Bill McKibben made me cry today.

Yesterday there were frequent snow flurries, and this morning I woke up to a white Copenhagen. On my way to the Fresh Air Centre (FAC), the downtown media hangout for COP15, I passed a department store with large cheery penguins singing along to Boney M. All very Christmassy. But I wasn’t feeling festive. I had woken up feeling angry. Last night I had attended an excellent but disturbing event at the FAC, where George Monbiot and Naomi Klein were among the panellists. To a thronged room, the panel gave their view on recent events. Here is my best effort to summarize their comments:

1. The enforced resignation of Connie Hedegaard as President of COP15 was seen as a bad thing. She had urged the NGOs (non-governmental organizations) to keep up the pressure on the decision-makers. When she was asked to stand down in favour of the Prime Minister of Denmark, the official reason was that with an unprecedented number of heads of state arriving in Copenhagen, it was more appropriate that the president of the conference should also be a head of state. But some saw a more sinister agenda: the Danish Prime Minister had last week advanced a draft treaty that was close to the weak US position. This was very unpopular with the developing nations, and his succession to the COP Presidency was seen as a negative move.

Kumi Naidoo
Kumi Naidoo

2. Despite this bad news, some of the panellists were still urging a last-ditch attempt to seal the deal. Barry Coates, Executive Director of Oxfam New Zealand, demanded that the policy-makers “bring their sleeping bags” and not leave the Bella Center until they reach agreement. Kumi Naidoo, the dynamic Chair of TckTckTck, delivered a rousing speech saying that, “It ain’t over till the thin man in Washington signs a fair, ambitious, and legally binding treaty… it’s still a Hopenhagen, not a Flopenhagen or a Nopenhagen…”. Click here to see Kumi’s open letter to Barack Obama, and to sign the petition.

Mohamed Nasheed, President of the Maldives
Mohamed Nasheed, President of the Maldives

3. Naomi Klein, in a voice cracking and fading after a week of too much talking, stressed the significance of the moral high ground now held by the developing nations. “Let’s get out of our nationalistic boxes and see which countries have the most moral authority, and stand with them.” She commended the work that 350.org have done in bringing the plight of the Maldives to the fore. “We need a human face to this issue.” Using hard-hitting terminology, she likened the ecological recklessness of the developed nations to genocide – if by omission to act they permit the systematic killing of a racial or cultural group by famine, drought, or warfare over diminishing resources.

But the words that hit me hardest came from George Monbiot, a British writer, environmental and political activist. He sees climate change as a symptom of the deeper problem of “sheer bloody selfishness”. The developed countries have prioritized financial growth over our shared humanity, not caring “if I swing my fist and your nose gets in my way.” He concluded a rabble-rousing speech by saying, “Those who urge that human decency is paramount must win, and those who believe we can trash other people’s right must lose.”

As I walked home last night, I reflected on the eloquence and intelligence not just of the speakers, but also of the members of the audience who asked follow-up questions. I noted with interest that the climate change believers tend to be smart people.

Their powerful speeches percolated through my mind as I slept, and I woke up feeling angry – for all the right reasons – rather than the logistical post-theft weariness that has been my first emotion on the last few mornings. I was angry at having my illusions shattered. Angry that Big Money is running the show here. Angry at the global leaders who have been so cheaply bought. Angry that the process seems to be failing, corrupted by the love of money, the root of all evil.

Candlelight vigil - all very lovely, but what have they really achieved?
Candlelight vigil - all very lovely, but what have they really achieved?

I felt angry, but also stupid. How could I have been so naive? How could I have believed that we could really make a difference? It seemed to me that the Dobermanns of Big Money was going to win the day, and we were just a bunch of fleas jumping up and down and futilely squeaking our protests.

In this frame of mind it didn’t take much to reduce me to tears.

I was among the first handful of people to arrive at TckTckTck’s Fresh Air Center, and headed for the row of communal computers. Bill McKibben arrived a few minutes later, and sat at the computer next to me. As he greeted me I apologized. I had read his 350.org newsletter yesterday and knew that he was fasting today in a show of solidarity with the poor of the world. And I was sitting with a caramel latte and croissant at my side. Even worse, my latte was in a disposable cup, my lovely Sigg mug having been stolen along with everything else.

“Hey, at this stage, a coffee cup isn’t going to make much difference,” he said. He was in self-confessed bitter mood. As the talks in the Bella Center reach their most intense – and tense – stage yet, he was pessimistic. He opined that the collapse of the talks might be the best outcome we can hope for.

“And do you think there will be another COP in July?” I asked.

“We could have COPs until the end of time, and we still wouldn’t agree anything,” he said.

Bill McKibben at the march on Sunday
Bill McKibben at the march on Sunday

I looked at him, stunned and speechless. My eyes misted. I didn’t want to believe that I had just heard him say what he had just said. I have known throughout that my optimism was based on a stubborn refusal to contemplate the consequences of failure in Copenhagen, rather than on any evidence that we might get a positive outcome, but tit was nonetheless a slap in the face to hear it stated so starkly, by a man whose opinion I respect.

Bill went on to tell me his view that COP15 has been a display of naked power. He told me that small countries have been threatened by the IMF that it will withdraw its funding if they don’t toe the line. He gave an example of a small country that had been promised two new hospitals by the Chinese if it would back their position here. Money talks, and here it has been talking the message of business as usual, and continued financial growth at the expense of our poor aching Earth.

I confessed to Bill that I had been naive when I arrived here. I really thought I could make a difference. I thought that the global leaders could surely not remain unmoved by such passionate demonstrations in support of a fair, ambitious, and legally binding deal on climate change.

But it seems I was wrong. I will leave Copenhagen more jaded than I arrived, but more realistic too, and hence hopefully more effective. The theft of my backpack has not made me believe that every person is a criminal. Likewise, I’m not going to believe that every international negotiation is hopeless. The truth lies somewhere in between my former idealism and my present cynicism. To see the world as it is, rather than as I wish it was, is no bad thing.

Other Stuff:

On a sunnier note… I had a chat with Kim Nguyen, the impressive young man who cycled here from Australia for COP15. We were comparing notes on our respective plans and adventures. He pointed out that even those who represent Big Money are human beings. And human beings can change. Awareness is growing. If we can change the hearts and minds, we can change the system.

And as I’ve been writing this blog, the word is out on Twitter that Hillary Clinton has pledged USD 100 billion (although reading this article it seems less exciting than I first thought), up from the original commitment to USD 10 billion. Definitely a move in the right direction.

So the news isn’t all bad, but personally, I’m feeling despondent and exhausted. I’ve been running nonstop since I arrived back on dry land 3 months ago, and it’s catching up with me. The theft of all my most valued possessions has been quite stressful. My eyes are tired and strained from hours of squinting at a computer screen without my glasses. I haven’t been eating properly, trying to eke out scarce cash resources borrowed from friends, by eating cheaply rather than healthily. A persistent tic in my right eyelid is a clear signal that I’m nearing my limits. Physically, psychologically, and financially, I feel pretty destroyed.

But all this pales into insignificance compared with what we will lose if there is no miracle within the next 36 hours. The loss of my laptop is nothing compared with the loss of the world as we know it.

27 Comments

  • “I noted with interest that the climate change believers tend to be smart people.” Roz I don’t know where to start with this statement so I’m not going to comment on it any more. I’m sorry you are so stressed out. The man-made climate change skeptics have long known that COP-15 is about the transfer of wealth from developed nations to the UN as I think you have come to realize. The US is 12 trillion dollars in debt, we have a 40 trillion dollar obligation in US govt pensions, social security, and other social programs. Hillary Clinton didn’t promise 100 billion US dollars, she promised to spend China’s money because the US is broke. California is 20 billion dollars in the hole as are other states. Also Obama can sign a treaty but it will not be binding until the US Senate approves it by a two-thirds vote. Roz spend some time reading the other side of the argument at http://wattsupwiththat.com/ .

    Wishing you fair winds and calm seas.

  • I feel in your words , your crushed heart. Was this incredible journey all in vain? I think not, even if all goes in the direction of disaster, you on your own have driven your passion into the minds of so many. I believe one by one we all will be more aware of our personal habits, this in its self will make a small but important difference.You alone have touched so many of us. Keep your spirits high today,you are an incredible force. With much admiration and love to you. AmyinAustin

  • Hi Roz,

    The global leaders aren’t exactly being “bought” by Big Money, they were already bought and paid for long before they even become world leaders, long before they came to Copenhagen. They are basically the spokespersons for Big Money, assigned with the task of making their decisions appear difficult.

    It is not legislation or corporate agreements that are going to change the world. It is people like you.
    People who do their part to make the world around them a better place. It’s contagious, because it’s right. It may take a few billion of us to do it but, you of all people understand that. A billion starts with one, then another, then another…

  • Roz – May I recommend a book to you? It is called “Bury the Chains” by Adam Hochschild and is about the fight to end slavery in the 18th and 19th century, and that through the dedicated and passionate work of a few the end of a morally wrong economic institution finally came to pass. It will give you hope that the governmental pursuit of money can be defeated when it becomes apparent that the morality of the issue is more important than dollars.

  • Roz, reading your post this morning, I nearly missed my bus. I felt your pain and anger.

    But, I never really expected much from COP15 because of the feet dragging in the U.S. House and Senate. I believe that we have to work with our City Councils and Planning Commissions and County Supervisors (or equivalent). I take every opportunity to promote and encourage my town and other towns to adopt building ordinances and energy ordinances and resident-friendly bonds to finance retrofits (google ‘CityFIRST’ or ‘BerkeleyFIRST’ or ‘AB811 Levine’ or ‘renewable funding’). I am not in this business, but when I retire “early” I hope to make this my next career. There is no reason that cost reducing rooftop installations of solar hot water heating, solar space heating, solar space cooling (yes! cooling), solar photovoltaic electric panels and proper insulation can not be easily financed on every appropriate (i.e., south-facing, sunny and no shade) residence, commercial building, factory or warehouse.

    I believe that getting cost effective energy reducing programs in place locally is the way to put real pressure on the politicians at the national level.

    Governator Arnold Schwarzenegger stated that very clearly that we should not wait for the national or global politicians:

    “Throughout the course of history, all great movements have been born at the grassroots level. The American independence movement, the civil-rights movement, and the women’s suffrage movement were all begun by people who did not wait for others. Then they gained momentum and speed, and swept throughout our nation.”

    This video of Kassie Siegel explaining how Obama can deliver stronger emissions reductions is worth watching, Jerry.

  • Roz, take a look at your link top right of this page – what happened two years ago… There will be a rainbow! I know you were irritated by my cynicism about Copenhagen – but it was always written in the stars that Obama would come galloping to the rescue at the last minute. There will be a deal, but whether it is effective or enforceable, only time will tell. Take care of yourself – you ARE making a difference

  • Let’s face it this whole crisis has come about through the destructive use of “power”.

    Up to now being “powerful” means making gain at the expense of others. I mean come on, it was only 50 years ago blacks got the right to vote in the USA. Animals are better than that. People fear diversity. Instead of appreciating it for what it is they try to destroy it and in doing as such people have lost touch with their souls and in turn feel “powerless”. This is a spiritual war. It is time for people to get into the “vortex” and reclaim their “true power” to do good for themselves and for others. In my mind this is the only way the earth is going to evolve and continue to thrive.

  • Roz

    If there are enough of them, a bunch of fleas jumping up and down will eventually overwhelm even a Doberman. All over the world, the ‘fleas’ are becoming aware that we can’t just keep blindly heading down the road we’re currently on.

    Just keep on doing what you do best, waking people up one ‘flea’ at a time. And here’s hoping you get some much-needed food and sleep very soon.

  • I’m afraid the progressive cheapening through overuse of the word ‘genocide’ turns me off. Without developing the theme too far, the business end of genocide is one person looking into the eyes of another and saying ‘Because of what you are, I don’t think you are worthy of life.’ Is that really where we are?
    Good luck with your general principles though. Personally, I’ll carry on picking up litter where I see it, as I have done for many years now. There seems enough to do in that area, and my local environment is noticeably better afterwards.

  • David when I read those comments I feel like I live in a insane asylum. The title of this thread doesn’t even compare as to how I feel about it. So can I relate as to how Roz is feeling……OH YEAH!

    I can’t focus on it because it will drain me of every ounce of goodness and energy I have.

  • nice that you are in college POC, I hope mommie & daddie are getting their money’s worth on that political science degree you are working on…I don’t know if I could educate you since you believe everything those college professors have fed you…I, unfortunately, had to pay my own way thru a technical university to earn the 2 technicaldegrees I hold. I was lucky, technology can only be taught and not BS’ed about, twisted to fit an ideology. Unless, of course, it is climatology…but that has become a religion…

    I can proudly say that I do have a ‘G.I.Joe mindset’ and a ‘pull ones self up by ones bootstraps mentality’, it comes from a proud tradition in my family of service in the U.S.military; something else you obviously hate as one can read between the lines of your first posting. – ComradeChaos

    http://www.newsvine.com/_news/2009/12/16/3642923-poll-obama-approval-dips-below-50-percent?pc=25&sp=400#discussion

    So there yoiu go folks…….that is the mentality you are working with in the states.

  • Just on radio i heard Hilary talking about 100 billion at the FAKE climate holiday convention in Denmark …

    These people just wont stop … Tristen H
    ——-
    So how do you educate these people eh?

  • Dear Lady Roz,
    As a sometime sailor I’ve learned – usually the hard way – that whereas I can control my own ship, I just can’t control the wind. And hence other’s ships will usually go their own way, no matter how much I huff and puff. And some ships are apparently built with minds of their own, for even the wind often doesn’t seem to control their direction. So appears to be the case in Copenhagen, where a you-be-damned-I-be-right melee is apparently attempting to masquarade as a climate conference. The winds are blowing a hundred ways – zephers and whirlwinds, whiteouts and becalmings. Yes, it is discouraging when all your well-intentioned puffing doesn’t seem to affect any ship but your own. But as you know so well, no ship’s course is ever quite the same again after it has attempted to disregard strong gusts in its sails.
    And please, m’Lady, never forget that no matter how big the avalanche of eager people tumbling into Bella Center, there is no one among them – not one! of any level! – that would even THINK of rowing alone from Hawaii to Tarawa to call attention to our threatened Earth! You are unique among the many and your Rozlings are very, very proud of all you’ve done in the cause of curbing climate change!
    Other stuff: I’m hoping that Nicole B. can carry out the plan for her and her grandmother to visit Santa Fe! So if cold ears suddenly become much warmer in the next week or so, you’ll know why! I just wish you could join us! After all, Lady Roz, for you the margaritas are on the house! – Doug S.

  • Roz,
    Doug S.’s word say it all about how you stand alone! It is hard to know how to offer comfort in time of pain and disappointment you are now feeling except to know others feel much the same and stand with you …when we put ourselves on the edge with the passion of a vision and a conviction, we are indeed on the edge, out front—that can be a heavy load to pull at times…and that usually means those who are leaders naturally lag behind as the nature of their position is conserving and often conservative yielding to many more influences other than the vision…prophets through the ages have felt that and often paid for their vision with their lives…this perspective is important to ponder especially where both visionaries and conserving leaders are asked to come together around such an enveloping issue in Copenhagen…while there no doubt will be progress in the right direction, it will fall way short of expected goals of the visionaries…I deeply admire and am moved by your passion and commitment as one has dedicated your spirit to saving our planet…but realize where your true strength is…in my opinion,it is in the example of your life, your actions, its vision, and your courage to name that vision—one day at a time for all who care to listen…and this is making a difference!

  • Roz, first of all I can’t believe it’s only been 3 months since you arrived back on dry land. Just trying to keep up with you “virtually” is nearly exhausting…the highs, the lows, the grueling non stop effort, etc.
    I have been wondering how long you could maintain this pace, it’s not at all surprising that it is catching up with you.

    It sounds like you are ready for a much needed BREAK from it all. It will help you gain fresh perspective to stand back for a while. You have already gone above and beyond, and as you can see here Many people have been inspired by your efforts.

    Who knows what the future holds at this point, there is still plenty of reason to have hope. Human nature is often full surprises, that’s the beauty of it. But, in the meantime that offer of margaritas doesn’t sound to bad either! Go enjoy the holidays and your birthday and take immense satisfaction knowing that your efforts have been well received…..keep the Hope!

  • I’m sorry I haven’t had the opportunity to pitch in with comment support as much as usual these days. I have faith that you will find what these discouraging times are meant to teach you, just as you have so many times before. There are plenty of sardonic, bitter, and pessimistic voices in the world, and we need optimists to balance them. And you have to accept that you can’t keep yourself from veering over into the negative once in a while. It’s a valuable and necessary experience. Wishing you a wonderful trip back home, and encouraging you to give yourself some relaxation time away from trying to save the world. I think right now you need at least a day to heal mentally and emotionally, like that day you needed to take off this summer to lie on your belly in the sun a bit and let your … ah … cheeks … have a chance to repair.

  • Roz,
    This is the first time I have ever followed a blog of someone I don’t know so forgive me if I overstep any invisible boundaries. I am still trying to learn what the virtual etiquette is around here. That is why I don’t post very much but I have been thinking about this post since yesterday. I just finished your book and I have been going back and reading your Atlantic row blogs and I have discovered something. You have taught yourself how to be an optimist. Like I said I don’t know you so you may have been one in the past but it really shows as you get further out into the ocean that you don’t have anything to rely on out there but your hope and your optimism. I think that is wonderful! Also, I don’t think as an optimist you are automatically naive. Sometimes that can be mixed up but I don’t think that is what is happening here. You’re a pragmatic person. You know what is really going on. It’s just hard because as an optimist disappointments can hit you harder than most people. Especially when you feel that all your efforts are for nothing (I know, some of this is speculation).
    Don’t stop being an optimist; (I don’t think you can but I needed to say it) it is for that which makes your posts so refreshing. Yes, even when you are upset. It is so good that you are this way, and you are making a difference. You have made me aware of all my actions when it pertains to long term affects on the earth. Isn’t that how it begins, one person changing another, then another, then that person going out and changing another? The wind comes from somewhere. Thank you for making the effort for this wend to come from you.

  • My thoughts on Copenhagen-The recent disclosure about scientists changing climate data to fit into their agenda, means the global warming issue has now become a political agenda not science. People in power not willing to change their lives in any way, still flying in their private gulf stream jets all around the world (today, many are parked on the tarmac in Copenhagen) and living in homes, maintaining offices not energy efficient, “Save the planet”, right, they are all frauds. The United States offering money to other countries, money we do not have is a joke. And the most appalling of all, Chavez rips capitalism and this draws cheers in Copenhagen, for me, this dog and pony show in Copenhagen is over. Roz, you’re a smart girl, so go home and spend your time and energy on a real cause with real people.

  • Unfortunately, money does rule the world – so it will override everything else including humanity. But the future decisions will be made by our children. So if we cannot change the minds of the leaders now, we can influence the leaders of tomorrow. It is never too late.

    Hugs Roz. You need a rest.

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