Durban Climate Conference – who’s paying attention?

Posted November 30th, 2011 in Blog, Featured 2 Comments »

Fostering Ecological Hope
Today from Margaret Swedish:

Anybody? All that saturation coverage in the mainstream news, right? I mean, we sure have a lot of time and space in the news for the sentencing of Michael Jackson’s doctor, but the UN climate conference? Who cares, really…

It’s not as if anything much will come out of it. Which is the news, or ought to be, screaming from front pages and lead stories on all the major networks. Because I can assure all of us – what happens to Jackson’s doctor will not change our lives, but what doesn’t happen in Durban surely will.

WE Energies coal-fired power plant, Milwaukee. Photo: Margaret Swedish

Because this reminder of the international community’s woeful incapacity at the government level to come up with any binding agreements on how to grapple with record levels of greenhouse gas emissions, despite all we know about the dangers that poses to our future on this planet, is just not happy news in these weeks when we are all about shopping.

I mean, how is that for news? We go shopping, and then we have news stories about our shopping. Isn’t that simply more fun? Isn’t that how we create jobs? Isn’t that how we keep those corporations churning out goods manufactured with energy from fossil fuels, assembled in factories using fossil fuels, shipped to those factories and then to our stores using fossil fuels, then getting in our cars to go to the shopping malls using fossil fuels?

If that’s what our economy depends upon, and if the corporations, sovereign funds, and political campaigns depend on money invested in and donated by those corporations, what makes anyone think our noble world leaders will do anything meaningful to address CO2 emissions? Because I can also assure us of this:

addressing global warming and climate change means fundamentally altering the global economy, the meaning of work and its purpose, and the demise of the corporate global state that is built upon the very model that has created the crisis.

So, just to pass on some good links, since you are not likely to find much in the US news, check out this page at The Guardian – many good articles. And this is an article from the Christian Science Monitor that addresses the world’s great failure – that despite warnings, predictions, and research until we can hardly keep up anymore, and this over 3-4 decades, we not only will not act to stop dangerous warming, but in reality it is already passed the point where we can prevent disruptive climate changes. We are faced with a more difficult challenge now – how to keep it from getting worse, and how to adapt as regions of the world and their populations (Africa most especially right now) begin to experience grave impacts, mostly from drought and loss of food and water sources, i.e., the ability to survive.

And then if you want to follow the conference from the source, you can visit the UN’s own site. The theme of what is dubbed COP17 is, “Working Together, Saving Tomorrow Today.” Really, it’s hard not to become cynical.

So, I was driving to and from Omaha this past long weekend (in my beloved Honda Civic VP, manual transmission, still getting more than 42-43 mpg) across western Illinois and Iowa, across agricultural lands and prairies, vast open spaces, big skies. I remember what farm country once looked like. Now much of Illinois is one vast factory producing grains to burn in our vehicles, in the name of cleaner air. Soy biodiesel and ethanol as far as the eye can see. Brown smog hovers over the plains now, and an intensive form of industrial agriculture that burns food for energy, that uses tremendous amounts of fossil fuel energy, chemicals, and pesticides to produce a fuel that burns out my exhaust system more cleanly. And this we consider an improvement.

Sunset over Milwaukee. Just don't breathe... Photo: Margaret Swedish

Sadly, once again, the US is seen as a major obstacle to a binding international agreement. Several environmental organizations and other NGOs sent a letter to Sec. of State Hillary Clinton expressing their concern about the US negotiating position. They include: Earthjustice, Environmental Defense Fund, Greenpeace USA, National Tribal Environmental Council, Natural Resources Defense Council, Native American Rights Fund, Oxfam America, Physicians for Social Responsibility, Population Action International, Population Connection, Sierra Club, Union of Concerned Scientists, The Wilderness Society, World Wildlife Fund.  You can read it here.

Sadly again, Sec. Clinton has not exactly been a leader on this issue, preferring instead to support more exploration and drilling for the fuel to keep the economy churning as the US finds itself in an increasingly tense and multi-polar struggle for economic power.

Which means once again, it is the poor countries vs the rich countries. Who created this problem, after all? My Mother taught me that I had to take responsibility for the mess I made, not expect somebody else utterly innocent of the mess to bear the burden of cleaning it up – or worse, denying themselves so that I can continue to make a mess.

Beyond that metaphor is a moral challenge of the first degree.

So we arrive at the moment of this conference with global warming nearly disappeared from the national conversation. Here in this increasingly dysfunctional society of ours, fewer and fewer of us even believe it is occurring or anything to worry about. The NY Times reported at some length on this phenomenon back in October on the front page of their Sunday Review section, Where Did Global Warming Go? Tidbits you can’t help but enjoy:

“In Washington, ‘climate change’ has become a lightning rod, it’s a four-letter word,” said Andrew J. Hoffman, director of the University of Michigan’s Erb Institute for Sustainable Development…

This fading of global warming from the political agenda is a mostly American phenomenon…

The United States is the “one significant outlier” on responding to climate change, according to a recent global research report produced by HSBC, the London-based bank…

After watching the Republican candidates express skepticism about global warming in early September, former President Bill Clinton put it more bluntly, “I mean, it makes us — we look like a joke, right?”

Yes, Mr. Former President, we sure do! This supposedly smart superior nation is dumbing itself down more and more when it comes to the science of the nature of which we are a part, in which we participate. From evolution to over-population, to the causes of immigration and mass migrations, to addressing roots of poverty, to the impacts of fossil fuel extraction and production, to the amount of chemicals we breathe, eat, and drink every day, to habitat destruction, overuse of aquifers so that we can have the houses in the pretty mountains and green areas we love so much, to climate change – we are making ourselves ignorant so that we do not have to change how we live.

And yet how we live is changing all around us, drastically, from the combination of economic and ecological shifts and various forms of collapse. You wonder how much of this kind of change we will absorb before we are simply forced to face the truth of our situation. How bad must it get?

Want her to have a good healthy life. Photo by Mom

Because this is not just about CO2 emissions and warming. It’s what I saw as I drove across Illinois and Iowa. It’s the exurban sprawl now spread out far beyond Milwaukee County that is covering over farmland and causing the collapse of the kind of farm economy that used to actually produce good food to eat. It’s about breaking up habitats and poisoning water and overusing groundwater sources and destroying the ecosystem of Lake Michigan — all in the name of some sort of extravagant lifestyle that we don’t even experience as extravagant anymore, but as birthright, an American aspiration to which we are all entitled.

That belief system, that true national religion (because it sure ain’t Christianity – I know the Gospels inside and out and I know what Jesus of Nazareth would think of this culture right now) – that true national religion, the deceptions of which are fully financed by the billionaires and corporate leaders who know this stuff as well as you or I and who are trying to hold on to their wealth and power for as long as they can, that true national religion has led us directly into this crisis and therefore not only can’t lead us out but does not intend to even try.

So here we are in the cultural silence around the Durban conference, a silence unique to this country, the one that has put more CO2 into the atmosphere than any other nation. We believe our way of life privileges us to do so.

This, my friends, is a grave moral responsibility to carry as the world moves deeper into a warming trend that can no longer be stopped.

I repeat what I have spoken and written over and over again, what for me is the essential question (title of chapter 9 in my book, see sidebar): what kind of human beings will we be as we go through the crisis? In our answer to that question lies the kind of future  we are about to create by what we do, or don’t do, now.

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