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12/25/2009: "The Copenhagen Failure"
The Copenhagen conference just ended, COP15, was a disgrace. After all the hopes, dreams, and hard efforts to prepare, the world ended with what seems to be an agreement to do nothing. I suppose that,if you consider the vast quantity of airline miles racked up by attendees--and flying is the least energy-efficient form of transit--you could say that COP 15 ended up adding to global warming overall.

The villain of the piece, according to Mark Lynas's article in the Guardian, seems to be China, whose efforts to preserve its remarkably high rate of GDP growth depend on burning lots of coal and keeping lots of ships crisscrossing the ocean carrying its exports.

This is dismaying--China had of late been looking like a good guy: trying to put the brakes on runaway roadbuilding and car sales, re-emphasizing the bicycle, freeing the unions, and building out a huge intercity rail network, including high speed rail, to obviate the need for more driving and flying as its population grows richer and begins traveling more.

And now this: was China's representative who insisted that industrialised country targets, previously agreed as an 80% cut by 2050, be taken out of the deal. "Why can't we even mention our own targets?" demanded a furious Angela Merkel. Australia's prime minister, Kevin Rudd, was annoyed enough to bang his microphone. Brazil's representative too pointed out the illogicality of China's position. Why should rich countries not announce even this unilateral cut? The Chinese delegate said no, and I watched, aghast, as Merkel threw up her hands in despair and conceded the point.

China, backed at times by India, then proceeded to take out all the numbers that mattered. A 2020 peaking year in global emissions, essential to restrain temperatures to 2C, was removed and replaced by woolly language suggesting that emissions should peak "as soon as possible". The long-term target, of global 50% cuts by 2050, was also excised. No one else, perhaps with the exceptions of India and Saudi Arabia, wanted this to happen. I am certain that had the Chinese not been in the room, we would have left Copenhagen with a deal that had environmentalists popping champagne corks popping in every corner of the world.
So, promises without commitments, the appearance of action with no obligation to act.

This leaves it to us, which is why I'm posting this in an urban cycling 'zine. Again and again, I've come to the conclusion that we can't wait for the powerful to save the planet for us--because in this era power (not authority, which most of them lack) comes from pollution or pain: the oil well or the gun barrel.

But, to echo what my friend who works on environmental issues in Bangladesh says, and which was a rallying cry on the streets of Copenhagen (under the truncheons of those cute Danish cops), if not in the conference halls: "Change behavior, not the climate."

Our own behavior.

Riding your bike, instead of driving your car, will do more for the climate than a thousand million promises.

And maybe, at this point, avoiding Chinese-made goods (hard to do in cycling, but not impossible) might help undercut China's rationale for gutting any global environmental protocols. (Meaning People's Republic now....)

Keep it near home. Why ship shaped tubes of steel 8,000 miles to save a few bucks, if it costs you the planet in exchange?

Ride your bike.

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