Christmastime and Christmastide wait for no man, and there’s been plenty to prevent me from following up on my doom-laden thoughts about COP15 and what might happen if it failed: which it did. Before 2009 draws entirely to a close it’s probably worth a few brief words on the subject.
It’s important to acknowledge from the start that COP15 and the process dubbed “Hopenhagen” failed utterly: no binding legal agreement was put in place; there wasn’t even, beneath the rhetoric, any diplomatic agreement; and what targets were mentioned were so laughably inadequate that they might as well not have bothered. It now looks likely that China scuppered the last-minute talks, for what reason I don’t know, unless they’ve found a way of sequestering carbon that we don’t know about: in which case, they won’t lose out by sharing it much as we already share the atmosphere that’s causing the problems.
I had in fact just about reconciled myself to Naomi Klein’s suggestion that no deal was better than a bad deal, although I still felt that COP15 could have finessed a good deal even in its closing stages. It’s also clear that time is running out, and there’s only so many times we can press the reset button on the political process, so do those wheels grind slow (and not particularly small, it seems.) So I was less upset by COP15’s failure than by the abject failure of our politicians
I’m sure Melty-face Cameron would have done the same, of course, but why did Gordon Brown pretend COP15 was some sort of triumph? It’s all very well to suggest that, as a politician, they needed some sort of victorious outcome from the process, but real leadership could easily have come up with something substantial for the electorate that also highlighted the fact that China had ruined that particular international process: sanctions, a national carbon rationing scheme, a cross-party transition to green politics, and a timetable for setting up many binational agreements that might take the place of some of the COP15 framework. Essentially, we might have a modest plan that could be seen to happily freeze out China, and nullify the effects of its slavish pursuit of outmoded economic models. It’s not as though kowtowing to China has increased our influence with them, after all: yet another special relationship, like the one with the US, that bears more similarity to the special relationship one might have with a sinister and slightly gropey uncle than anything else.
Instead, we have a complete failure of political will, and tacit appeasement of the UK’s climate denialism with weak, watery policy. So why aren’t people taking to the streets? Why aren’t they doing what respected politicians suggest and blockading coal power stations? Why isn’t there civil disobedience on a large scale? Beyond the largely acknowledged fact that the population as a whole is apathetic, ignorant and blithely in denial, confronting climate change with a shrug and a swift change of topic, I don’t know. Why am I not taking to the streets? I’m not sure about that one either, apart from my natural physical cowardice.
COP15 has failed; the political process towards fighting climate change has failed. We can’t rely on it any more. What other options do we have? some might say: very few). Political disobedience, certainly, but in a country with the UK’s innate intellectual, cultural and political conservatism disobedience on its own is bound to fail. But there’s an alternative, as the ever-eloquent Franny Armstrong suggests at the end of her rather bitterly realistic assessment of COP15 here:
What if we, the people, do as Gordon Brown should have done? Let’s say: we continue regardless, acknowledging that COP15 failed but assuming that the original targets did and do make good economic and environmental sense, and start to implement smaller-scale measures anyway?
Let’s normalize carbon rationing, local production, make-do-and-mend and public transport: who’d have believed we’d ever have been able to normalize climate-change discourse only a few years ago? Let’s treat people who still continue to fly around the world like the poor-killing social pariahs they ought to be; let’s boycott China and oil-intensive plastic goods; let’s be encouraging and noncompetitive towards other people’s genuine attempts to “go green” but expose greenwash for what it is; let’s share skills and knowledge; let’s write letters and rebut climate denialism; let’s find the little things that make a big difference, and just do them.
It might sometimes feel like we’re musicians, or even deckchair arrangers, on the Titanic, but if you don’t have hope you don’t have anything, and I don’t see people who are understandably incredibly upset over COP15 committing suicide en masse yet. Overconsumption is ultimately pretty boring anyway: let’s try something else.