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Montreal Summit


The most important conference on climate change since Kyoto begins in Montreal today.
Global Warming

The Arctic sea ice in 2005.


United Nations Climate Change Conference

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Ross Gelbspan Essay:

Perhaps the most vociferous critics of the Bush administration stance on climate change are themselves Americans . Prominent in their ranks is Ross Gelbspan , co-recipient of the Pullitzer prize and author of two books on climate change, who gives us his personal reflections.

This Montreal round of climate negotiations, like each preceding round, began with a slightly magical aura of anticipation. For starters, there is the rush of adrenaline that comes from mingling with people from 189 countries. There is an unspoken bond of solidarity with everyone sharing the most urgent of missions: to save the world. People huddle in twos and threes pocketing each other's business cards like initiates into an exclusive society of the righteous.

Diplomats caucus in the corridors to plot procedural strategies, projecting the perfect balance between personal idealism and political cunning.

The range of emotions one encounters in Montreal is as varied as the morass of languages, costumes and street-theater performances.

The only emotion conspicuously absent here is courage.

People will leave here amidst a flurry of self-congratulatory handshakes and hugs. But as the frosty glitter of the Montreal moment melts into memory it will leave a sodden legacy of historical cowardice.

What the delegates will not acknowledge is their own arrogance: their assumption that the planet's operating systems will obey the open-ended timetable of their own procrastination rather than nature's immutable deadline.

There is another aspect to their denial. They pretend that with enough patience and understanding, they will succeed in bringing the world's largest carbon emitter in line with the rest of the world to address this unprecedented global threat.

They will not. In the U.S., the White House has become the east coast branch office of ExxonMobil and Peabody coal -- and climate change has become the pre-eminent case study of the contamination of politics by money.

What is missing from all these discussions is the sense of desperation and helplessness that is shared by all of us who are shaken by each new terrifying impact of our increasingly inflamed atmosphere.

When Tony Blair and Margaret Beckett wax optimistic over the potential of a new framework, they ignore ten long years of failed negotiations. U.S. negotiator Harlan Watson proclaims that America has done more to solve the climate crisis than most of the world's governments. Does he really believe nature can be finessed by a public relations scam?

Not far from Montreal, glaciers are melting, deep oceans are heating, violent weather is increasing, the timing of the seasons is changing and all over the world, birds, plants, insects, fish, animals and whole ecosystems are migrating toward the poles in search of temperature stability.

All because the world's diplomats are too cowardly to take on an American administration whose climate and energy policies are dictated by coal and oil executives -- men who, for their part, value their companies' quarterly earnings more than their own children.

There was a hopeful moment, not long before the Protocol was ratified, when officials from France, Switzerland and Canada confided how they would deal with their outlaw ally after Kyoto took effect. They were planning to sue the U.S. under the World Trade Organization on the ground that the WTO prohibits countries from subsidizing their products. Since the rest of the industrial world would be drawing down emissions according to the Kyoto schedule, they planned to charge the U.S. with "carbon subsidizing" its products -- and bring suit within the WTO to impose prohibitively stiff taxes on U.S. exports.

That conversation, which took place more than a year ago, provided some of us a badly needed moment of hope. Almost as much hope as the prospect of all the nations of the world casting off the albatross of outdated nationalism and joining together in a common global project to rewire the planet with clean energy -- and, in the process, creating a far wealthier, far more equitable and infinitely more secure world.
But the temporizing in Montreal has submerged that hope -- even more quickly than the rising Pacific is submerging island nations.

To be sure, there is glitter in Montreal -- and a sense of great moment.

But where, after all, is the will? Who, among the nations of the world, will call to account the real criminals against humanity? Where can one find people with the courage to put a stop to the carbon lobby and their political handmaidens who are dragging the rest of us straight to the bottom of climate hell?
Where, in this world, is the vision? And, absent the vision, where, in this world, is the rage?
Ross Gelbspan (12/05)

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