Gerry Canavan

the smartest kid on earth

Copenreactions (UPDATED)

with 10 comments

With just a strange hint of bad-movie badassery

The deal came after a dramatic moment in which Mr. Obama burst into a meeting of the Chinese, Indian and Brazilian leaders, according to senior administration officials. Chinese protocol officers noisily protested, and Mr. Obama said he did not want them negotiating in secret.

a Copenhagen accord was apparently forged. There’s predictable disappointment and even rage in activist circles, but (unlike health care) it seems to me this is about as good an outcome as we could have ever hoped to get.

UPDATE: The Vine’s Bradford Plumer has more roundup, including this key quote from CAP’s Andrew Light that shows up in my RSS reader but not at the Climate Progress site:

I]f successful, this interim agreement represents a fundamental game changer in how the world looks at ending carbon pollution. This was not an agreement forged among our closest allies in the developed world; it was forged among a group of developing nations [China, Brazil, South Africa, and India] that had met prior to the meeting to declare that they would never move beyond one of the core guiding assumptions of the Kyoto Protocol: that the world is divided between developed and developing countries and that only the former are required to take steps to curb their carbon emissions and be held accountable for those reductions.

Plumer also shares my view that this was about as good an agreement as possible under the circumstances.

Written by gerrycanavan

December 18, 2009 at 10:14 pm

10 Responses

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  1. shorter version of my monograph-length comments re: health care:

    “it seems to me this is about as good an outcome as we could have ever hoped to get.”

    a non-rhetorical, honest question: in precisely what way(s) does this matter?

    seems like the question to ask ourselves in order to resolve the divisions on the left everyone’s been talking about lately.


    December 19, 2009 at 12:59 am

  2. also this “group of developing nations” are those few with clear economic ascendancy. as mckibben points out a new consensus group seems to be emerging outside the u.n. around resources, determined by elites in a market-based discourse, and without (yet) even a pretense of democratic process.


    December 19, 2009 at 1:07 am

  3. Unless a politics is just totally nihilistic gamesmanship, of course the horizon of possibility matters. I don’t think anyone, certainly not me, would say that this is the Best Deal Ever or the one that “saves us” (if we can even still be saved) — but (like the health care bill) it’s not worse than nothing, and Mexico City is not that far off.

    A total collapse of talks would certainly have been worse, right?

    also this “group of developing nations” are those few with clear economic ascendancy. as mckibben points out a new consensus group seems to be emerging outside the u.n. around resources, determined by elites in a market-based discourse, and without (yet) even a pretense of democratic process.

    Very good point, but I don’t imagine Light or anyone else would disagree. All he was saying is that in comparison to the Kyoto protocol, this is a step forward. I don’t see anyone arguing that this is international climate policy’s perfect state.


    December 19, 2009 at 11:00 am

  4. […] a comment » Grist’s David Roberts is disappointed with the climate accord. What’s remarkable is that the accord already represented an enormous diminution of hopes and […]

  5. […] as a potential intervention in the argument Vu and I have been having over the last few comment threads. But upon reflection I don’t think “compromise vs. compromised” is quite what we […]

  6. but if we agree that the horizon of possibility is precisely what needs to be changed, then we can’t treat it as if it’s acceptable. policy can’t be graded on a thumbs up thumbs down basis. with global warming not only the current rate of progress but its evident direction is unacceptable (scientifically and morally speaking), and it’s important to understand clearly why. the harsh criticism co15 has received, not only from activists but also from poorer countries who will suffer the soonest and most, as well as the mainstream media (intially – that opinion seems to be turning around now), is actually capable of saying why progress is slow and what the barriers are. defenders, including plumer, reduce the whole thing to a linear narrative of incremental progress that prohibits comprehension. i’m not just defending a right to be angry — a separate argument — i’m defending an idea of what criticism should be doing (developing a theory of political responses to global warming) and the alternative horizon for politics that the activists at copenhagen were fighting for.


    December 19, 2009 at 3:40 pm

  7. Recognizing that we really only barely disagree on this:

    but if we agree that the horizon of possibility is precisely what needs to be changed, then we can’t treat it as if it’s acceptable.

    I think you’re conflating “recognizing / describing” with “accepting / endorsing” in a way I wouldn’t and don’t. I don’t think you actually do this either, except on a more performative level of what you think leftists like us ought to *say* when we are confronted with defeat.

    After all, it’d be a funny mode of critique that relied exclusively on “harsh criticism” regardless of whether or not it was actually warranted under the circumstances — and it wouldn’t be one that brought us any closer to understanding “why progress is slow and what the barriers are.” (Because, as we all know, “critics reduce the whole thing to a linear narrative of inevitable defeat that prohibits comprehension.”)

    Copenhagen’s not the end point, and not exactly time to celebrate — but I never said it was! I said it was (1) as good as we could have hoped for and (2) better than nothing, both of which statements seem to me to be true, and both of which would therefore need to accounted for under any theory of political responses to global warming. In reply, you said (paraphrasing) “What does it matter if it’s as good an outcome as we could have hoped to get?” — which seems significantly at odds with your later description of critique as an interrogation of these very structural horizons.


    December 19, 2009 at 5:35 pm

  8. i don’t think this is just about what leftists should say, it’s about theory. note that mckibben’s piece and most left critiques of copenhagen DO make it clear that its failure to do anything real has an explanation and was mostly unsurprising. i haven’t read anyone yet who seriously thought the talks were going to accomplish much more than they did. the circumstances do warrant harsh criticism of the entire process and where it’s evidently heading (a quite predictable scenario where the most powerful annex one and two countries determine energy policy for everyone else while giving charity in exchange). to break with this linear, self-destructive political narrative (of globalized ‘development’) we have to notice how it functions for its dominant actors, and recognize that it isn’t all-encompassing. it’s important to have a public conversation about how fucked it is and why, and what should be done instead, and that’s what activists/the nations getting left out of the deal are doing.

    and i keep bringing this up because i think by insisting it’s ‘better’ than kyoto you’re taking the linear measure of progress as determinant and using it to refute its critics and their “predictable disappointment and rage.”


    December 20, 2009 at 10:26 am

  9. That’s a generous reading of the McKibben piece, or this other one from McKibben/, which don’t speak to structure at all, but attribute everything that happened to the raw power of Obama’s will. They read like the preamble to the Declaration of Independence: He has… He has… He has…

    There’s no sense from McKibben that Obama was operating under any constraints other than his own desire. So I don’t see how you get from what he wrote to the systematic critique of the entire process you say he drafts — he thinks Obama did it all, which (we agree?) is not what happened.


    December 20, 2009 at 10:34 am

  10. yeah i guess we have opposing views of what mckibben is doing with this piece and how it should be evaluated.

    obama is the most accessible agent to american progressive organizations and was the agent of american policy at copenhagen. so of course a 3-paragraph propaganda piece like this is going to have him as the subject (and your second link is to a list of responses to his speech). but this “the fossil fuel that’s at the center of our economy” is a fairly obvious constraint (setting aside the overemphasis on coal). the idea of a “league of super-polluters, and would-be super-polluters” points out the non-democratic nature of this emerging coalition, rather than get stuck on whether it was legally binding or not. “Obama has taken the mandate that progressives worked their hearts out to give him, and used it to gut the ideas that progressives have held most dear” doesn’t imply he personally ruined the conference just because he felt like it, it’s just a characterization of his actions, which follows mention of the various national interests involved. it’s an attack piece, not a real analysis, but it points to the right questions to be asking here. such as “What exactly is the point of the U.N. now?”

    in response to this rebuttal that’s been passed around mckibben comments: “Somehow I doubt the president is waiting for an apology from me. Our job, as part of a global movement, is to push every player in the process to do much more than they are doing. That’s why organized in 181 countries, pushing all their leaders to do more. Obama is my president, I was one of the first leaders to join Environmentalists for Obama (back in the primaries when most were waiting to see which way the wind blew), and I worked hard for his election. That’s why I will try to keep pushing him to do much more than the small amount he’s done.”

    mckibben’s writings have a function – to increase pressure on elected leaders by rallying the activist base. this is how the asymmetrical political struggle currently works. my question above over what sense does it matter that copenhagen was the best that could be expected needs to be read in this context, taking into account as well that within the limited political structure inhabited by the world’s elected leaders we may not be able to be saved.

    and if mckibben is too immoderate for you there are of course many other critics of copenhagen, like this one. again, measuring incremental progress is secondary to determining what kind of progress is being discussed, so that alternatives can be presented.


    December 21, 2009 at 2:17 am

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