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What will they remember?

Personal observations from the final hours.

We sent 6 people from CSAG, and UCT had a handful more there.  We engaged, we had one of the best stands, we benefited personally from new contacts and collaborations, we worked hard and we also had fun.  But …

I had hoped to close my posts on COP 17 with something in a positive vein.  Days of crowds and noise, endless discussions and meetings, promotions, explanations, photographing people, blunt interviews, demonstrations, Fossil of the day awards, giving talks everywhere, sitting on panels, running, heat and humidity, meals both good and bad, money on blatant display, rampant egos and selfless advocacy, good conversations and thanks for those who traveled with me, and a progressive exasperation at the obstreperous behavior of the world’s leading political and economic powers.  How to make sense of all this, of all the nuance, bravado, desperation, strategic maneuvering, brinkmanship, all permeated with selfishness.

So many adjectives, so many ways to describe a dirty picture.  Perhaps its a fitting metaphor that oil and coal leave one stained and streaked with filth.

There have been successes; small enough that one has to search for them.  With the current negotiation extension (till Sunday if the latest tweeting is to be believed), there remains a small window of time in which something of real value can be achieved.  If that happens I will gladly come and re-edit this post.  But I suspect there will be no need.

Tweets that I see right now carry a note of desperation: “You can make COP17 a success!“, “Now is time to lead on a legally binding UNFCCC treaty by 2015!“, “Oxfam: Coalition of ambition must revitalize sputtering Durban climate talks“, “… it hasn’t been this bad for the last five years“.  Tweets that will live on in the ether till anthropologists one day mine them and ask, “What were they thinking?“.

Total collapse is not on the cards.  I suspect those in the negotiations will point to the sparks of possibility at COP 18.  Those of an optimistic frame of mind will find hope.  Those of a pessimistic nature will descend into depressive theories of conspiracy.  The bulk of the world, the majority who do not understand, will think about holidays, Christmas, and other more present personal challenges and stresses.

So what do I make of it?  I’ve been angry in the past two weeks more frequently than is comfortable.  I’ve laughed a lot more than most days.  I’ve watched and talked, and come to the conclusion “so what else did you really expect?”.   What we’ve observed is no more than base human nature exposed; serving self interest first, desensitized to the troubles of others, living the “now” at the expense of the “then”.

At the end of the day, when all is said and done, is this any different to the stratagems between the rich and the poor that starkly characterizes my home city?  How is any of this unique compared to exploitation throughout history?

What then?

I wrote the following in one of the first blog posts: ” Thus, the challenge of COP-17 is inherently ethical.  COP-17 is a power struggle, one where altruism often takes a back seat while each nations seeks to assert their own agenda.  Meanwhile, the paradoxical combination of globalization and polarization continues, all the time increasing the risk exposure of the vulnerable.

In the face of this we continue as before; on the back of past choice we now choose again, and reap the consequences as we have always done.

Polar trekking in 2065

One Response to “When all is said and done …”

  1. Kevin

    In the meanwhile, how are we going to explain the creeping change in rainfall patterns to those farmers who subsist in the Eastern Cape, South Africa? COP17 means little or nothing to those living in these fragile conditions, but the bare minimum is a least raising some hope and sadly that does not seem forthcoming from COP17. Has COP moved beyond a distant negotiating chamber that is hell bent on defending the right to accumulate material wealth while ignoring the millions that struggle on. Without hope its even harder.