Hertsgaard: “The Copenhagen disaccord”

09 Jan 2010

“We have entered the post-Copenhagen era of climate politics—but just what that means is still very much undecided,” writes Mark Hertsgaard in The Nation, (Jan 7, 2010).

The summit was widely regarded as humanity’s last good chance to prevent catastrophic climate change. It plainly fell short of that goal, but giving up is not an option, not for anyone who cares about preserving a livable planet for our children. Instead, we need the most unfettered, open-minded discussion possible of the terrain confronting us post-Copenhagen and how best to traverse it. Which actions and strategies make sense now? What should governments be pressed to do, and what role should activists, media and civil society play?”

Instead, the initial reaction seemed to be to figure out who to blame.

If particular countries really are to blame (and we don’t just chalk it up to the difficulty of solving any kind of public goods problem), then it’s helpful to point that out.

But it should only be a small part of our reaction to Copenhagen. People who seem to know what they’re talking about—like Scott Barrett at Columbia and David Victor at UC San Diego—stress that we need new ways of tackling the climate change problem.

We need loads more money going into technology R&D. We need deals on technology standards and technology sharing. So far the focus has been mainly on targets for emissions cuts, without much focus on how to get there.

We’ve been somewhat like an archer, focusing intently on a distant bull’s eye, while holding a child-size bow and arrow that has no chance of shooting far enough to reach the target.

Although, there’s part of me, too, that recognizes that technology can never be the whole solution. It will require us to change how we live. And in that sense, we have the basic technologies we need.

As George Monbiot showed in his book Heat, we can cut emissions drastically without having to abandon modern life. But it will take sacrifices, and as long as saying remains political suicide, then I think we have little hope.


books I've read on failure & grace

The World Without Us
The Last Oil Shock: A Survival Guide to the Imminent Extinction of Petroleum Man
A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster
Hell and High Water: Global Warming--the Solution and the Politics--and What We Should Do
The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl
The Tipping Point
Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace... One School at a Time
The Upside of Down: Catastrophe, Creativity and the Renewal of Civilization
Out of Poverty: What Works When Traditional Approaches Fail
The Little Ice Age: How Climate Made History, 1300-1850
Confessions of an Eco-Sinner: Tracking Down the Sources of My Stuff
Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future
The Geography of Bliss: One Grump's Search for the Happiest Places in the World

Mason's favorite books »