Copenhagen: Empty Gestures or Real Action?

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Walking Uphill

The UN Copenhagen Conference to negotiate a new global environment treaty begins today. And my mind wonders north and east across the entirety of the Atlantic Ocean. I imagine these political types gathering, making great statements and pronouncing real hope. However, as CNN reported this weekend, the gathering is unlikely to yield a new world pact.

While every person in attendance at Copenhagen will surely admit the severe nature of the environmental crisis, few will be empowered to act. That includes Obama. Politically speaking, economic prosperity and “defense” still outweigh eco-initiatives in most every country. Individually, we have not brought enough pressure to bear on our governments to cause movement.

I recently saw Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh speak about Copenhagen, and he had an interesting perspective. From the politician’s point of view, it would take great courage to take strong measures. It would mean acting against the general will of the people. For while we are aware of the problem, people don’t want to stop consuming. In the U.S.A. we consume well beyond our needs, while throughout the world in developing countries like India, Brazil and China, people strive to match our consumption.

The environmental problem remains second to our individual welfare. Instead, economic prosperity and national defense – protecting our well being – comes first. The environment is a weak cousin we choose to pay attention to when its convenient for us.

We have not awaken to the terrible impact our consumption is having on the world. With 6.8 billion people consuming as Americans do, we need five earths to match our current consumption… Imagine how much we will need in 30 years when there are 9.2 billion of us?

Yet, these things need not be disparate. Imagine if we invested more in green technologies and transitioned to sustainable, renewable energy sources. Just ¼ of our defense monies reallocated in this fashion would make a huge impact on carbon emissions. In the U.S. consider all of the actions we are currently engaged in… What would make a better contribution to world peace, sustained action in Iraq or investment in next generation renewable energy technologies?

What if we reviewed our Western eating habits and moved towards more mindful consumption of our land resources, reducing carbon producing industrial poultry and beef centers and ate more vegetarian? I’m not suggesting abstinence, just moderation. Do we really need to eat meat at every meal?

Yes, to act in such a fashion at Copenhagen would be courageous. Perhaps, its simply too much to hope for… At least until we as individuals across the globe wake up to the severity of this issue and start making changes within our own lives.

Today, I am leaving Buenos Aires for El Calafate in Patagonia. There I will begin a two-week ecotour. Every time I am out in nature, I see beautiful things that just astound me. And increasingly, I see the signs of climate change on our most precious resources making the trips somewhat bittersweet.

When I return, the Copenhagen conference will have ended. I will be curious to see how things turned out, and what lies next for the environmental movement. I will never be a George Washington Hayduke, preferring nonviolent action and pressures. May the politicians negotiating our environmental future have the courage and the heart to act before we realize how much general public and personal apathy has hurt our collective future.

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  • TempKnowledge

    Nuclear energy, and green fuel for cars are the reasonable way to lower our emissions. Not vegetarianism (which can help somewhat), which sounds more like a white westerner’s naive opinion than someone who has actually looked at the issue and the biggest causes of our carbon footprint.

  • Geoff Livingston

    “TempKnowledge:” Vegetarianism was not advocated, rather moderation. I still eat meat though I choose vegetarian most of the time to reduce my footprint. If you research the carbon footprint of bovine and poultry farms you will find that they consume exponential amounts of grain per pound as compared to simply using that grain for the average person’s consumption. That’s why several U.S. school districts are opting for meatless Mondays in their cafeterias. It’s simply a matter of being mindful of your personal consumption.

    Thank you for your comment.

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