Copenhagen: A Fatal Summit

Armando Chaguaceda

Havana like many coastal cities could face disaster.
Havana like many coastal cities could face disaster. Photo: Caridad

Last week I showed my class the film “The Eleventh Hour,” by Leonardo Di Caprio.  Without all of the paraphernalia used by Al Gore, but supported by well-founded testimonies, the work is an accusatory declaration about the socio-environmental disaster that confronts us.  Moreover, it speaks of how time seems to be running out in vain as selfishness conspires in favor of our suicide as a species.  The movie made the students shudder.

Notwithstanding, the film is a song of hope that appeals to the capacities of science and ethics to guide this ship we call civilization.

However, the final hours of the Copenhagen Summit on Climatic Change has just engulfed me in frustration, anger and pessimism.  The major powers were refusing to limit their emissions if the underdeveloped countries didn’t do the same.  Financing for technological updating and mitigation will be provided through an eyedropper, and these, geared only to medium term solutions.

Several voices denounced this reigning indecency.  Environmentalists clamored, “If the climate were a bank, they would have already saved it,” recalling the extortionate mega-bailouts that resulted in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis.

Bolivian president Evo Morales called for a “climatic court of justice” to put on trial those who fail to reduce emissions.  Cuba refused to sign the horrendous final document, which was cooked up between a handful of powers and was non-binding without any teeth to enforce it.

The lords of the planet revealed their true “democratic” mettle.  Thousands of activists from all over the world -who had previously registered to participate- were prevented from entering the discussion forums.

All around the Bella Center (the conference headquarters), several hundred youth suffered from teargas and clubbing.  In the most intolerable totalitarian style, security forces restrained Friends of the Earth members for five hours, finally stripping them of their credentials.

As consequence of the larger struggle in Copenhagen between countries, disagreements have become amplified.  A solid financing framework to help underdeveloped countries in their policies of adaptation to climate change and the reduction of emissions remains a distant chimera.  And other key aspects such as technological cooperation and the protection of forests did not advance substantially.

The reduction of emissions offered by rich countries will mean an increase in the temperature by 3º C or more by the year 2100; this will force the movement of great numbers of people presently living on islands, low coastal areas and deltas who are threatened by an increasing sea level.

Meanwhile, we lack the necessary “international safeguards” capable of protecting and assisting countries at risk of being destroyed by climate change or confronting emergency situations in cases of disaster.  At the summit we witnessed only rhetoric, an absence of vision and flimsy commitments to the future.

In my current city of Xalapa, several friends and I have pledged ourselves to making personal efforts by walking short distances (rather than driving), conserving energy and buying in the local market.  But in a system that puts shopping centers and freeways before nature and health, the price of an alternative way of life is usually high for the average citizen.  Likewise, the development of environmental education and community activism are only limited options.

These are not enough if governments and businesses -along with the induced complicity of the mass of compulsive consumers- persist in this death dance.  From this I recalled a quote by George Gordon (Lord) Byron (1788-1824): “The more I learn about men, the more I like my dog.”