TCS Daily

TCS COP 11 Coverage: Culture Shock in Montreal

By Roy Spencer - December 8, 2005 12:00 AM

MONTREAL -- As one of the very few scientists at the UN's eleventh Conference of the Parties climate meeting (COP-11), I feel like an outsider. That's because I am. The army of thousands in attendance (international delegates, NGOs, and all manner of stakeholders in the climate change issue), have little interest in knowing how certain or uncertain the science of global warming is. All these people know - or need to know - is that the "glaciers are melting," it's getting "hotter every year", and "climate change is killing people now" (all of these are direct quotes from presenters).

For example, I learned at a Pew Center briefing that anyone (like me) who is skeptical of climate change is a "Flat-Earther." While I thought that had a nice ring to it, it was pointed out to me the term wasn't intended as a complement.

I also learned that the term "climate change" no longer needs the qualifier of "human-caused," because it has apparently been decided that all purported climate change is caused by the activity of mankind. (Attention: henceforth, all unusual weather events will be due to our burning of fossil fuels.) Natural climate variability has been relegated to the status of quaint myth. Mother Nature wouldn't cause a Category 4 hurricane to hit Louisiana unless mankind forced her hand.

I reflected on this new information during my four-block walk from the hotel to the conference center this morning. I was wearing a sweater, but no coat (big mistake). It was 16 degrees F, with a stiff head wind, and my hands were just about pop-sickles by the time I got there. "Darn global warming" I thought to myself. I remembered what I'd already learned at COP-11, that unusually cold as well as unusually warm weather can be explained by global warming. "I should try to catch the Inuit event this afternoon," I reminded myself. The event is appropriately titled "The Right to be Cold."

Safely inside the comfortably heated convention center, I marveled at this massive, UN-guided, international effort to avert global catastrophe. The effort has been gathering momentum for about fifteen years, and now has taken on a life of its own. Entire careers have been born due to this effort, I mused. There are many young people here just starting out -- learning what is important in life from UN mentors and their procedures. What better way to help humanity than to tell everyone else in the world how they should live?

I wonder whether this is where all Miss America contestants end up, following through on their collective desire to make the world a better place? There are also so many Ph.D.'s here -- speakers citing their credentials in order to push nostra that are little more than good intentions wrapped in a surfeit of economic ignorance (garnished with a touch of elitism). If only everyone in the world would follow the advice of these experts, our problems would obviously be solved.

Unwilling to give up on sanity, the US and various market-oriented organizations are also being represented here at COP-11 -- trying to get the word out that technological progress is the only way to meet such ambitious goals of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by mid-Century. But they are clearly in the minority. The prevailing view is that mandatory reductions, starting now, are absolutely necessary.

While hundreds of people milled around, comfortably sipping beverages, visiting kiosks designed around various global warming themes, I observed two fellows at the US booth. They had no visitors and looked pretty lonely. Fortunately, though, a number of speakers - apparently realizing that policies that stunt economic growth are going to be politically unpopular - are now including market-based buzzwords in their presentations. While I'm not sure these folks understand what 'free market' means, but I take is as a step in the right direction.

Still an anti-development and anti-technology undercurrent frequently bubbles to the surface as presenters and their questioners phrase their statements in a way that belies their contempt for modern life and affluence. While the speakers are too polite to mention the names of countries who would subvert their plans for saving the earth, a wink or a smile is sufficient to get their meaning across (hint: the lonely guys at the booth). The idea that we can grow our way out of a global warming problem with technological progress is not acceptable to the throngs here at COP-11. By their lights, technology is ultimately the source of our problems. At least that's the gist of what I saw one young lady typing into her late-model Dell. "Nice laptop", I said. "Thanks, I like it," she replied with a smile.

The people at COP-11 are well-fed, well-dressed, have been transported half way around the world by fossil-fueled aircraft, and are totally dependent upon myriad goods and services that require access to affordable energy. But that hasn't seemed to cross their minds. If it has, they are under the illusion that the world can live on a whole lot less energy than it is right now. I look around and wonder how all of these people would contribute to life on Earth if they were not so busy trying to save it.

As I listen to the opinions and arguments expressed here, I am struck by the lack of interest in exactly how much (or should I say, how little?) the currently proposed policies are going to stave off any future warming trends. Instead, what seems to be the most important are the good intentions of the policy pushers—consequences be damned. To examine whether we can actually "get there from here" would involve some math and science skills. I suspect many of these college graduates barely made it through those courses. It is sufficient at COP-11 simply to believe that if a policy is good for business it is bad for the Earth. Since business interests are only out for themselves, business success couldn't be related to the material needs and desires of those served by businesses.

I suppose the only way to have avoided getting ourselves into this whole climate change mess was for us to have never progressed as a civilization in the first place. We could still be hunters and gatherers. Children would probably die at an early age from disease or exposure, but at least the population would not be so burdensome to the Earth. I guess we would all be much happier with a simpler existence, communing with nature, gathering berries, killing wild hares. Yet as I look at all of the people around me, they look, well...affluent. Maybe the policies they are pushing don't really apply to them, but to those they claim to represent? (I'm reminded of people like Fidel Castro who live lavishly while his people live in poverty. He does it for them.)

COP-11 - the first COP I have ever attended - has been a culture shock. Maybe someday I will learn to appreciate the cultural diversity of this movement, as well as the unique gifts each participant has to offer humanity in their united agenda to rescue us from environmental meltdown. Maybe someday I will see the truth of their movement and join them.



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