Coping with Copenhagen

Imagine Times Square, New York City on New Year’s Eve, you see the giant Tiffany crystal ball overhead prepared to light up and signal the fresh start of something new, something better, something hopeful to wash away the sweat and tears of the past year.

Now go to the website of the UN Climate Change Conference where you will find the countdown clock for the Copenhagen Conference on Climate Change ticking away dramatically.  Don’t you feel the excitement, the anticipation, the prospect of realizing the aspirations of Kyoto which were frustrated by the refusal of the United States and a few other Neanderthal nations to play ball?  This time around the United States has a new president, and he REALLY wants to play ball at Copenhagen.  He wants to be accepted as a player in the global quest to solve the “climate crisis”.

Does this feel a little surreal?

If you answer yes, that’s good because the build-up to Copenhagen is one of the best produced movies since—well, An Inconvenient Truth.  It has drama.  It has villains.  It has suspense.  It has a noble quest to lift the spirit and a cast of many hero-wannabes.

What is does not have but is about to get is a big dose of reality therapy. That reality is being delivered in small doses these days as the countdown clock ticks on seeking desperately to adjust expectations to fit the facts of what can be done—and not done in Copenhagen in December.  You will hear these messages in diplomatic dress over the next few months delivered by politicians and statesmen who having raised expectations by endless pandering to the true believers now try to adjust them to the current realities.

The Kyoto Protocol was successful in raising world awareness of environmental responsibility and good stewardship.  It strengthened the drive for energy efficiency, expanded use of cleaner fuels and new renewable energy technologies, and encouraged investment in cleantech we might not have seen otherwise.

The Kyoto Protocol failed miserably as an enforceable global policy framework for disciplining countries in setting, enforcing and achieving specific mandated reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.  We all know the reasons for this failure.  The world’s biggest economy and some of the world’s fastest growing developing economies refused to be bound by arbitrary global mandates especially if they impeded economic growth.  Others signed onto Kyoto and then either ignored the targets, failed to achieve them, or cheated. The rest lamented that the “science was settled” and chastised any who questioned it.  But while the literati and environmental do-gooders rejoiced in Al Gore’s Nobel Prize and Academy Award the folks on Main Street were not quite convinced that the inconvenient truth was really true.

And so for all the hype and work of the climate change or “climate crisis” public relations machine, regular folk voted not to bankrupt themselves by imposing carbon taxes or environmental police measures on themselves when the world’s greatest economy and its fastest growing ones said “no thanks, we’ll just watch how it works out for you—but good luck with that” and went about their business.

Meanwhile, back in Washington, DC on September 22, 2009, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency finalized new rules requiring major greenhouse gas emitters to monitor and report their emissions. The first report by emitters, covering 2010, is due in 2011. This reporting requirement will provide data to assist US EPA which is considering a rule to declare such emissions a public danger.  Such a declaration would then lead to further new economy-wide rules to regulate emissions.   These regulatory actions are being taken as part of an uncertain choreography with Congress which is considering a cap and trade bill called Waxman-Markey which is facing the death of a thousand cuts in Senate consideration.

The Copenhagen clock is indeed ticking—and so is the one in Washington, but we don’t know yet whether it will be a celebration or a wake.

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