Copenhagen is a very nice city. I took a U.S. Navy ship there when I was ship's navigator many years ago. The interesting thing about that trip was the fact that Danish and Dutch and German coastal waters of the North Sea are so completely fouled by explosive mines from WWI and WWII that all shipping had to pass through mine-swept channels. The situation is much the same for the Baltic literals, too. To say that the approaches to Copenhagen this week are guarded by mine fields is a couple orders of magnitude too naÃ¯ve. The global warming talks are very likely to disappoint half or more of the the planet's people who understand what is happening to our atmosphere ... largely because of human industrial activities ... and even more largely because of feedforward effects releasing methane (four times worse than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas) as northern permafrost areas thaw.
The press is full of things to say, but I was struck by the differences of opinion on the same side of the basic argument. One, by Nobel prize-winning economist and latter-day columnist for the New York Times, Paul Krugman, takes a far more optimistic view of the situation than the other, by Bill McKibben of Middlebury College in Vermont, an early warning source well-known to the cognocenti of global warming and the Obama administration.
Personally, I had a moment of great sadness and despair after reading McKibben and so Krugman's thoughts this morning were something of an antidote. I think Krugman is probably less likely to be vindicated by the history we are making this week and over the next forty or so years. The "skin of our teeth" paradigm is too strong, even though it is almost irrelevant to situations like this.
Human beings live in a rate of consciousness that does not, indeed cannot, easily entertain slow-moving processes. We respond well to changed environmental circumstances, but never in our experience has the change (not even the most recent ice ages) has the whole world been the theater of change. The history we are writing now may not have any readers at all, for we have not yet taken the steps necessary to avert a catastrophic self-fullfilling and irreversable process of warming that will utterly devastate animal and plant life on this planet. Copenhagen is not just another meeting of nations. It is one of our last chances, perhaps the very last one before accelerating warming sets in.
Previously posted at Iron Mountain.