The issue of reparations (or adaptation assistance for the squeamish) keeps coming up like a bad stomach flu. The G77 has been framing it like a big parking lot in the sky. To hear them tell it, there are 350 spaces and 390 cars already there. Almost none of the cars are owned by Africans, Latinos, Greenlanders, Maldivians, Tuvaluians or the majority of the world. One hunded of the cars are Humvees and Escalades driven by US soccer moms and another two hundred are Volvos, Rovers and Renaults driven by Europeans and upper classes in Brazil, Russia, Canada, Dubai and other posh places. The remaining 190 are smaller Japanese cars, Filipino Jitneys, Mexican buses and used cars in places like Kenya, Indonesia and China.
So, argue the G77, equity demands that if you are 5% of the population but taking up a quarter of the parking lot, you should at least be paying for that privilege. But actually, we would just like to park now, so kindly remove your excess vehicles.
The Europeans, center of the Christian culture and quicker to don a hair suit and wear their guilt than many of their former colonies — Canada, Australia and the USA, for instance — say, golly, I guess you are right. We’ll get some bicycles and light rail.
The US delegation is not buying it. Cleverly, it has tried to reframe the language. Negotiator Jonathan Pershing said, “The donor countries have only so much largesse.” That paints the developing world as beggars, towards whom charity lies at the discretion of the donor world.
US lead negotiator Todd Stern was more blunt, saying the “U.S. will pay into climate fund, but not reparations” because “I actually completely reject the notion of a debt or reparations or anything of the like. For most of the 200 years since the industrial revolution, people were blissfully ignorant of the fact that emissions caused a greenhouse effect. It’s a relatively recent phenomenon.”
Okay, we wondered. When was it then that the USA became less ignorant, or perhaps less blissfully so? Was it in 1824, when Joseph Fourier described the greenhouse effect for the first time? How about when Irish physicist John Tyndall said of Earth’s greenhouse shield, “This aqueous vapour is a blanket more necessary to the vegetable life of England than clothing is to man”?
Or maybe it was in 1894 when Swedish chemist Svante Arrhenius warned that industrial-age coal burning would magnify the natural greenhouse effect. He even provided a number — five degrees Celsius — corresponding with a doubling of atmospheric carbon dioxide. Arrhenius knew the size of the parking lot!
Perhaps by the 1950s, when the measuring equipment had improved to the point where Gilbert Plass could detail the infrared absorption of various gases, Roger Revelle and Hans Suess could show that seawater was incapable of absorbing all the man-made CO2 entering the atmosphere, and Charles David Keeling would produce annual records of rising atmospheric carbon levels from observatory instruments in Hawaii and Antarctica — issuing tickets to the cars as they parked. Surely by 1960 the USA could no longer claim to be “blissfully ignorant of the fact that emissions caused a greenhouse effect.” You know, those were US scientists, after all.
Perhaps by 1965, when the President’s Scientific Advisory Committee warned Lyndon B. Johnson that the greenhouse effect was a matter of “real concern.” Or by 1975, when Columbia University climatologist Wallace Broecker coined the term “global warming” and began warning that sudden climate shifts were not historically unprecedented.
The decade that followed brought a spate of in-depth inquiries by scientific bodies, government committees, and the United Nations, and in 1988, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was formed to report the collected findings in a non-partisan way.
Following the release of the first IPCC report, the governments of the world convened the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. There they agreed to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, with a key objective of “stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.”
The USA, and especially the Congress, seems to be in its own delusional world about all this — caught up in the reverie and smog of consumer culture — and thinks it should not have more pain than any other when the books are rebalanced. Wrong.
Why should a farmer in the Tibetian plateau, whose ecological footprint is one tenth of a USAnian’s and who doesn’t have any idea what electricity or gasoline is, have to suffer the results of glacial melt?
Vandana Shiva told Democracy Now!, “I think it is time for the US to stop seeing itself as a donor and recognizing itself as a polluter, a polluter who must pay, a polluter who must pay for its pollution and its ecological debt. This is not about charity. This is about justice.”
The G77 (which actually counts 130 developing countries among its members) and the Alliance of Small Island States walked out today because it seemed increasingly clear rich countries would not commit to steeper reductions of greenhouse gases (sufficient, say, to hold Africa to 1.5°C of warming) and higher levels of financing for adaptation in the majority world. Poor nations want pledges on the order of $100 billion annually and they signaled last week that short-term pledges would not do.
While up at the Bella Center the NGOs were being rationed access and the G77 was walking out, Energy Secretary Steven Chu held a press conference to speak about the Obama administration’s use of stimulus money for green projects like the electrical grid and investing in renewable energy sources.
We went to a great talk today at Windows of Hope by Preben Maegaard of the Nordic Folkecenter for Renewable Energy. We and Preben go back about 20 years now, but while we have piddled around with biochar stoves and solar golf carts, this man has almost single-handedly been responsible for a Danish energy miracle.
Here is his first slide:
Those little dots in the slide to the left are the power stations that provided electricity to Denmark in 1984. They represented large coal, gas and nuclear stations. The many small dots to the right are wind farms, combined heat and power from biomass, tidal and wave energy, and solar thermal and other novel installations. Not shown are vast numbers of solar heaters and small electric systems, efficiency retrofits, and a transportation revolution. Many of Denmark’s islands are now powered 100% by renewables. Peak oil? What peak oil? Even private cars have been converted to home-grown, locally sourced biofuels and wind-powered electicity. The bottleneck, Preben said, was the car companies, that can’t sell Denmark electric cars fast enough to meet demand.
So after the fall of the West, when the United States FINALLY gets out of North America, leaving it to remnant tribes of pastoralists, Denmark may still be living in Plan B. As Richard Heinberg says, Peak Everything is already here, its just not evenly distributed.
Yesterday Desmond Tutu said, “We have only one world. If we mess it up, there is no other world. And for those who think that the rich are going to escape. Ha ha ha. We either sink or swim together. We have one world and we want to leave a beautiful world for all these beautiful young generation. We the oldies want to leave a beautiful world to you. And it is a matter of morality. It is a matter of justice. If you are responsible for most of the mess, then you are responsible for getting rid of that mess....
Tutu said the only thing the poor world wants is this: “If you were able to pay the banks trillions and trillions and trillions and trillions, just give us a few billions.”