COPENHAGEN — Good thing we’re making the trip over to Copenhagen for the Climate Summit in December. Had we flown over Greenland in July, with the ice sheet in full melt, I might have arrived in Denmark with my hair on fire…arguably the right level of urgency, but not very Danish.
This last month or so has been a wild ride on the expectation roller coaster. Once it was clear that the U.S. Senate had failed to deliver the single most essential ingredient for success — a firm U.S. emission reduction commitment and a serious pledge to help the world respond — it was only a matter of time until world leaders backed away from the plan to seal a legally binding global climate deal in Copenhagen.
But Obama’s commitment to attend the summit at the end (when it counts) raised spirits considerably. Strong executive actions like the EPA endangerment finding and preliminary emission reduction commitments from the U.S., China, and India are also improving the prospects. The cynical stolen email stunt made for a wild denier blogparty and elicited a Sisyphean groan from the world of climate solvers, but it didn’t change much. The massive convergence of global will on Copenhagen begins, shaky but inexorable. After crawling across an eight-year desert of official American indifference, or worse, the world can smell water.
Almost everyone I spoke to in the last month who knew I was going asked some version of this question: “Do you really think anything will happen?”
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And many added, with knitted brows, “Are you hopeful?”
I don’t have a prognosis for Copenhagen, and even if I did it wouldn’t be worth much. I have a very strong sense that we’ve all become much too vulnerable to relentless (and generally downward) expectation management from official sources. We spend way too much energy reprocessing and echoing their self-defeating inside “wisdom.” We’ve slipped into sort of a detached third-person mode that I find scary. We’re all observers, diagnosticians, bloggers (!), pundits with sophisticated political analyses that by and large serve as rationalizations for failure.
This “dis-agency” is especially unforgivable when it comes from the United States Senate. I am profoundly hopeful about Copenhagen, but I am furious that the Senate failed to remove the greatest obstacle to success. And what sends me completely over the top is when senators retreat to vague prognostications instead of talking turkey about what they will do and when they will do it.
Senators are not legislative meteorologists; they are lawmakers. It’s true for all of us, but it’s especially true for every United States Senator — the 100 human beings who are now blocking the world’s response to an urgent crisis of our making: the course of events is not about what you think might happen, it’s about what you do.
So in that spirit, I’m in Copenhagen to do as much as I can, not to offer predictions. I’ll be a bit player (an “observer”, officially) among some 25,000 accredited representatives of pretty much every place on Earth. I will do everything I can to demonstrate that Americans will be an active part of the solution, and that we will succeed in bringing our government around to do what is right and necessary.
As much as any 25,000 people can be, this is the world, setting to work on the job it most needs to do. If we come to hedge, predict, calibrate, position, and ultimately assign blame, we’re toast. If we arrive fully conscious of the stakes and determined to seize the opportunity, Copenhagen can be the turning point.
This much we know: It’s not too early.
K.C. Golden is the policy director for Climate Solutions, which has offices in Seattle, Olympia and Portland.