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COP15 – the analysis

January 18, 2010

It is time to find new solutions to new problems.

What we witnessed at Copenhagen was institutional failure. This is convenient for Joe Public because, as this article mentions several times, the issue now is blame. Who shall we blame for the abrogation of leadership? China – how very convenient. Obama, Brown, the UN? The EU? Easy targets, the sitting ducks: because they are so big, we don’t need to aim accurately.

It should be self-evident that our institutions are failing us. They do not address the needs of the individual. They address their own needs, their own perpetuities. They accurately reflect, in democratic societies, the will of the electorate. That will, that desire, is for someone else to make the decisions, for someone else to take the blame. But I tell you this: we can no longer wash our individual hands in this matter. We did not give our governments a clear mandate for change, and so that was exactly what we got: no clear agreement for change.

But change is coming. Read any history book. Do they tell the same story? Of course not. They are a record of constant change from the beginning of recorded history to the present day. They also record one clear and constant imperative – that those who address change, who accommodate it, who embrace the challenge and rise to it – those are the successful individuals, the dominant societies, the most profitable companies. This is writ so large in our collective history it is a wonder so many of us cannot accept that to oppose change is to oppose nature itself.

Institutions are sluggish, huge, averse to risk and change, complacent, self-serving. They have no human scale, so they abstract everything. The most notable failure of COP15 was the loss of individuality. Everything was made vast, impersonal, trans-global. We will all suffer from a failure to adapt, and our suffering will be at the individual scale.

In democracies, the individual scale is represented by our vote. This is where the mandate or lack of it is counted. We may believe that climate change is being caused by human intervention in the natural balance of forces. We may believe that nature is causing change. What we cannot indulge ourselves in believing is that the climate is not changing. It doesn’t matter what the cause, right now the world is heating up. If we reduce GHG emissions, we will ameliorate these changes to some degree. This is the reason we should give our governments a clear mandate for change, because if we do not, we will not effect any kind of transition from one paradigm to the next. It will be forced on us instead by change we made no attempt to accommodate. Adaptation is always easier when we take action in advance of the imperative.

Our institutions cannot address climate change, any more than they can make us change our ways. If we do not voluntarily take action as individuals, as small businesses, as employers and employees and clubs and associations, as small units of collective will, then we will all fail. We see a problem so vast it appears daunting, and yet we are not powerless by any means. If institutions cannot accommodate change, it is up to us to do so. There are so many ways we could invest in our future by being a little less complacent, a little less self-serving. It is, and always has been, up to individuals to effect great change, because all meaningful progress in our civilisation was driven by like-minded individuals, not by institutions.

Stop blaming politicians. While we act as if nothing was our responsibility, neither can we be blamed for failure, a most convenient sophistry. But we are obliged to own up: they did what many of us wanted – nothing. Until we are prepared to act responsibly toward our own futures, we will be treated as irresponsible children by paternalistic and often well-meaning ‘adults’ who will take decisions based not on what is best for all of us, but what keeps us quiet, docile, compliant.

The legacy of COP15 is quite clear. All the while we as individuals wait for someone else to fix the world, it will remain broken. The greatest force in the world today is the consumer. We must wield that power in our own interest. Nobody forces us to over-consume. Nobody makes us take on ever more personal debt so we can have tomorrow’s rewards today. Nobody makes us settle for the least worst solutions, the least worst party. We make that compromise and it is costing us very dear. Until we realise that in a democracy the individual is the most important component instead of the least, we will continue to disenfranchise ourselves and remain the powerless children of those who aspire, in the vacuum of our adolescent indulgence, to make our decisions for us.

Responsibility is the invoice attached to freedom. Where the individual voice is invalidated, there is only clamour and sophistry, the principle tools of all governments and powerful people. We would do well to remember this.


In the end I can’t help feeling they discussed the wrong things. The problem was that institutions discuss institutional problems, at the largest scale. But this is an issue that concerns us very much as individuals, and both ‘sides’ of the debate have valid issues to consider.

The first is about political consensus where it matters: in the electorates of developed, democratic nations. One reason the talks failed to produce meaningful change is because the electorate does not support it. Fair enough – that is how democracy is supposed to work. So if the politicians wish to build a consensus, they could start by discussing how to allay fears about taxation. I don’t object to carbon taxes employed to ‘encourage’ me to cut down on fossil fuel use, in other words to use price mechanisms to get me to change my ways. I seriously object to the money raised being used for other political purposes – to buy replacement Trident missiles, for example, or to fund another illegal war – I have Iran in mind here. So, if carbon taxes were returned to us, or ring-fenced off and independently audited to ensure they were only used for things like renewables, which we need anyway, the public’s suspicion that climate change is being used simply to raise money could be assuaged.

Another valid concern is how money given to developing countries will actually be used. There are too many corrupt regimes, too many princes and dictators and thugs. The conference should have presented mechanisms that assured the electorate such foreign aid would not end up the way of so much previous aid – in the wrong hands, wasted on ego and arms, a travesty of the intention and generosity of the donors.

And while they were at it, a discussion of putting a stop to great contradictions between words and deeds might have been helpful. Until our governments walk the walk, why should we listen to any of their talk. Bloody runways – what about sorting out public transport here in the UK. You want us to get out of our cars? Fine, give us realistic, affordable alternatives or shut the fuck up (diplomatic speak).

I don’t buy any of the climate change hubrists’ scientific arguments, nor their conspiracy theories. But concerns about how our money will be taken from us in taxes and how that money will be used are valid concerns. If our governments had bothered to get us on side and deal with these concerns instead of employing 18th century paternalism, perhaps they could have made some progress at COP15 instead of looking like madmen trying to take over the asylum. And failing.

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