 2020, or having theatrical protests.
    We could start working on solutions to clean up the planet and improve the lives of those suffering as a result of industries to-day, if the will was there at the beginning.