President Obama Delivers Too Little-Too Late Speech at COP15

After weeks of speculation and days of demonstration in Copenhagen over what the developing nations and NGO’s have been saying was our last, best shot to get a “real deal” for climate change reform — a deal that would help cut global greenhouse gas emissions by enough to turn back the tides, literally saving island nations from flooding that threatens to displace hundreds of thousands and destroy enormous food crops — a deal that would have developed nations helping developing countries adapt to the effects of climate change that have already started to show themselves and are destined to get much worse — and a deal where transparency and accountability are at the heart of the agreement, so that greenhouse gas emissions no matter where in the world can be accurately measured, reported, and verified (MRV) — President Obama today delivered a speech at COP15 which effectively agreed to nothing more than what the greatest skeptics have been saying for months.

America is one of the largest greenhouse gas (GHG) emitters on the planet, yet with all the public support for climate change issues, and all the world sitting on the edge of their seats waiting to see what America would agree to, President Obama stood up in front of the world and delivered a speech that was so watered down, so void of any true leadership, and so unacceptable in terms of embracing science, we are now left to shake our heads and wonder what happened to that amazing leader we elected to the Presidency last November?

Obama agreed to what he calls a 17% cut in GHG emissions, but Obama’s 17% reductions are measured from 2005 emissions levels, whereas the rest of the world measures reduction targets against 1990 levels. Accounting for this discrepancy, Obama is proposing cuts of GHG emissions of only 3%. And one thing from all the science is clear: 3% is unacceptable to mitigate the effects of climate change.

But let me get personal for a minute: It’s hard to understand how what we do in America affects people in developing countries on the other side of the world. There’s a huge disconnect, and this has to impact the policy decisions we make at home, not to mention our everyday lifestyle choices. We really can’t blame President Obama for what is a failure of the American People as a whole to lead the way to a sustainable economy driven by clean sources of renewable energy.

I’ve been couch surfing here in Copenhagen as thousands of other Americans have done, and the Danes do things differently around here. They pay for plastic shopping bags at grocery stores, so from what I’ve seen, everyone brings their own canvass shopping bags to the store. They pay for water whether they own or rent the apartments where they live, so they conserve water. In other words, the Danes feel the effects of their actions: they feel it in their pocketbooks.

Until Americans start to pay for the resources we use… and pay the true cost… we will never feel the impact of our actions, and our will to change will never develop. Why change when we feel fine the way things are? It’s just logic. People don’t like change. People only change when they have no choice.

Today was one of the great disappointments in the history of climate change talks, but it wasn’t a surprise. A Daily Kos article yesterday predicted it, and not for the reasons one might think. Americans have no will to change because those pushing for change are not organized and spend neither adequate money nor allocate adequate resources on persuasion.

As I type this I’m sitting in the alternate meeting location established by the conference after the NGO’s were shut out of the Bella Center the other day. There’s practically no-one here. Watching the live feed from Bella, there’s practically no-one there either. People have already started to lose interest, they have begun to fly home.

At the end of the COP15 conference, there was no agreement to reduce GHG emissions down to a CO2 concentration of 350 parts per million in the atmosphere. No provisions to protect indigenous peoples, women, or youth from the devastating impacts of climate change. And as the conference was brought to a close, and the NGO’s and youth groups and women’s advocacy groups were finally given the opportunity to address the United Nations, presenting signed petitions and draft documents like “The People’s Agreement on Climate Change” the camera panned the empty hall at Bella, and everyone left watching now knows the same inconvenient truth: the leaders are all gone, and the conference is over, and nothing really happened here in Copenhagen except a whole lot of hot air.

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Let us be grateful for all mercies. The waste of police time, food, fuel, paper and electricity for this shambolic conference is apparently not going to lead to any binding agreements. The phoney science, the doctored data, and the emotive posturing have sown disorder and confusion. Perhaps cooler heads will get a chance to be heard from now on?

I’m sadly not surprised by what you’re reporting. Despite all the hoopla last year, it seems that nothing of significance has actually changed. In the US, health care reform has been torpedoed by the GOP and others who see no future in doing anything differently. In that case, all that’s left is a sop thrown to the insurance companies; the citizens will ultimately come out the poorer if the Senate bill passes as it’s currently written.

The forces of “leave it alone, it’s just fine as it is” have swept the field, galling as it is for me to write that. I’m not sure where we need to go from here on. Our great hope seems to have come up short. I suspect that we need to re-group and see what concrete actions we as individuals and small groups can do. We may not have the level of change we were hoping for, but perhaps if we do these things, no one can say that we didn’t try.

I hate to say this, but I suspect that things in so many areas of this hurting world are going to have to get a lot worse before the will exists to force the reluctant to make them better. Heaven help us all!

Great post Evan. Thank you for doing what you do. I think ultimately consumers have the most powerful votes with our shopping decisions. We get to vote every single day. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.