Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Al Gore is hoping, Obama is scared, Rudd is a wimp. The earth?

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

You know you're in trouble when authority figures say we must remain hopeful. Al Gore's message of hope is now delivered with less passion and more desperation.

Fear makes people do stupid things. The organisers of the Copenhagen conference have commissioned some of the world's biggest advertising agencies to develop a campaign to save the planet.

The funky creatives have decided that global warming is a "communication challenge" and the answer is to "empower global citizens" by creating a "popular movement". So they have announced the existence of a movement and are planning an "aggressive" consumer launch for September.

The goal? "Let's turn Copenhagen into Hopenhagen". Yes, Hopenhagen. There's a website where people can send messages of hope to the UN delegates.

Presumably Australia's contribution to the UN helps fund this bollocks.

The advertising corporations behind the Hopenhagen campaign include Ogilvy & Mather which, when not saving the planet from climate change, is persuading us to buy more petrol from BP and cars from Ford. Then there's Colle + McVoy which promotes petrochemicals for DuPont and Ketchum which wants us to fly more on Delta Airlines.

So what did the G8 summit tell us about hope and desperation? Barack Obama's speech at the L'Aquila closing event was beautiful, and remarkable on several fronts.

He began with a powerful, unvarnished statement of the crisis the world confronts and the urgency demanded. He was frank about developing country anxiety over being treated unfairly, deploying the pregnant phrase "historic responsibility", an admission of guilt.

He acknowledged the past failings of the United States and made a convincing case that the country had now changed and takes global warming very seriously. (Listing the actions his administration had taken, he made no mention of clean coal.)

Obama finished with a Kennedyesque flourish: "We know that the problems we face are made by human beings; that means it's within our capacity to solve them. The question is whether we will have the will to do so, whether we'll summon the courage and exercise the leadership to chart a new course. That's the responsibility of our generation."

In his heart, Obama knows the game is up; he hinted at the thoughts that weigh him down when he is alone in the Oval Office: "I think that one of the things we're going to have to do is fight the temptation towards cynicism, to feel that the problem is so immense that somehow we cannot make significant strides."

His closest advisers on climate, John Holdren and Steven Chu, know the science better than anyone. But leaders can't say it so the G8 agreed that the world should aim to limit warming to 2°C by asking rich countries to cut emissions by 80 per cent by 2050, and for the world to cut emissions by 50 per cent.

Obama said this is "what the mainstream of the scientific community has called for", but he is at least five years out of date. The latest science is saying that aiming for 2°C is dangerous and, even so, to achieve 2°C global emissions must be cut, not by 50 per cent in 2050, but by "60-80% immediately".

The President stressed that any progress at G8 would not substitute for UN negotiations but support them. There is concern in the EU that the US will reach a bilateral deal with China. A Sino-American agreement would pre-empt the Copenhagen negotiations, sharply narrowing the possible outcomes.

Europe has committed to a huge 30 per cent cut in emissions by 2020 if boldness prevails at Copenhagen. It has not been widely noticed that the US undertaking to cut emissions by only 4 per cent below 1990 levels would entrench a huge disparity in effort. Essentially, the EU would be carrying the developed world to the 25 per cent target.

But the Europeans also understand that Obama and House Democrats have pushed climate policy as far as domestic political circumstances allow. That of course is where the Obama Administration diverges from the Rudd Labor Government.

Rudd was in a stronger position than Obama to push hard on climate. He had a mandate from the electorate, an Opposition in disarray, a Garnaut interim report justifying radical measures and a financial crisis that could have been used to pour money into restructuring the energy economy.

Unwilling to resist the pressure from the fossil fuel lobby Rudd went soft; the Captain Planet who thrilled the world in Bali morphed into a wimp. I'm guessing Rudd was shocked in L'Aquila when he realised how seriously Obama takes global warming and how the US push is making Australia look timorous, despite Al Gore's polite comparisons.

Everyone is scared. If the Copenhagen agreement fails to reflect the science there will be no second chances and we can expect a furious spasm of protest across the globe. In the United States, some activist groups are already preparing for a change in the rules of the game.

A new website called Beyond Talk has appeared which asks people to put their names to this:

"I pledge, if asked, to perform non-violent civil disobedience and risk arrest in order to get our leaders to make the right climate-change choices."

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