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Giving Thanks to the Workaday Worldchangers
Alex Steffen, 19 Dec 09

Leave aside, for a moment, the outcome of COP15 (I'll have plenty to say about it Monday). It was a huge accomplishment that it took place at all, that so many world leaders took part and that climate change was front and center in the global media for two weeks straight.

It was also a lot of hard work. Before we get back into the questions of "What just happened?" "What did it mean?" and "What the hell do we do now?" I'd like to simply stop and acknowledge the people whose efforts have been the backbone of international progress: the global change grunts.

You don't know most of their names, and neither do I. They're diplomats, civil servants, NGO workers, reporters, event planners, consultants and academics, and most of what they do is invisible to even those of us who follow the issues, but without that work, no international progress would ever be made.

Their work is generally not glamorous. Much of it is boring, and involves policy briefs, protocol and parliamentary procedure, consultation and consensus-building and more consultation and more consensus-building. They spend a lot of time on the road, laying the groundwork for their leaders' negotiations. They stay in bad hotels, work in airports, push on through bureaucracy and long, often pointless, meetings. Many of them are some of the smartest people around: they could do anything (and make more money). They choose to take on this work. Without them, nothing at all would get done.

So, spare a thought for the thousands of women and men who worked non-stop, gave up years of their lives, missed time with their families, often carried the heavy emotional burdens of confronting the worst problems our planet faces on a daily basis, all simply to get us to COP15. If Copenhagen was a failure, it wasn't their failure.

The world owes its thanks to the workaday worldchangers.

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I think I would have been more impressed had the summit taken place via teleconferencing, with live streaming at youtube, and had everyone there not flown in. Has anyone calculated the carbon footprint of this summit?

Posted by: Aine on 21 Dec 09

I still think the astonishing fact is that people think it's astonishing that this took place at all. When faced with a self-caused change of geologic proportions, you'd think it would be perfectly natural to get together (or separately) to begin mitigating the causes.

And as Anne indicates, for example, is it true that 1,200 limos were ordered from the conference, some of which had to be flown in from other countries?

Posted by: Josh Stack on 21 Dec 09

The carbon footprint of this event was vanishing small - not even noticeable - in relationship to the emissions reduced by even the limited accord that was agreed to. And while there were certainly limos and private jets and such, much of that is what attends traveling heads of state and other leaders - without that stuff, they wouldn't be there (in many cases, their security services demand these things for often good reasons).

Keep some perspective, folks. Don't get distracted by trivia.

Posted by: Alex Steffen on 21 Dec 09

You wrote: "The carbon footprint of this event was vanishing small - not even noticeable..."

Alex, what would you say to me if I said: "The carbon footprint [my Hummer H1 is vanishing small - not even noticeable - in relationship to the emissions reduced by "my actions elsewhere." And followed up with, "I demand [my Hummer H1] for...good reasons, [like the safety of my children while driving]."

That "trivia" is exactly the force destroying the Holocenic World as we know (knew) it. Until our values change, including those among us that consider themselves more essential to the solution than others, every jet, limo "and such", as you write, is as essential as me scrapping my (hypothetical) Hummer...

So why would I be universally condemned (justifiably so) for driving a Hummer while those riding in the 1,200 limos are ummm, carbon-indulged?

Unless you practice some quantum physics type of reason, logic and moral law, wherein the laws of the Land, or here, the natural laws of Earth, apply to me but don't applly to you or to heads of state, or the average king or extraordinary beggar. No one's carbon is any more destructive or valued than any other's...any more than the freedom of a Swidden farmer is any less inviolate than the CEO of Goldman Sachs.

We are all equally subject to natural law, with which there is no negotiation...we all will be forced to "take note" whether we arrive at and achieve some fictional level of anthropogenic CO2 in the atmosphere or not.

For all that vanishingly small carbon, what exactly did these heads of state actually agree to? Or more accurately, "take note of".

Posted by: Josh Stack on 21 Dec 09

Josh, what I'd say is that your comparison is facetious.

If you really don't understand the difference between a head of state's security requirements and driving a Hummer for pleasure, and if you really don't understand that some emissions are investments in reducing much larger emissions elsewhere, then I think you don't understand the real world very well.

Posted by: Alex Steffen on 23 Dec 09

My tone may be light-hearted but my point is dead serious. And you missed it completely...and instead start with a straw man and end with an ad hominem.

I wrote that I drove my (hypothetical) Hummer for safety of my children, not for "pleasure." Big difference, obviously. So your straw man fails there.

Nevermind that a limo implies luxury and prestige, not security (that's why you see the President and other Luminaries driving specially reinforced Suburbans...are justifiably about security). And forgot for a second that as "heads of state," hundreds of millions of families fund the Heads' of State luminous drive a freaking Hybrid Tahoe, or prototype biodiesel or hydrogen fueled Suburban that your citizens pay for. So one point, were these 1,200 limos essential to security or just the standard lifestyle of your average Luminary? And isn't the lifestyle of your average world leader exactly part of the carbon problem? Personally I think this is a dumb thing to be debating but you brought it up.

They are no different than the US politicians doing press conferences from Prius', then driving around the corner to head home in their Tahoe. In a sense, you are correct...the carbon emissions of these heads of state are mostly irrelevant even if, unfortunately, the luminaries themselves are not. The rot of the mainstream Environmental/Sustainability community's Copenhagen mentality goes deeper...

You, for example, are making a Utilitarian argument...i.e., carbon emissions are investments, allowed for some but denied for others. Your key criteria is the potential for an emission to create deeper cuts elsewhere. Under your thinking, any Luminary with security requirements could be chauffered in a Hummer for all you care, so long as these carbon emissions are "investments in reducing much larger emissions elsewhere." Under that logic, these luminaries may as well have taken personal jets home each night to sleep in their own (well actually the public's) housing. But again, no matter.

The deeper point, Alex, is that you're bringing a utilitarian argument to a moral fight. As carbon emissions are investments, you label me a fool for not understanding how the real world works. You essentially are claiming that one's carbon emissions are "right" because they are useful and of benefit to the majority. One of my implicit questions was, "really? These carbon emissions were "right" because they were vital to much larger emissions elsewhere?" Again, nevermind the fair question that pundits everywhere are scrambling to answer -- how good of an investment were these emissions in producing deeper cuts in other emissions elsewhere, i.e., how successful were these "Head of State Emissions" in convincing others to sacrifice theirs? In a Utilitarian sense, as you'd make it, what value did I receive on my carbon (and financial) investment to send Obama over there?" How many units of carbon did Copenhagen avoid creating? What's the ratio of carbon emitted to carbon cut? What's the marginal return? These should be measurable, as counting carbon is the mainstream environmentalist's favorite thing to do, as well as any municipality or university that likes to market and make itself feel better about existing, just adopt the WRI or EPA Climate Leaders program, count your carbon, add some CFL's and insulation...and BAM, the your institution achieves the Billy Mayes version of Sustainability.

These carbon counting and investment questions are inane, but just a few of very real consequences of your argument. I think this goes to the heart of traditional environmentalism's failings - first criticize business to no end, well that failed, so now it's about applying Economics to these issues to do things like create carbon "investments".

Of course the politician, and now apparently the leading thinkers in the bright green sustainability movement, would tell me, "son, you just don't understand the intricacies of international negotiation or the pragmatic realities of resolving the competing self-interests of 136 different nations. This is the stuff of experts. Limos are completely necessary. They are investments in luminaries who will agree to agree to help you cut your carbon emissions."

My point about the "Copenhagen Carbon," is moral not utilitarian. It's really not about Carbon but rather about one's values. My's not about the numbers, i.e., the utilitarian abacus, or even 350, 450 or 550. They are points of distraction, of denial, and of fiction. If carbon is an investment, and subject of modern Economics, itself fundamentally utilitarian, then so are lives. How many people die in a 350 world from causes associated with Climate Change? How many people have already died? How many are now starving, as the world wastes anywhere from 50% to 90% of its available food? How many will die today? With water, it's a 747 of children dying of lack of water.

God knows there's already so many profitable measures and design alternatives we could adopt, many of which are featured at Worldchanging, that would make moot any need for an international non-binding or even binding but likely ignored carbon treaty.

And the environmental truths are showing that Climate is only one of 9 emerging planetary boundaries. Even had Copenhagen solved the world's Climate troubles, Earth and all species would continue living lives of degraded health, toward hastened death. The living world would continue dying. As EO Wilson puts it, if you preserve only the physical, the living will continue to die. But if you preserve the living, the living will take care of both itself and the physical environment. That's why it's at least heartening to see some agreement on protecting tropical forests come out of Copenhagen. But the deeper question is, "was it really necessary to have Copenhagen to reach this agreement?" If one answers yes, my reply is that we're doomed.

If think my argument is naive, then here's a serious the safety of a diplomat, "head of state" or his/her entourage any more valuable than that of a humble family? Why the limo for the luminary but not for one's newborn, if in fact, as you conclude...the issue is, essentially, "security requirements", that is, ensuring one's safety?

It's not that I don't "understand" that "some emissions are investments", it's that I flat out don't agree. Why? Because 1) emerging planetary boundaries we face and 2) the broken nature of our current international regulatory system, collectively, show that what happened in Copenhagen was tragically probable. And that any "binding agreement" is most likely destined to be tragically unenforced or done in ways to make fiction writers envious.

As a small business owner, I make my living in the real word. I tend to choke on the rarified air of luminaries and international conferences claiming to save the world for me (if only I shop more and pay more in taxes!). And frankly, if I believe my child's safer in a Suburban than a Reva electric car, then I am buying the Suburban. But if I happen to believe that continuing to drive a Suburban is more dangerous to my child's future, then I will make a value change for survival even though I lack the virtually unlimited resources of a Head of State. As a Head of Family, I'll do my best to arrive at an international consensus of negotiated shopping and consumer choices. And so if these Luminaries actually accepted the harsh limits of life and death that 4 degree world means, for example, then they would have used their virtually unlimited resources to find a f@?cking different way to get to the conference. One that preserved their security but eliminated their carbon.

My key point, I'm sacrificing the Suburban and its benefits of safety because I acknowledge how it destroys my little girl's world in much more ominous and evil ways than coming out the winner in a head-on crash with a Reva. There is a cold evil to how carbon emissions actually wreak their damage, just as with industrial chemicals, biodiversity destruction, etc. (i.e., the 9 planetary limits).

And again, how many people die in a 350 world? In your economic utilitarianism, this is just how the world works. It's naive to think or believe otherwise. The dignitaries need their limos. Heads of State need their climate treaties. Nations need economic incentives and assurances that competing nations won't use coal as a weapon of mass destruction to gain superpower advantage. That a carbon tax or cap and trade or some mechanism to value carbon is essential to solve the climate challenge.

My points. The numbers are largely irrelevant. The science is substantially clear now, that hundreds of thousands if not millions face shorter lifes and tougher deaths due to Climate. In my moral realism, that's just how the world works, one of Nature's Non-Negotiable Laws, inherently more powerful than any anthropogenic treaty. It's naive to believe in Economics and carbon emissions and investments. Carbon is a naturally occurring element vital to life, not a commodity to be traded. Whether dignitaries need limos is irrelevant, but whether those 2,000 children need water isn't. That many immensely profitable solutions already exist, that can be implemented today, if only we see the morality as well as the direct economic and competitive benefits of funding these initiatives. I'll name 10 if you'd like.

By the way, how you use the concept of "Security" can also be used to justify not signing any carbon reduction treaty. Security is self-interest, mostly, which is understandable. See your cofounder's post at Open the Future about Carbon Cold Wars. Or this article - It is arguably true, already, that China sees immense benefit in continuing its coal-based economy, and changing based on the pace of its global self-interest and security rather than on Nature's time line or that Swidden agriculturalists. Probably by the sad happenstance that China sees self-benefit, that is, better security in a carbonified world. Too bad for Tuvulu. It's only economically feasible to live in a world of 450.

I realize the large number of comments you receive on this site, but frankly, the thinking and attitude underlying your above response is part of the problem, not part of a bright green solution. To many, it's no wonder that Copenhagen failed, or even if it was wildly successful, that the living world, which includes us, would continue dying.

Posted by: Josh Stack on 24 Dec 09

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