Ah, the intemperate tempestuous two-step . . .

Bali Logo

“The Conference, hosted by the Government of Indonesia, took place at the Bali International Convention Centre and brought together more than 10,000 participants, including representatives of over 180 countries together with observers from intergovernmental and nongovernmental organizations and the media” (1).

So begins the main page of the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Bali, which gathered from December 3rd through 14th in the rather recent year of 2007. I felt my first shudder at the number of participants and all the atmospherically toxic air miles. Well, we have to do that for a greater goal, right? Even if destroying the planet in order to save it seems (!) like a paradox.

But my first shudder paled in comparison to the second: The Bali Roadmap (2).

Bali is the sequel to Kyoto, which was (and still is) a terribly difficult but ultimately meager exercise whose only point seems to have been that the international community more or less came to a feeble agreement, sort of, that has been largely unenforceable, not to mention that the United States refused to sign on even after Al Gore succeeded in gutting it (3) (I believe he won the Nobel Prize for something else, although I’m not entirely sure). But at least if we had learned something from Kyoto it would have been worth it.

Bali Bailout, A Roadmap to . . . ?

One civil society participant quipped that the “Bali roadmap is a roadmap to anywhere” (4). It might well be a roadmap to nowhere, here’s where it maps to:

Resolving . . . Reaffirming . . . Responding . . . Recognizing . . . Deciding . . . Agreeing . . . Instructing . . . Inviting . . . Requesting . . . Urging . . .

. . . but no firm enforceable commitment to reducing greenhouse gases, let alone to addressing global justice, fair trade, support for local economies, and survival of life on earth. As weak as Kyoto was, this current convocation amounted to little more than an exercise in contemplating our Bali-buttons.

Shattered Bali

Many people certainly tried to make it different. As long-time Philippino scholar and activist Walden Bello noted, “global civil society erupt[ed] onto the scene,” not only trade and development groups, but people’s movements from around the world. Unfortunately, so did big business: “Climate change activists have been appalled and stunned by the business takeover of the climate change discourse. One Indian activist walked out of a session on ‘linking emissions trading markets’ muttering, ‘I can’t believe it. These guys have their own specialized jargon. I did not understand one word of what they were saying.'” Another commented, “we are now stuck with carbon markets driving the process since the corporations have found that there is money to be made from climate change” (5).

Here is the positive side: developing nations, indigenous people, women (6), representatives of movements for justice and equity as well as climate sanity – all are finding their voice on an international stage. But it is truly shocking that Bali has been trumpeted as a success, without coming up with a single action of climate significance. All in all, given that not only absolute amounts but worldwide rates of carbon emissions have increased over the past six years, it’s no surprise we’re not seeing progress from the big players – government and corporate (is there a difference?) – on the international scene. That means it’s up to us, in our communities, joining cities and towns across the planet, who are beginning to understand that sustainability and survival are local.

And as an understanding dawns of emissions reductions that will make a difference, it will indeed be a shock, particularly for the U.S. As George Monbiot has calculated, “significant” means a North American per capita cut of 98.3% in greenhouse gas emissions in a theoretical 2050 (7). Of course, in the wake of the increasingly certain climate chaos by then, our emissions may be at zero of a choosing not our own, courtesy of some very angry Nature godesses and gods, to whom our humble obeisance is long overdue.

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Next time: The Silly Stuff Stalking Our Shelves

Copyright 2008 by Adam D. Sacks, all rights reserved.

1. http://unfccc.int/meetings/cop_13/items/4049.php

2. http://unfccc.int/files/meetings/cop_13/application/pdf/cp_bali_action.pdf

3. Be sure to read George Monbiot’s excellent post of December 17, 2007, “Hurray, We’re Going Backwards,” at http://www.monbiot.com/archives/2007/12/17/hurray-were-going-backwards/.

4. http://www.focusweb.org/the-day-after.html?Itemid=1

5. Walden Bello, “Players and Plays in the Bali Climate Drama,” December 13, 2007, http://www.focusweb.org/players-and-plays-in-the-bali-climate-drama.html?Itemid=1.

6. Imelda V. Albano, “Women Bear the Brunt of Climate Crisis: Their Stories From the UN Conference in Bali,” The Women’s International Perspective, January 4, 2008, http://www.truthout.org/issues_06/010408WB.shtml.

7. George Monbiot, “What Is Progress,” December 4, 2007, http://www.monbiot.com/archives/2007/12/04/what-is-progress/.