Thursday, December 10, 2009


Johan Galtung’s view from Europe: Global warming in Copenhagen

Pledges are words, deeds should count more.  We all know what that means: substantial reduction of carbon emissions today, yesterday, the day before yesterday.

Global warming in Copenhagen

By Johan Galtung - 7 Dec 2009

    Of course we all wish the Copenhagen conference the best of luck.  It is billed as a conference on a major social evil, even a martian invasion of the world supposedly uniting us all.

    The problem is, as usual, whether it is the right approach; and what may be lurking underneath the surface.

    We have had and have other major social evils.  Slavery. Colonialism.  Right now war as a social institution.  And it is not our experience that multilateral conferences with all kinds of pledges is the approach.     They give too much power to the laggards who somehow "have to be in it".  For slavery that would have meant  Portugal-Brazil and the USA.  For colonialism that would have meant the same Portugal in Brazil, and the USA (still hanging on to Hawai'i and Puerto Rico they annexed in 1898, moving in their own people for a majority should there be a vote), and England-France, still hanging on to Northern Ireland and smaller places around the world.  Including Kanaky, not that small.

    Instead, some countries showed the way. In both case England played a role as it is possible to be up front and a laggard at the same time.  For colonialism Gandhi behaved as free and invited England to follow.  A multilateral conference in 1947 would have stopped that, given the ubiquity of colonialism.  There would have been pledges; "by 2000" for instance. And there might even have been quotas, "you are far behind in slavery and/or colonialism, I am a little high one either or both, could I get some quota?", with some total reduction, "with all deliberate speed" as the US Supreme Court put it 17 May 1954 for the case of desegregation.

    How about war as a social institution?  We know only too well who would be the laggard, who would claim exceptionalism, wars for humankind etc.  That one.  Where others are experimenting, often clumsily with the alternative to war--not disarmament but solving the underlying conflicts--the USA sends the marines, like right now to Afghanistan, not even opening a discourse for resolution.  And the USA is of course also today, the opening day for Copenhagen, a predictable laggard, late in pledges, late in deeds.

    Pledges are words, deeds should count more.  We all know what that means: substantial reduction of carbon emissions today, yesterday, the day before yesterday.  Maybe the major Danish contribution is not to host a conference but the little island of Samsö between Sjælland and Jylland (see Der Spiegel, 43/2009).  They used to import oil for heating by ship, and energy from coal by cable, meaning 11 tons of CO2 per Samsinger per year.  Eight years later, now, they produce 40% more energy than they need and almost all carbon neutral, from windmills, solar cells, thermal energy from the ground and from fresh cow's milk (!) etc.  They even run small industries.

    Small scale, 4000 inhabitants, yes.  Generalizable?  Of course.  Reminds us of the small groups in Southern US ahead of others in integration, like the Koinonia farm close to Americus Georgia, among the first to be a model of two races living and working together when the rest was segregated.  Somebody has to be up front, serve as a model, experiment on behalf of humanity.

    The two approaches, multilateral and highly unilateral, do not exclude each other.  But much more important than pledges and quota tricks and planting forests--good in themselves--is concrete reductions of emission.  Simply seeing the green revolution as a challenge to creativity, like once the industrial revolution.

    But underneath that a suspicion is lurking.  Nuclear energy is also by and large carbon neutral: is the whole thing a giant push for civilian nuclear energy?  Is that behind the USA-India cooperation, two laggards joining each other; one getting a Nobel peace prize for a movie, the other for chairing a panel?  To say we are ready!  Except for the possible military enrichment, the still unsolved problem of detoxifying the waste and the police state in the wake of nuclear energy?  We shall see, quite soon.

    We shall also see whether the promising Chinese approach, producing green technology by green means for China and export, maintaining high growth is solid.  With nuclear energy and coal?

    But underneath all that again still another thought is lurking.  What is this global warming anyhow?  How much is actually human made, how much is a giant cosmic process melting ice all over the last 10-15,000 years?  Off and on, it seems, with the sun spots?  Or other things happening in that giant energy producer, the sun? (Der Spiegel, 47/2009).  Difficult to tell it seems; and the lack of consensus among "experts" spells trouble.

    Are we really that unhappy about the global warming of the past, followed by Völkerwanderungen, massive migration to settle on dry land?  In coming years to Greenland and Siberia-Alaska-Canada?  Bad for ice bears, but for humans?  Displacement yes, but that can be handled by thermal polluters covering their share of the bill.  Or, are we in for a giant Protestant trick, puritanism in the saving of energy, renouncing some pleasures, moralism, apocalypse, and a cascade of words, followed or not by deeds?

    Unlike slavery and colonialism we are all affected by this. We are in the same global warming boat and in the same global violence boat.  A global conference is needed.  But where that global conference boat is heading remains to be seen.

Transcend Media Service


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