The mind boggles. Who ever would have thought, even in their darkest, most paranoid dreams, that the Copenhagen climate change talks would be hijacked by a handful of rich nations seeking to give themselves more power and riches while imposing new burdens and new injustices on the rest of the world? And that amongst this avaricious, duplicitous elite one would find the government of a man who now bears the Nobel laurel for his unstinting dedication to the welfare of all humanity?
Yet as unlikely as it may seem - the rich screwing the poor? What next? – that's exactly what has happened at the great international conference that opened this week in Denmark with the avowed intent of pulling the planet back from the brink of a potentially fatal disequilibrium. America, Britain, and, er, Denmark are among the handful of rich nations who have drawn up a secret draft agreement that they hope to impose on the conference in its closing days, when the elite's heavy hitters like Barack Obama and Gordon Brown swan in to take a bow.
The plan would let rich nations emit twice as much per capita pollution as developing countries, while the latter will be subject to stiff new dictates from the rich in order to receive technical assistance for climate change programs. The elite plan also calls for completely bypassing the UN – the only international forum in which poor nations feel they stand on a slightly more equal footing with the elite – and turning over climate change funding and future negotiations to an "independent" board ... most likely run by that reliable appendage of empire, the World Bank. As the Guardian reports:
The UN Copenhagen climate talks are in disarray today after developing countries reacted furiously to leaked documents that show world leaders will next week be asked to sign an agreement that hands more power to rich countries and sidelines the UN's role in all future climate change negotiations.
The document is also being interpreted by developing countries as setting unequal limits on per capita carbon emissions for developed and developing countries in 2050; meaning that people in rich countries would be permitted to emit nearly twice as much under the proposals....
The draft hands effective control of climate change finance to the World Bank; would abandon the Kyoto protocol – the only legally binding treaty that the world has on emissions reductions; and would make any money to help poor countries adapt to climate change dependent on them taking a range of actions.
The so-called Danish text, a secret draft agreement worked on by a group of individuals known as "the circle of commitment" – but understood to include the UK, US and Denmark – has only been shown to a handful of countries since it was finalised this week.
..."It is being done in secret. Clearly the intention is to get [Barack] Obama and the leaders of other rich countries to muscle it through when they arrive next week. It effectively is the end of the UN process," said one diplomat, who asked to remain nameless.
And as noted in a follow-up story by the Guardian:
A spokesman for Cafod, a development charity with close links to some of the poorest countries in the world, said: "This draft document reveals the backstage machinations of a biased host who, instead of acting as nonpartisan broker, is taking sides with the developed countries.
"The document should not even exist. There is a UN legal process which is the official negotiating text. The Danish text disrespects the solid, steady approach of the UN process."
Another shock! Elites clubbing together in secret, seeking to circumvent legal processes for their own corrupt advantage? And, and, and....Americans being involved in such dirty business?! Say it ain't so, O!
The Copenhagen talks have become captive of what we might call the "Reform Syndrome"; i.e., the absolute, urgent imperative to put together a crappy deal that gorges the rich and hobbles the poor in egregious ways -- but which can be palmed off on a compliant media and a diverted public as some kind of "reform." The important thing is that an illusion of positive action be created -- while the same-old same-old keeps grinding on behind the scenes.
This scenario has been playing out in the most crude and brazen fashion during the "debate" over health care "reform" in the United States, which has seen a "progressive" administration literally sell its "reform" agenda to the very corporate interests that are the ostensible target of the reforms, allowing them, again literally, to write most of the "reform" legislation themselves.
And this has been the modus operandi of most of the international climate change efforts, which have seen no appreciable reduction in the pollution that is driving the destabilization of the planet -- but has seen the creation of vast new "carbon trading" markets an other speculative ventures for the rich and powerful to feast upon.
Genuine climate change experts like Sir David King of the UK have been saying that no deal would be far better than the kind of bad deals that are brewing in Copenhagen. And that was before the secret agenda of the "circle of commitment" was revealed. (The same dynamic applies to health care reform, of course: better no bill at all than the monstrosity now wending its way through Congressional intestines. Back off, buckle down, and start again.)
The details of the elite's Copenhagen agenda will now doubtless now be modified -- or plastered over with a new coat of PR paint -- in the light of the firestorm the revelations have provoked. But the true intention of the rich nations in these negotiations -- as in all others -- is clearer than a shining stream pouring down from a melting ice cap: the weakest go to the wall.
But as Arthur Silber pointed out last month in his articles on global warming, this is what our "complex, intricate... corporatist system," with its "dizzyingly numerous interconnections between "private" business and government," does. This is what it's for. And, as he notes, this is the system that we are trusting to resolve the globe-wrenching problems of climate change.
Silber also makes the pertinent point that while this system goes on its merry way, profiting both from its unceasing pollution of the planet -- which may have already reached the point of no return -- and from the fitful and co-opted attempts to mitigate its effects, millions of people are absorbed by their anxiety over these potential dangers ... even as they ignore, or in some cases, celebrate, vast, man-made catastrophes that could be dealt with today, right now -- and with a bare minimum of cost.
For example, Victoria Brittain details a vast, man-made environmental disaster that could be resolved this afternoon with a single phone call. From the Guardian:
Among all the complex and long-term solutions being sought in Copenhagen for averting environmental catastrophe across the world, there is one place where the catastrophe has already happened, but could be immediately ameliorated with one simple political act.
In Gaza there is now no uncontaminated water; of the 40,000 or so newborn babies, at least half are at immediate risk of nitrate poisoning – incidence of "blue baby syndrome", methaemoglobinaemia, is exceptionally high; an unprecedented number of people have been exposed to nitrate poisoning over 10 years; in some places the nitrate content in water is 300 times World Health Organisation standards; the agricultural economy is dying from the contamination and salinated water; the underground aquifer is stressed to the point of collapse; and sewage and waste water flows into public spaces and the aquifer.
The blockade of Gaza has gone on for nearly four years, and the vital water and sanitation infrastructure went past creaking to virtual collapse during the three-week assault on the territory almost a year ago.
What would it take to start the two UN sewerage repair projects approved by Israel; a UN water and sanitation project, not yet approved; and two more UN internal sewage networks, not yet approved? Right now just one corner of the blockade could be lifted for these building materials and equipment to enter Gaza, to let water works begin and to give infant lives a chance. Just one telephone call from the Israeli defence ministry could do it – an early Christmas present to the UN staff on the ground who have been ready to act for months and have grown desperate on this front, as on so many others.
As Brittain notes, the Israelis have already lifted another part of their strangulating blockade, after a bold intervention by U.S. Senator John Kerry, who in March of this year demanded that the Israelis lift their prohibitions on ... pasta.
But apparently, no American politician can be bothered to pick up a phone to stem the poisoning of the Gaza Ghetto:
Gaza's huge pale sandy beaches used to be society's playground and reassurance of happiness and normality, with families picnicking, horses exercising, fishermen mending their nets, children swimming and boys exercising in the early morning, but these days they are mainly empty, and not just because it is winter. Between 50m and 60m litres of untreated sewage have flowed into the Mediterranean every day this year since the end of the Israeli invasion in January, the sea smells bad and few fish are available in the three nautical mile area Palestinians are allowed in. This resource seems as ruined as the rubble of Gaza's parliament and ministries.
...."We have run out of words to describe how bad it is here," says John Ging, director of operations for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency in Gaza. Ging heads a team of 10,000 mainly Palestinian workers who run the aid supplies that are all that stand between the vast majority of Gazans and destitution. "We have 80% unemployment, an economy at subsistence level, infrastructure destroyed, etc, but even worse than the humanitarian plight is the destruction of civil society."
Ging's great preoccupation is "the 750,000 children susceptible to an environment where things are moving rapidly in the wrong direction, where the injustice is bewildering, and every day worse":
There is a big problem of insecurity and violence here, and it is getting worse. Most adults display stoic resilience, and cling to a belief in traditional values, but there is a compelling narrative by extremists which becomes ever more difficult to combat. Only lifting the siege would change the dynamic.
Or what about the vast, spreading, man-made disaster that is Afghanistan? As Silber notes, many people who decry the potential disasters of climate change actively support the catastrophic intervention in Afghanistan -- which, as we pointed out here, produces the very ills that is ostensibly designed to reduce (just as Israel's choking of Gaza does). Yet here too, the vast suffering and degradation of millions of people could be addressed more effectively at a modicum of the cost it now takes to kill and plunder them.
Jeffrey Sachs (via the Angry Arab) takes up this theme at the Huffington Post, while noting the aforementioned inherent disabilities of our present system to address the problems it ostensibly seeks to resolve:
The framing of Afghanistan's governance problems with the simplistic gloss of "corruption" is yet another trivialization of reality, exceeded only by the idea that Afghan President Hamid Karzai can and will turn off corruption at will, and notably in response to US pressure. Former National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski was on the mark when he questioned the ability of Washington, itself in an era of rampant corruption, to clean up corruption elsewhere. A worthy role for Richard Holbrooke, now the special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, would be to root out flagrant financial mismanagement at the staff of AIG, where Holbrooke had served on the Board during the buildup of the recent financial bubble. The war industry itself, replete with powerful corporations like Fluor and DynCorp that receive billions of dollars in no-bid Pentagon contracts, are also a likely part of the Washington political momentum.
The fact of the matter is that Afghanistan is in urgent need of the basics for survival in one of the poorest countries on Earth -- seeds, fertilizer, roads, power, schools, and clinics -- much more than it is in the need of another 30,000 troops or added military contractors. Development aid directed to Afghanistan's communities, through the UN, could stabilize Afghanistan far more effectively at one-fifth to one-tenth the cost of the coming $100 billion or so per year that will be spent on this military debacle. Yet such support is not forthcoming. ... As Friedman reports, Obama has disdained "nation-building" as "mission creep," thereby disappointingly echoing the Bush administration.
In fact, the US Government's long-standing disdain is for the Afghan people themselves, since there has been not the slightest effort for decades to think through their real needs and wants. As in Vietnam, this mission is all about us. And as in Vietnam, the US escalation has the possibility of causing much broader destabilization in Central and South Asia and the Middle East.
Yes, who could possibly have foreseen that the avatars of such a system would seek to exploit the growing anxiety over climate change to augment their own dominance? Whatever happens to the planet -- or to the Iraqis, or to the Afghans, or to the millions of people going down in the flood of financial flim-flam and health care "reform" scams -- the elites will remain as they are now: well-wadded, well-protected, and well-connected in their fortified enclaves of privilege and power.
To paraphrase John Ging: We are running out of words to describe how bad it is around here.
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This story was published in the Baltimore Chronicle on December 10, 2009.