George Monbiot's depression is understandable. The Guardian columnist and leading environmental thinker slices through political BS like a sushi chef, and generally ends his insightful pieces with a clear direction for people who want to help make a difference in the world.
But his most recent column, "The Process is Dead," rang out like a death toll for the climate movement. Monbiot rightfully points out that the negotiations seem permanently stuck in deadlock, with the U.S. once again laying demands that China & India first agree to legally binding targets.. targets that the U.S. itself will not meet. This position was once again reiterated at the MEF (Major Economies Forum) in New York yesterday, alongside news that Obama will skip the upcoming COP16 in Cancun.
But does that mean it's game over? Hardly. And Jamie Henn of 350.org had a compelling response to Monbiot's Op Ed that should remind those of us in the NGO community why we continue to work so hard on climate policy, and in particular online activism:
Your recent column about the death of "climate enlightenment" was a quite a doozy. Let me make sure I got the gist of it: the UN climate summit in Copenhagen failed, the US Senate is ass-backwards, hopes for the climate talks in Cancun are dismal, and environmentalists are ninnies, leaving the planet on a crash course with apocalypse. Does that about cover it?
But you see, the closer you come up to the issue, the better it looks. You're right on that expectations for Cancun are low and that endless discussions of LULUCF would put any bureaucrat to sleep. But remember, the process isn't broken because there's a lack of good ideas on the table. It's broken because the big polluting nations, led by the United States, refuse to make any meaningful commitments to... anything. Let's face it, the UN climate process isn't a negotiation: it's a hostage crisis (that reasoning also helps clear up why some countries may have signed onto the Copenhagen Accord: it was Stockholm syndrome).
Recognizing the United States as (still) the major hurdle blocking progress should change the way we look at the meetings in China at the beginning of October. The real story in China won't be what's happening at the conference venue, but what's happening at the factories down the road. China is racing full speed towards a clean-energy future, and this October will be a chance for them to show off a bit. That show couldn't be more important (I don't anticipate anything as dramatic as the Olympic opening ceremonies, or Sputnik for that matter, but it still should be impressive). One of the big things that may actually get the US moving is the sense that it's being left behind.
Now that we've seen there's a bit of momentum still out there, let's talk about that fight of yours. You think the climate process is dead. Here's why I think you're wrong.
First off, you've been checking for vital signs in the wrong places. Yes, it sure would have been nice if enlightened governments took the initiative and lead the clean energy revolution on their own. But we always sort of knew that that was -- how do you put it in the UK? -- complete bollocks. As Frederick Douglass rightly pointed out a while back, "Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will." What we need now is the same thing we've needed from the very instant we found out about this crisis. We need a movement. A movement that's capable of dramatically changing the political landscape on this issue. A movement that can expose Big Oil and their lobbyists and make in unacceptable for politicians not to take dramatic action.
So let's skip over a lot of your depressing statistics about the failure of European carbon trading (kind of a dodgy system to begin with) and get right down to what I read as the big thesis of your piece: "What all this means is that there is not a single effective instrument for containing man-made global warming anywhere on earth."
I think there is an instrument, but it isn't policy prescriptions or solar panels: It's the internet.
Read more about 350.org's big web campaign coming up on 10/10/10. Photo from Irish Environmental Network.