Copenhagen Unravelling

Last week, upon hearing that I will be in Copenhagen for the conference, a professor of mine said, enjoy the history being made in front of my own eyes. A week on, the scene here looks like history unravelling right before our eyes.

Outside the Bella Centre is chaos, a picture right out of a dystopian movie (I just recently rewatched Soylent Green and kept referencing it, much to the chagrin of my companion, Kirsten, who hasn’t seen it yet). I blame this on the UN, which issued 45,000 passes (three times the capacity of the conference centre). Probably this is just a sneekpeek of how our hot, flat and crowded world will look in 50 years.

I think I can cope with a Malthusian nightmare, so long as it doesn’t involve being accosted by hippies who reek of marijuana and crazy PETA people in cow suits. Inside, it is worse. There should be free wifi, but it was being overwhelmed. A similar scenario is repeated at the coat-check. You can’t walk two feet without tripping over some camera tripod, security cordons, waste papers or some short professor (sometimes all at once). Self-important looking people shout their mouths off into their iPhones and Blackberrys.

This ear-numbing cacophony is only coupled by some brain-numbing shamelessness. China–the constant provider of mirth for me for the past week–triumphantly announced that its one-child policy had staved off massive amounts of pollution. Elsewhere, many celebrity-politicians are busy touting their initiatives, notwithstanding the fact that they flew into Copenhagen using their own private jets. (Yes, if the UN hadn’t issued passes so generously, about 30,000 people would have stayed home instead of enlarging their carbon-footprints and vocal chords).

The conference itself is politically divided–G8, G77, BRIC, EU, they all have different agendas. It is a shameful failure of democracy that small island nations that account for less than 1% of the global population are derailing the conference; sadly, there will be very little cost-benefit analysis of the climate change efforts in the days and decades to come. But here is something I learnt (from Kirsten, who else?) after some countries walked out: even to meet less ambitious 2C goal, we have to impose taxes of $4,000 per metric ton of carbon dioxide, or $35 per gallon of gas ($9 per liter) by 2100. This can reduce the world’s GDP by 13%, some $40 trillion dollars a year. This is according to Richard Tol of UN Climate Panel, Copenhagen Consensus Center. (On the other hand, if we don’t do anything about global warming, its damaging effects will cost the world close to $3 trillion a year by 2100).

The fight against the global climate change will be long, arduous and generational. Instead of shouldering the burden for the generations yet to come, we must do only what we can, but without resorting to drastic measures and remunerations that are detrimental to our economies or to our lifestyles. We will no doubt have to left some of the problems to our children, in the same manner that our fathers and grandfathers left the problems of urban congestion, smog and CFCs to us. But by strengthening our industries and investing in technological infrastructures, we can assure that our children also inherit a richer, more advanced world better equipped to tackle the climate change.

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