Op-Ed: After Copenhagen, Before the Storm

On December 19th 2009 I received a short e-mail from my brother who was on the ground at the Copenhagen Climate Conference. It was time stamped 2am and read: “Looks like no deal on COP15…at least not the one everyone was aiming for.” He was in Copenhagen filming a forthcoming documentary, already a year in the making. The project had taken him and the production crew from New York to the Congo and everywhere in between, following key players along the road leading to the largest ever conference of its kind. It was here the world would converge to agree that climate change is undeniable – but to disagree about essentially everything else.


During the two week-long conference,world leaders, dignitaries, special envoys and ambassadors arrived in droves; protesters received  fascistic treatment from Danish police; vendors displayed the latest in green technology; and thousands of people who had registered for entry to the conference were locked out due to  sloppy planning. The world waited with bated breath for a tangible outcome, even though many had seen failure on the cards long before.

This unprecedented and globally collaborative event made history on a number of levels, but a legally binding plan of action was not one of the outcomes. Of course, you might be amongst the skeptics. If you do happen to view climate change as some kind of fabrication, falsehood or conspiracy then consider its goal; to diabolically make the world a better place; to conserve dwindling water supplies, cut back toxic pollution and waste, reduce dependency on oil, protect endangered species, promote and build local economies, and create thousands of jobs to replace those that are being lost as the Dickensian remnants of the Industrial Revolution start to crumble and collapse.

On cue following the failure at Copenhagen, the climate change skeptics are beginning to pour out of the woodwork. They’ve seen a weakness, they’re gunning for it, and the media is lapping it up. Christopher Monckton is one such suddenly outspoken skeptic – not an informed scientist mind you but rather a self-proclaimed global warming ‘expert’, even though his qualifications are as a mathematician and once-editor of a UK based Catholic newspaper. However I find that when the fools self-identify it makes things clearer – it’s when they feign support in one direction while secretly steering for an ulterior motive that things go wrong. A common occurrence in the political limelight.

Photo courtesy of KK+, licensed under Creative Commons

The disheartening fact is that what is still being called a ‘debate’ is essentially semantics and nit-picking. Some take the global warming title literally and promptly point out that our winters are colder than ever. In truth climate change is more accurate because even though warming is the phenomenon, this causes a vicious chain reaction that results in extreme weather conditions that we are already beginning to witness. All that aside I believe denying climate change is akin to condoning deforestation, species loss, food shortages and the spread of disease which are just a few of the horrific side effects of our destructive impact on nature. As with the green movement as a whole it’s the underlying facts that should be the focus, not what name it goes by.

It is here and now that we must come to realize that this green issue is in fact black and white. Like it or not we are all part of the problem or part of the solution, because we can no longer just be an indifferent part of the landscape. We’re all in this boat together. On the one side, people are scrambling to patch up the holes as water rushes in, while those at the opposite end are drilling more. And many of us, up until now, have just been along for the ride. Even as the boat sinks we ponder whether to upgrade to a 50-inch plasma TV because that 48-incher just isn’t big enough anymore. The privileged few are making decisions that the majority are paying for; it’s the bottom line of our ‘advanced’ society and an equation that works on many levels. If everyone on Earth were to have the same lifestyle that we in the developed world take for granted, we’d need another 8 planets to meet the relentless demand on resources. In fact the biggest debate of all at Copenhagen was an economic one; some developing nations argued that the same carbon restrictions shouldn’t be imposed on them as on the developed nations because it would hinder their chance to grow, and developed nations fought for their right to grow further, clinging to their lucrative fossil fuel powered progress and wasteful consumerism.

Photo courtesy of KK+, licensed under Creative Commons

The most overlooked element of the climate change situation is that we’ve been given the false choice between Economy and Environment. Like body and mind, force and matter, the two are inseparable. But like body and mind we’ve managed to place them as far apart as possible, not understanding the crucial symbiosis: that one directly affects the other. The rate of exponential growth that we as a society lust for year after year is simply not sustainable, nor was it ever meant to be. Many in the politico-media spotlight have repeatedly stated that we’d be putting an already shaky economy at risk by taking actions such as switching to alternate energy or retooling production lines to produce environmentally friendly goods. There is rarely an opportune moment to do the right thing, you just have to do it, even when no one else is and this is. This is the definition of true leadership.

What it comes down to for the individual is this; what are you here to do? A simple question, perhaps, but difficult to answer, and rightly so.

It’s a bit like a ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ book. If you were like me as a kid you would occasionally flip ahead and see which was the better choice to make. Unlike a video game success and failure were already written, so why not take a peek and avoid getting eaten by an ogre? With climate change, too, all outcomes have already been written because Science allows us to flip ahead and see what the consequences of our actions might be. Making the right choice at the right time will steer us toward a more hopeful future. Unfortunately the politicians, corporations and bureaucrats who we entrust our adventures to can also peek ahead, but are still bent on marching us into a pit of giant spiders. Not only that, once out of the pit they backtrack and repeat their dangerous activities, and we let them. It comes as no surprise that “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results” was Einstein’s definition of insanity. It’s mad to go about our business and expect those in power to simply one day decide to do the right thing on behalf of us all.

The resolution at Copenhagen needed to be a majority rules situation, not a consensus. The time for looking to world leaders for answers is over. We’ve witnessed a systemic failure, and just as 14 global climate change conferences prior to Copenhagen weren’t enough, the 15th has also failed. We now look to the 16th in Mexico city later this year.

Strangely, I find a sense of strength and inspiration in this failure, in looking at the momentous involvement of people that began growing in the lead up to COP15 and that has exploded since. I cannot speak highly enough of organizations like Avaaz, 350.org, TckTckTck, Hopenhagen, and GetUp to name only a few who rallied people into awareness leading up until the conference, and maintained a presence during the talks, representing the voice of humanity. Involvement of the people is swelling more than ever before, so much so that it sends shivers down my spine to read the statistics behind grass-roots movements. The documentary that my brother is working so hard on, to be entitled 2 Degrees , is one example of people piling effort upon effort to inspire and create change. When the film is released it will provide an eye-opening look behind-the-scenes which is far more Bourne Identity than it is boring.

Photo courtesy of KK+, licensed under Creative Commons

I for my part am just getting started. Though several years of study and professional experience as an Industrial Designer have been focused on trying to make things better, I’ve come to realize the harsh truth that being truly green doesn’t mean selectively retrofitting bits and pieces of your products, processes, image or sales pitches to satisfy self-conscious consumerism. It’s about creating a new business model. It’s having the backbone to start from zero when the the corporate world is so wildly obsessed with percentages of growth, profit margins and market share. Not only is change possible, it’s well underway. Companies like Interface, Patagonia, and General Electric have been at the forefront of radical sustainable business development for some time which values People and Planet just as much as Profit.

Nikola Tesla said that “we are the result of ages of continuous adaptation, and we cannot radically change without unforeseen and, in all probability, disastrous consequences.” Before reading this as a negative statement, I’d urge you to consider what these ‘disastrous’ consequences might be, and for whom. Radical change is coming – whether it be cataclysmic or gradual; whether it be environmental, social, or economic (or all three) – and those who are aware, prepared, tuned in, and creating the new, will take the roles of leadership as we move into the next chapter of human history.

That being said, I’ll now leave you in the capable hands of Ben Harper:

“When the People lead, the leaders they will have to follow,
And all their lies and their alibis they will have to swallow,
And it’s you, you, you, that has the authority,
For the one who is right is the Majority.”

It’s time to choose our own adventure.


2 Degrees (teaser)
from Green Turtle Films on Vimeo.

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Published on 7 June 2010 |