For an event that was widely billed as the “last great hope” to save the planet for (or from, you decide) humanity, by pretty much all accounts, the Copenhagen Climate Summit fell far short of most people’s hopes, whatever they were. When all was said and done, when the 130 private aircraft that carried VIP delegates there were refueled and flew home, when the reported 1,200 limousines that ferried them around town were returned to their garages, when the movie stars returned to their Hollywood mansions and world leaders returned to their palaces, and the last anti-globalisation protester broke the last window, we, the people of planet earth, still have absolutely no idea if this carbon-rich event will result in a sustainable future for our children and their children.
As the third spectre in Charles Dickens’ seasonal novel, “A Christmas Carol”, reminds us, we can only alter the future if we alter the present. By most accounts, very few people are impressed with the outcome of Copenhagen. Perhaps, given the current state of the global economy, it is hard to imagine a truly “meaningful and unprecedented” international agreement on climate change at present. The U.S. and much of the rest of the world are dealing with double-digit unemployment, unprecedented government budget deficits, sluggish financial markets, and the growing fear of runaway inflation raising, once again, the spectre of “stagflation,” that haunting ghost we thought we left in the 1970s. With the U.S. budget deficit projected to rise to a mind-numbing $13 trillion over the next ten years, one has to question the value of any promise Washington makes on cutting carbon emissions. Indeed, one has to question the commitment of any country to cutting emissions if that means significant damage to its economy.
In the end, it all came down to decisions taken in two cities: Washington and Beijing. President Obama said that the U.S. would commit to three things, which he summarized as “Mitigation. Transparency. And financing.” Premier Wen apparently agreed with the first and last, but not so much the middle part. And in any case, the rest of the world reckons that the U.S. didn’t commit to enough of the first, maybe too much of the second, and not enough of the third.
We all hope to bequeath to our children and grandchildren a sustainable future. But, if spending our grandchildren into debt even before their parents are even born is any indication of what we call “sustainable”, it is very hard to have much faith that we will curb our selfish appetites anytime soon. Thus, regardless of any “consensus” on human-caused climate change; notwithstanding the re-emboldening of skeptics as a result of “climategate,” the lip service this generation pays to “sustainability” is likely remain just that!
In this season of peace for much of the world, perhaps we should look again to the Ghost of Christmas Past and remember our responsibility to our children’s children by teaching them responsibility by our own example!