By Eban Goodstein, Director of The Bard Center for Environmental Policy
Copenhagen, at an extraordinary confluence in human history. Amidst grey skies, wet snow, bureaucratic chaos, street protests, and warm Danish hospitality, delegates and observers share an understanding. The outcome of these meetings will profoundly impact every human being who will ever walk the face of the planet from now until the end of time. Each of us knows we have only a few years to initiate sharp pollution cuts, before the window for climate stabilization shuts on our future, forever.
The heavy cloud of failure hangs over COP15. The tired conference poster sessions, booth displays and trade shows carry little interest.
The certain outcome of these meetings will be—another meeting. No matter how strong the final agreement that emerges Friday, COP15 will not be enough. Indeed, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s main pledge yesterday, as he pushed for continued sub-national, California-style action, was, “I’ll be back.”
There will be real progress here in Copenhagen. It is clear from the outside that the negotiators are building a framework. Over the next few years, international agreements can ratchet a rapid race to the top: an upward spiral of emission reduction commitments and far-reaching technology investments. President Obama is coming here tomorrow—as 45,000 other committed global citizens have already—to endorse and accelerate this critical international process.
But the immediate goal for Obama, as for the other millions of US citizens who understand the depth of the climate crisis, has to be an all-out effort to gain Senate passage, next spring, of as strong a climate bill as is politically possible.
The Danes have shown the world what a few decades of sensible laws can do. My host family, in their comfortable suburban townhouse, enjoys the 21st Century Good Life. This includes of course, the family car, internet, cell connections, shiny appliances of all sorts, Christmas holiday spent at a country home—and also, universal healthcare, a year’s paid maternity leave, six weeks of paid vacation, great public transportation, and other benefits and services for working people that have been driven outside the imagination of the American dream.
The amazing news: this family generates half the carbon footprint of a typical American household.
The foundation of today’s Danish economy was a political decision made three decades ago. Following the energy crises of the 1970’s, Denmark passed a set of laws that dramatically decreased dependence on fossil fuels. High taxes on oil created a super-efficient, technologically sophisticated energy system, while government support nurtured a world-class wind power industry. In recent years, Danish industry produced close to half of the turbines built globally. The Danes pursued a green jobs strategy long before it was cool, and the result has been a prosperous, low carbon economic system, well down the road to sustainability.
The challenge of course is that as Danes, and Americans, and Chinese, we have four decades to reduce our global footprint not by half, but by 90 percent. The international process, and the subnational processes, are in fact, quite far along. The critical missing piece undermining progress at all levels is the absence of US national legislation—a set of laws supporting the American clean energy revolution that can transform our country and the world.
These are the final hours of a two-decade struggle to pass US legislation. What can we do? Double, and triple our efforts to demand solutions leadership from the Senate. Help us organize a State-Wide Conference Call with your Senators’ DC environmental policy staff, for February or March. Bard Center for Environmental Policy staff will do all the organizing work, including outreach to Senate offices, publicizing the call, and managing the actual call itself. To learn more, e-mail us at email@example.com, or call me at 845-758-7067. Help engage dozens of institutions and hundreds of students in your state in direct dialogue with Senate DC staff.
After Arnold finished his press conference yesterday, a Danish journalist turned to me and declared: “We—all of us–have to be the Climanators.”
This COP meeting will end, inevitably, in heartbreaking disappointment. Whatever the package settled on, it will not be close to what science and justice demand. We face difficult odds. We are on a mission. We will not be beaten. We’ll be back.