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Thursday, November 19,2009

Here's the message we need to give China in Hamlet's hometown

By Paul Danish

Good news!

Boulder intends to send a delegation to Copenhagen!

Yes, just when it seems world’s clock is showing Mickey’s little hand on the 12 and his big hand on the 11, a City of Boulder delegation is being dispatched to Copenhagen to straighten things out.

The “15” in “COP15,” by the way, refers to the number of Conferences, not the number of Parties. There are 192 Parties, not counting the City of Boulder. That fact alone goes a long way in explaining why the conference is teetering on the brink of failure. (Boulder isn’t a “Party,” because in order to be a “Party” you generally have to have an army and a navy — or at least a well-regulated militia.)

The purpose of the COP15, which runs Dec. 7–18, is to draft a definitive, legally binding successor to the Kyoto Treaty, which spectacularly failed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (they went up instead) and which expires in 2012 in any case.

Or at least that was the purpose of COP15 up until last week. Over the weekend a bunch of Pacific Rim Heads of State got together in Singapore, slapped their heads, and put out a statement saying, in several languages and so many words:

“A definitive, legally binding treaty?

Ye gods! You’ve got to be kidding.

“Politics is the art of the possible — and that ain’t remotely possible.

“What were we thinking! “So, therefore, be it resolved that at Copenhagen we will kick this can so far down the road you’ll need the Hubble Telescope to find it.”

So things are looking pretty grim in Copenhagen.

But, like Mighty Mouse, a City of Boulder Delegation is on its way to save the day.

The official mission of the Delegation is to “advocate on behalf of local governments” having an important role to play in combating global warming.

This may be easier said than done. A few months ago it was reported that more than 900 American cities have, like Boulder, taken the Kyoto pledge — that is to say imposed on themselves the goal of cutting their greenhouse gas emissions to levels 7 percent below 1990 levels (or 25 percent below 2009 levels in most cases) by 2012. And, all but two of them (Seattle and San Francisco) are failing to do so.

Still, inasmuch as the city seems bound and determined to have a Delegation in the room when the 192 Parties start playing kick the can, the City Council should do one small thing to make the mission to Hamlet’s hometown worth the jet fuel:

It should require that every member of the Boulder delegation speak fluent Chinese.

Why Chinese? To enable them to speak truth to power, of course.

When it comes to combating global warming, the shots at Copenhagen are going to be called by the Party from Middle Kingdom, not the Parties from the USA or the EU.

Sending a delegation that is comfortable speaking Chinese would improve the odds of the Boulder delegates speaking to the people they need to be speaking to — the Chinese — as opposed to the people a delegation of English-only speakers from Boulder is apt to end up talking to: American and European greens who agree with them to begin with.

And what should the delegation from the People’s Republic be saying to the Party from the People’s Republic of China?

Nothing complicated, actually. The Chinese are already well aware of the revolutionary miracles that can ensue when the populations of cities set out to solve big, intractable problems locally. Take Tiananmen Square, for example.

What the People’s Republic of Boulder really needs to tell the People’s Republic of China can be said in two sentences:

1. “Comrades, it’s your planet too.”

2. “Comrades, much as we in the People’s Republic of Boulder might wish it to be otherwise, the American people aren’t very open to the idea of paying you to do the right thing.”

There’s no great mystery as to why COP15, like COPs 1-14 before it, hasn’t produced a definitive, legally binding treaty on climate change. It is because most Third World countries, and Second World countries for that matter, are fundamentally more interested in here-and-now economic development than in the climatic consequences of that development that may or may not turn up decades or centuries from now.

And when it comes to combating global warming, they are going to do nothing that would slow economic development, no matter how grave the future consequences for the planet might be.

Circumstance has made China the leader of the nations that share this view, which happens to be held by more than three quarters of the Parties at COP15.

Nothing is going to change on the international level until the 150-plus Parties for whom China speaks decide that “it’s their planet too.”

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