Because, yes… the hot air of the past two weeks seems to have been a phenomenal waste of time. At the end of it, we have a silly little piece of paper, with no legally-binding agreement, and mere platitudes about what we would like to do.
It’s very easy to say we are all committed to stopping climate change. I’m also committed to personally delivering peace in the Middle East.
Of course, neither of these are going to happen, unless I suddenly discover a hidden talent for Hebrew and Arabic.
Every time these crunch meetings come around, we get nothing more than words, most of which are merely an agreement to keep on talking. The agreement assures us that there will be more talks in 2010, and so the date before we get real action gets pushed further back.
That is another year wasted. Another year in which nobody does anything. Just like the concept of mutually assured destruction, arms races inevitably are all about who blinks first. We are witnessing the usual problem of collective action: everybody waits for everyone else to do act, the result being nobody acts at all.
Nobody wants to be the first country to say that they will unilaterally “disarm” themselves of carbon-producing industries. That is tantamount to economic suicide. Green growth will only occur if there is the demand for it, and that will only happen if everyone makes the switch together.
But the fact of the matter is that we find ourselves totally unable to wean ourselves off our addiction to fossil fuels and CO2 producing activities. We have all got lazy as we’ve got older. Convenience comes at a cost in CO2. Even if, by some miracle, the world’s nations did manage to agree drastic, legally binding cuts in CO2, it will take many more decades to change behaviour gradually – which is arguably the only method that will work.
We don’t have decades. We could pass laws tomorrow limiting car use to one hour per day. We could stop all flights. We could phase out all food imports coming from afar.
The problem with such overnight changes is that they’re totally unacceptable, both politically and practically. They will never be sold to the public. And yet, because we’ve left this all too late, and because change to bring emissions down is so slow, radical actions are all we’re going to be able to do if we’re to avert this disaster.
This is why the whole Copenhagen outcome is a fairy tale. There is no solution any more. If we were doing this 30 years ago, then maybe a glacial pace of change would be acceptable. But it isn’t.
But we have to do something. Chances are we are going to bequeath an environmental disaster to future generations, but if we manage to reduce it, even by a tiny fraction, that has to be some progress. They’ll still hate our guts, but maybe not quite so much. Still, we’ll be deep in the cold, cold ground by then.
It’s all a question, therefore, if we care enough about things that arguably don’t matter to us personally, and whether we’re prepared to take the hit now for people in the future, who don’t yet exist, and may never exist.
That’s a pretty abstract argument. But it’s half the problem why we’re making no progress on solving the climate change problem. It’s impossible to make this into something relevant and pressing on everyone’s individual lives in the here and now.
And frankly, I don’t think enough people care.