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Sometimes it’s good to forget

In these times when we’re headed off a cliff, and no way of knowing whether we can fly, it’s good to see that sometimes troubles end.

A guard tower on the East German border is now a summer house. (From Paul Kaye’s series on the BBC about the Iron Curtain.)

A green and pleasant scene of shrubs and well-tended lawns on the banks of the Elbe

A happy New Year to all.

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Mr. Get-over-it Does It Again

(I’ve been out with swine flu. It was so peaceful, not knowing the news, I kept floating in blissful ignorance as long as I could. As far as I can tell, the Copenhagen climate summit hasn’t been discussed much in the US. Or maybe I’ve just been too out of it?)

First, a bit of backstory. For years, most of the world’s countries have been preparing for the UN summit on climate change at Copenhagen. They see climate change coming, they know they’ll suffer from it, and a majority of countries wanted a more inclusive and more binding agreement than Kyoto 1997. So far, not good enough, but better than nothing.

The summit itself was five days of meetings with all the usual wrangling of “You first” “No, you first” and negotiations going far into the night.

Okay, so you have the picture. The whole world, pretty much, has been working on this thing, and as the meeting goes on, the delegates are getting less and less sleep.

Enter the US. Obama decided that he’d come and give a speech at the close, but would eschew dealing with the sweaty, red-eyed delegates before that. High-handed, but par for the course.

And then what actually happened raised US arrogance to a whole new degree. He parachuted in on the last day. There was no agreement to his liking. So he acted as if the UN didn’t exist, and as if 183 countries hadn’t been talking since forever. He had his own private meeting with China, pulled in Brazil, India, and South Africa to make it a bit more multilateral, and announced that an agreement had been reached and the UN could now sign off on it.

The Obama White House mounted a surgical strike of astounding effectiveness (and astounding cynicism) that saw the president announcing a deal live on [US] TV before anyone – even most of the governments involved in the talks – knew a deal had been done.

Then he hopped on his plane and flew home so the snow wouldn’t mess up his schedule.

The “agreement” did not commit to anything binding and expressed a hope (now where have I heard that word before?) for minimal greenhouse gas reductions. The reductions are so minor that even if those targets were met, the data indicate that they would not keep average temperature from rising less than 2C, would not prevent drastic warming, droughts, migration, famine, disease, and, generally, the four horsemen of the Apocalypse.

It does, however, allow China, the US, India, and so on, to keep polluting while making polite noises to places like Bangladesh and Florida when they drown.

The “agreement” has too little in it to stimulate green industries, so we won’t be getting that benefit either. It has a promise of $100 billion from a consortium of nations over ten years to help developing countries cope with climate change, but similar promises in the past haven’t led to much in the way of actual cash.

And the “agreement” was such a slap in the face to everyone who’d been negotiating that even reporters for the BBC, who’d rather die than lose their professional detachment, say things like:

The concept that global environmental issues can and should be tackled on a co-operative international basis has taken a massive, massive blow.

The UN climate convention is the flagship agreement, and its outcomes are supposed to be negotiated. This deal was presented to the greater body of countries on a take-it-or-leave-it basis by small group of powerful players.

It is now debatable whether the UN climate convention has a meaningful future, or whether powerful countries will just decide by themselves, or in a small group, by how much they are prepared to cut emissions.

That makes optional the established schemes for helping the poorest countries towards a clean energy and climate-protected future.

The implications for other global treaties that are not meeting their goals, such as the UN biodiversity convention, can only be guessed at.

The Europeans, like all good progressives thrown under the Obama bus, swallowed hard and went along with this thing. Half a loaf is supposed to be better than none. But at what point is that no longer true? How about when it’s down to a couple of dirty crumbs?

The delegates generally were mad enough that they came to no decision. They “took note” of the US agreement and went home. It’ll be a cold day in a globally warmed world before they slog for years so the US can step on them again.

Obama, meanwhile, is back and working the same magic on what’s left of health insurance reform. And the progressives here are also staring at a couple of dirty crumbs, swallowing hard, and preparing to go along with it.

What else can they do? They couldn’t possibly walk out on him. They just have to do what he says. Get over it.

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