(To parody the name of an infamous satirical radio show of the 1960s, That Was The Week That Was)
Have you noticed how it’s often the most long-awaited and eagerly-anticipated of events that signally fail to deliver satisfaction (while the really good and memorable things happen serendipitously and unexpectedly)? And you wake up the morning after feeling rather jaded, disappointed, and wondering just what went wrong?
Welcome to my mindset after Copenhagen.
I’ve spent most of the last year planning for this event, trying to figure out how I can be of most service. I have been virtually obsessed by COP15 – my 3 Google Alerts are my name (isn’t yours?!), “copenhagen climate change” and “copenhagen conference 2009”. As Beka of TckTckTck.org put it, “We breathe , eat and sleep this issue. We’re not going to go away on Friday just because COP15 is over.”
This morning my mood as I walked through the cold winter sunshine of central Copenhagen to the Fresh Air Centre was decidedly morning-after-the-night-before. The city squares, which for the last 2 weeks have been full of exhibits, trailers, tents, and people, were almost deserted. Everything had been broken down and removed with almost indecent haste.
So, I asked myself, what was it all for? All that effort, energy, and creativity, not to mention 40,500 tons of CO2 – was it all for nothing? No fair, ambitious and legally binding treaty. No commitment to take bold action on climate change. Not even an improvement in international relationships that might bode well for future negotiations – quite the opposite, in fact, with many developing countries leaving Copenhagen feeling disenfranchised and excluded. Money proved to be the strongest player, the process weak.
I don’t know what the pundits will say, or how COP15 will be viewed by the history books. But here are some positives that I will take away from the last two weeks.
– Devolution of power to elected officials of local communities: while national leaders (well, one in particular) struggle to get a clear mandate from their governments, mayors and governors are taking matters into their own hands. I have long wondered what the ideal unit of government might be – a country of 250 million (US) or even 60 million (UK) seems too big a ship to turn – and now it seems that the answer to my question is emerging, as increasing numbers of local politicians decide to provide recycling services, mandate composting, etc, at local level.
– Emergence of young leaders: as Bill McKibben said yesterday in a panel discussion at the Klimaforum, it seems patronizing to separate youth from adults. Mike Eckhart went further, and suggested that anyone over 40 should be excluded from climate discussions because they’re probably banking on being dead before the full effects are felt (although they may well be mistaken). In the last two days, two of the people who have impressed me the most have been 26-year-old Dominic Frongillo, an elected official in Caroline, New York, and a 17-year-old schoolboy from London who was helping support the Kiribati delegation. Both were eloquent, intelligent, and committed. If only the same could be said of all of their elders.
– My own evolution as an environmental campaigner: I arrived in Copenhagen naive and idealistic. While I hope I haven’t lost, and never will lose, my idealism, I now see the world more as it is, and less as I would like it to be. This is a much stronger position from which to create change in the future. Having the harsh truth come and clobber you between the eyes is not a pleasant experience, but trying to ignore it, or wishing it were otherwise, is a waste of time.
And now, on a lighter note, here are a selection of things I loved about Copenhagen:
1. Being able to sit right at the front of the Metro train – there is no driver’s cab – as it whizzes along tunnels. Feels a bit like a fairground ride.
2. Secretkitchen.dk – my favourite place for caramel lattes and cakes, just around the corner from the downtown Fresh Air Centre. Also great juices, smoothies, soups and salads.
3. Glugg – Danish mulled wine. Marvellously onomatopoeic. As is “hygge” (pronounced hooger) which means cosy, but also sounds like a big hug.
4. Pyt! – Danish word more or less equivalent to the French “tant pis”. Nearest English equivalent is “it happens”, but this lacks the idea of letting go. Pyt! (pronounced almost with no vowel sound – PT!) is a verbal flick of the hand, surrendering the stress and putting it behind you. As eventually one needs to do about the theft of a backpack full of all cherished worldly goods.
5. Friendly natives – helpful and polite, and mostly very good at English, even when facing a major invasion of COP15 foreigners. I would particularly like to mention the wonderful Gaard family, my hosts arranged by New Life Copenhagen. They invite a total stranger (and a strange ocean-rowing stranger at that!) into their home, give her a key, allow her free run of the house. Then when her bag is stolen, lend her a credit card and laptop. Incredible kindness and generosity, but delivered in a low-key and natural way. By way of thanks I arranged with UncaDoug to have some American goodies shipped over to Denmark. They had enjoyed certain all-American foodstuffs during their year in Chicago while Soren was doing his PhD at Northwestern University. The macaroni cheese mix and Aunt Jemima’s (!!!) pancake mix went down extremely well with the two young Gaards especially.
I leave Copenhagen tomorrow, with my luggage considerably lighter, my heart a little heavier, my head a little wiser. I’ll be pondering on what has happened here, and starting to evolve my environmental mission for 2010. As 2009 draws to a close, I’m looking forward to a period of reflection and rejuvenation, and preparation for challenges of the year ahead.