All you need to do it look at the strangely robotic body language with which Obama delivered his speech. Obama's "accord" is go-nowhere hot air and he knows it. Nowhere good--it's a letter-of-intent for genocide. It must be unprecedented for a world leader to issue such a warrant so calmly, with such technocratic language--it's such a brazen refusal of responsibility. Ten billion dollars a year in capital transfers for mitigation and adaptation is an insult to the Global South, and to the world's collective intelligence. As the courageous Sudanese G-77 negotiator Lumumba Stanislaus Di-Aping quipped, "Ten billion will not buy developing countries' citizens enough coffins." Perhaps they'll economize on size. Children will die first. They're more vulnerable to malaria and famine.
So to watch Obama jerkily rotating his head, repeating the words his speechwriters drafted for him perhaps five hours before the speech (it looks like he hadn't even read it before delivering it), reminding the world that "our ability to take collective action is in doubt right now," is infuriating. The notion of "collective action" suggests "collective responsibility." But who is this collective? Why is "everyone" responsible? The Global North's climate debt--the dollar amount of overuse of the atmospheric commons, both historical and projected given reasonable reductions in CO2 emissions--is $23 trillion.
The North owes a debt to the people of the South. That includes the people of China and India. Where does America stand on that? Well, Obama tells us that "all major economies" must start to reduce emissions: China, India, Brazil and South Africa, all of them with a fraction of the per capita emissions of the global North, alongside a fraction of the per capita wealth. The real issue is China, not susceptible to American bullying. The American political establishment can't seem to wrap its sclerotic collective intelligence around the fact that a country with five times the population of the United States gets to emit over five times as much CO2. Perhaps too much talk of the "national interest" has Obama really believing that there is such a thing--as though a Chinese peasant has the same interests as a coastal billionaire "entrepreneur," or Obama, living well in Hyde Park, has anything in common with his destitute neighbors other than their melanin counts.
When Obama speaks of the "ambitious targets" set by major economies, he's just ad-libbing. The US targets even fall short of the Kyoto Protocol's minimalism. They're not ambitious. They're pathetic. Under the current promised emissions reductions, global CO2 counts will be at 650ppm of CO2, 800 ppm of CO2 equivalent by 2100. We will see temperature rises of over 3.5 degrees Celsius, with a one-in-four chance of exceeding 4 degrees Celsius. Those numbers are unconscionable. The Amazon will be a desert. The ice caps will be gone forever. The United States is by far the worst: 17 percent "cuts" by 2020, from 2005 baselines. That's about 3 percent from 1990 baselines, in contrast with EU cuts of 20 percent from 1990 baselines. And that's assuming the chicanery of "off-sets" doesn't allow American CO2 emissions to actually rise. Offsets allow huge hydroelectric dam projects in the Third World to count against First World CO2 emissions, allowing more pollution. Swell idea, except mega-dams probably don't reduce CO2 emissions a whit.
Meanwhile, the call to "mobilize" $100 billion in climate financing by 2020 is vapor. As Hugo Chávez said, "If the climate were one of the biggest capitalist banks, the rich governments would have saved it." Instead, within a decade we'll muster up a year's worth of US government spending on bombing villagers in Waziristan. Washington's priorities are clear. Saving AIG is more important than saving the planet.
So when we hear platitudes about America having "charted our course," that the "time for talk is over," we can only see an attempt to save face. Obama expected to be able to intimidate China into total acquiescence, and expected to shush Africa and the island nations with what his more sycophantic admirers call his "eloquence," a smoothly delivered stream of half-truths, clichés, and bullshit. No wonder the response was reluctantly polite applause. Look at the delegates' numbed faces. They're aghast. Of course they are. Could Obama be so used to fawning adoration that he expects the world's leaders to smile and cheer as he locks in a course that will devastate their peoples?
Dec 20 2009 - 3:42pm