Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The first step to reducing CO2 emissions? Stop holding summits on how to reduce CO2 emissions

Apparently, transportation for the ongoing Copenhagen climate summit, the so-called "summit to save the world", is being provided for by, among other things, a fleet of 1,200 limos and 140 private planes. There are not enough limos in the country to meet demand, so they're being driven in from places hundreds of miles away in Sweden and Germany, and the airport in Copenhagen doesn't have enough space to park all the planes, so they're shuttling off to other airports in the region when they're not ferrying about VIP passengers. Suffice it to say, all of this requires quite a lot of fuel - the carbon footprint for the eleven-day event is expected to be the same as that for a city of 150,000 over the same time period, for a summit that will not even produce any sort of binding agreement on how to deal with climate change, just a "statement of intent". Maybe I'm being too harsh, though - everyone knows it's impossible to actually accomplish anything unless you first form an intent to do so, and then, more importantly, state that you have formed an intent to do so, and intend to act on that intent. Besides, maybe they'll all be buying carbon offsets.

Snark aside, while it's easy enough to rake people like these over the coals for their hypocrisy and self-satisfaction, and they certainly deserve it, this story does shine an interesting light on what is, from the perspective of the developed world, an under-explored aspect of the anti-climate change movement - privilege. It is almost exclusively a movement of well-off people in well-off countries, i.e. people who can afford the luxury of a massage to their moral vanity via activism on long-term issues that may or may not be problems years down the road (and, in the wake of revelations like the recent Climate-Gate data fixing scandal, the threat presented by rising CO2 levels is less clear than ever). For people in India, or Brazil, or China, or Vietnam, or any of the many other nations that have recently begun to stabilize the precarious and uncertain nature of existence in a pre-industrial agrarian society via the wealth- (and CO2-) generating processes of industrialization and urbanization, it's much less clearly the most pressing issue in the world today. I tend to agree with people in the developing world. Human-induced climate change may indeed prove to be a serious problem in the decades to come, and even if it doesn't, we should still be striving to reduce the amount of carbon we consume in order to conserve fossil fuel. But global poverty is a serious problem right now. It's true that people in poor countries may suffer from malnutrition, disease, and starvation in the year 2050 as a result of risen global temperatures. Guess what - they're suffering from malnutrition, disease, and starvation right now, because they're poor. Now that, in at least some parts of the developing world, that seems to be changing, rich white people want to tell them to knock it off, because the carbon they're producing manufacturing our luxury goods is un-PC? Something tells me that's not going to fly.

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