17 Dec 2009
A Copenhagen Christmas Present from Naresh Giangrande
A Copenhagen Christmas Present: December 15th 2009. Copenhagen.
As many have now written, the Cop15 conference, which is focussed on creating a treaty that will prevent our climate from undergoing a systems state change and re-establishing itself in a new stable state that much less conductive to human survival, seems certain to fall far short of what is needed or fail completely. In describing what the treaty has to do I am calling attention to the meta narrative in the story of these negotiations. That is we have a self referential system, our economic and politic systems which takes little account of the ecology of our planet. We think in terms that ignore the basis of life.
Let’s be clear that if we as a culture (Arne Naess called it Industrial Growth System- IGS), the culture that invented the current dominant form of human society, are to make a transition to something more in line with long term survival of life on earth we must bear a collective responsibility for the collective failure to achieve what is necessary. The politicians have not failed us; we – all of us- have failed to create the conditions for a political settlement. It is a shallow reading of the current paradigm to see one part of the system as wrong or to blame. The politicians and business are only doing their job.
We have not redefined what that job now should be or how to go about it. Blaming politicians or business is a mistake. I don’t mean we who are at the Klimaforum, but we all of us. For we are all part of the same system and it will be by only seeing ‘us’ rather than ‘them’ that we will create the conditions for a real systems change. The slogan de jour of this conference has been System Change not Climate Change. Where is the systems change? There is none, here in Copenhagen it’s business as usual. When the conditions for a systems change are in place we will be in a position to achieve a political treaty.
We are all dependent on the IGS, like it or not, for most of the things we need to live. When you begin a process like Transition, then it’s as if you start putting a foot on a conveyor belt going in the opposite direction while having the other foot on the IGS belt. I can get really uncomfortable really quickly! So we hop on and off on conveyor belt to the to the other. When we get to a place where we have created enough of what we need on the Transition conveyor belt we then don’t need the IGS or only occasionally. Of course this is a simplification, but it goes something like this, my point is you can’t leave one system without having another in place.
We hear lots of ‘noise’ from the conference about the treatment of the Global South by the Global North, and the ins and outs of the Kyoto process track vs the USA and European track, and the long negotiations involved in having to negotiate parallel tracks. I was talking to a member of a UK government commission who has been in on the talks. She said that they were going sentence by sentence, and taking ages to decide on “A comma or a full stop?” The really important work? Nothing, just avoidance.
There has been more noise created as a result of confrontation with police, who I feel have reacted deliberately so as to make the most of any aggression with heavy handed tactics and mass arrests. I spoke with several who were in the alternative community of Christiana last night. The police surrounded the whole area where people were partying and relaxing in a good natured atmosphere. One who was there said she had never seen so many police before; they streamed into the community with CS gas and baton charges arresting 179 for no apparent reason.
One Swedish boy who couldn’t have been more than 17 told me he had been held for over 20 hours in a cage with no food, water or access to a toilet after the march on the 12th. Many other arrested were held in freezing conditions, made to sit hand cuffed together on the frozen ground for 5 hours. Many pissed themselves. It feels like the police actions are designed to make more noise and distract us from the real issues. Why all this noise?
We are faced with a system that cannot and will not make the changes necessary to create a resilient world in the face of climate change and peak oil. It would go against everything the system is designed for. Economic growth and non renewable resource use are not the marks of a system that is ‘fit for the purpose’ of 21st century life. These talks so far are engaged in somehow allowing the present system to go on for a time longer, that’s all. Gordon Brown might have flown in 48 hours earlier than planned to ‘bang heads together’. But what does he hope this head banging will achieve? The necessary steps to halt CO2 emissions would be too painful to achieve and would not be accepted by the electorate in any industrial country.
From where I am standing the best thing that could happen right now is for the talks to fail. There is talk of the G77 nations on Wednesday staging a walk out and holding a summit with demonstrators outside the Bella Centre where the main negotiations are taking place. It feels like the best solution right now would be to not have a treaty that politicians can wave in front of the folks back home and say, ‘see we succeeded!’. Rather it would be better if we confronted them with the failure of the present system to create a world that our method of determining truth – science- says will be stable and fit for the purpose of life.
What should we in turn do? There are many pieces that will need to be put into place but one of the biggest and most important will be to go on with the business of creating a new system that makes the present system obsolete. Transition is in that business and that’s its purpose, to make a world that is fit for the purpose of life on planet earth. Whoever and whatever system, persons, or organisations that are in the same business we will happily collaborate with, and I am sure they will also be happy to join in. Indeed I have met some of them this last week.
Only when the necessary conditions for a paradigm shift are in place that will allow us to make the necessary changes that a resilient culture demands, will we get a society ‘fit for the purpose of life’. The Transition approach is designed to start creating those new structures and systems of living right now and start putting into place alternative arrangements for every system we now depend. Only where there is enough in place that we can start to depend on it will the size and scale of change occur. We can’t just throw away the present mind set and life support systems. We need something in place, a parallel system that can begin to carry us and support us. A space craft would not be able to turn off its life support systems without having a back up in place. That is the position we find ourselves in.
If nothing else has come out of Copenhagen then failure of the current system then this would be a great step forward. A paradox? Only if you see nothing else. There are bill boards all around Copenhagen proclaiming Hopenhagen, supported by mendacious green washing corporations like Coke (see pic at the start of this piece). For me hope springs from the eventual withering away of our current system and its gradual replacement with one that can allow to emerge, using all of our technological prowess and creativity, a life supporting- for all of life- human presence on the planet. The Shambala Warrior tradition, part of the ancient Tibetan Buddhist tradition, talks of the setting sun culture that looks to death and the Great Eastern Sun culture that looks to life, that can care for the planet. Our present system is a setting sun culture. We look to death, we celebrate death. Let’s choose life.