Dissecting the "Leaked" Danish Documents at Copenhagen

I was reading a summary of the leaked supposed proposed Danish climate treaty when it hit me: This is what climate treaty porn looks like. There, in flagrant display, you can see all the shameful elements of the rich developed country fantasy of treaties: Lock poorer countries into half the per capita emissions of developed countries, move control of credits out of the willy nilly TJ Maxx of the UN and into the hushed boutique halls of the World Bank, and throw out Kyoto's enforcement mechanisms. As with porn porn, climate treaty porn is primarily an escape from reality, interesting as an anthropological phenomenon as well as an anchor for gossip, and destined to get a lot of attention briefly and then be discarded. (See Dave Robert's excellent take-down of the non-story in Grist.) And while there are reports that Copenhagen is in "disarray" and "all hell has broken loose" it's likely that developing countries are not surprised by the material in the supposed document, and may have suspected worse, including the tired contention that the only meaningful action on climate change is population control, which would obviously be implemented "over there" in "other countries" where couples are not plunking down the equivalent of an Escalade for in vitro fertilization.

But this does point out the fact that whatever comes out of the climate talks in Copenhagen are the end of the political world as we've known it since World War II, because China's emerging as a leader, not only of developing countries, but as an idea factory for the world.  China's offer to reduce the energy and greenhouse gas intensity of its economy by 45 per cent by 2020 is not only a real and large commitment, it's a radical idea that combines economic growth and climate protection--the kind of idea that has not been put forward by developed countries. (And it is the very opposite of the "small shoes will make your footprint smaller" climate porn mentioned above.) In a hair-by-hair analysis of the significance of China's offer, Carnegie Endowment's William Chandler dispatches the naysayers: "Criticism of China's 2020 target is neither productive nor justified, and, if not a cynical ploy to avoid U.S. action, can be explained only by lazy scholarship or reflexive "China bashing." 

But China's offer is even more radical in its long-term implications for the world order. As Chandler points out, some parts of China's economy are very inefficient and will not be able to make the average gains of 45 per cent. That means that some parts of the economy--particularly the strategic industries--will make much larger gains. And that means that China's industries will start to compete with the West on more than just cheap labor. This is a complete re-ordering of the post-post colonial world in economy and hegemony. Last week Skip Laitner, a senior economist with ACEEE.org, mused in a letter to colleagues, "China clearly sees energy efficiency as a huge productivity tool in ways that I don't believe we fully appreciate within the United States." He noted that China's new economic orientation suggests that China's efficiency gains will outstrip those of the US, adding, "They may also become the world's innovation leaders and that does not necessarily bode well for the U.S."

And all of that explains why some climate negotiators might prefer a fantasy version of a climate treaty.

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Lisa Margonelli is a writer on energy and environment. She spent four years and traveled 100,000 miles to write her book, "Oil On the Brain: Petroleum's Long Strange Trip to Your Tank." More

Lisa Margonelli directs the New America Foundation's Energy Productivity Initiative, which works to promote energy efficiency as a way of ensuring energy security, greenhouse gas emissions reductions, and economic security for American families. She spent roughly four years and traveled 100,000 miles to report her book about the oil supply chain, Oil On the Brain: Petroleum's Long Strange Trip to Your Tank, which the American Library Association named one of the 25 Notable Books of 2007. She spent her childhood in Maine where, during the energy crisis of the 1970s, her family heated the house with wood hauled by a horse. Later, fortunately, they got a tractor. The experience instilled a strong appreciation for the convenience of fossil fuels.

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