Power, Change and Copenhagen

Why aren’t we in Copenhagen with all the other environmental advocates? Well, with some 15,000 delegates and observers all breathlessly blogging and chirpily tweeting, we figured that pushing it to 15,001 wasn’t going to make much difference, other than blowing our entire annual carbon budget.  And we didn’t want to take a seat away from the “1” who might wield just a bit more power to make things happen: Barack Obama, scheduled for a cameo on the conference’s last day. And we’re kind of busy pulling together the Illahee series on Power and Change.

The environmental community may not want to hear this, but their job is done – at least for this week. Two decades of climate change science, policy and advocacy have resulted in bringing the biggest green house gas emitters to the table to pledge that they will do something.  It may not be enough, but it’s a start.

Can you imagine any recent U.S. president setting any kind of goal on climate change? Not Reagan, not Bush I, not Clinton, and certainly not Bush II.  Yet here we are. It’s a beginning.  Backing this up, Obama is taking a page out of the Bush/Cheney/Rove power playbook, and bypassing congress: the EPA will regulate CO2 as a pollutant, forcing congress to pass a meaningful climate change bill.  What a power shift from only a year ago.

So the U.S. and China are stepping up – sort of. So is Brazil. The E.U. is on board – leading really. India and Russia won’t be too far behind. There’s plenty to hammer out between all 192 nations, but the big guys are moving, even if it’s a glacial pace at the moment.

It looks like power has shifted, and there is momentum for change. Climate change activists should take a moment and have big group hug. Then they can get back to work next year, as climate policy negotiations culminate in Mexico in a prospective treaty.

Sure there are detractors: China’s greenhouse gas intensity goal is weak, Obama’s pledge of 17% by 2020 is too modest, we need to get to 97% reduction – not 80% – by 2050, Denmark has a “secret plan,” developed countries are strong-arming Africa, cap and trade is a Wall Street boondoggle. And from the not-so-green perspective: global warming is a hoax, climate scientists are schemers, climate change policy will ruin our economy.

These are all interesting points and quite beside the point.  The big deal here is that the most powerful nations and corporations in the world have decided to change.  It will be slow going, but it will be hard to reverse. Momentum has shifted to action on climate change. Now climate change activists have a new mission: keep it going.

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