The hague -- we're holed up in amedia trailer graciously handed over by the Dutch government (seems no one else needed it), trying to make sense of a tragedy of unfathomable proportions. This perch within the Hague Conference Centre overlooks the sands of the Netherlands, where enormous effort has been made to keep back the sea. The monstrous World Conference On Climate Change has attracted thousands of other delegates, media, non-governmental organizations and indigenous people.
I got within a few feet of the queen the other day. Queen Beatrix. She smiled a lot and looked glamorous. But what about the climate? She arrived with a procession of motor vehicles and breezed into the plenary.
"Work it out!" is the slogan of the conference. We've been mumbling it while we try to find a compost bin on our way to the media conferences, where the delegates from the G77 group of less industrialized countries get half an hour each to put their spin on how best to carve up the pie. The world's atmosphere, that is.
Word just came in that six Japanese youth will (theatrically) commit hara-kiri (suicide) tomorrow morning to show how their government is killing their future with nuclear power. "We are ashamed about our government, and tell them how the situation is serious."
And a little while ago, somebody brought out a 4-foot-square Earth cake, the continents bright on a bed of blue ocean. The theme: the north wants to have its cake and eat it, too.
The United States and our very own Canada, the most retrograde nations at this gathering, are pushing a plan to keep on conducting business as usual. They'll plant a few trees and thereby earn a few points to camouflage their failure to live up to the emissions cuts mandated in the Kyoto Accord.
Once again, it looks like the powerful will get their way. The U.S. delegation will prevail so polluting can continue as usual. The cars will roll off the assembly lines at an accelerating rate, and the power plants will keep belching out fumes.
Maybe there will be a small price to pay. Like for every car driven, you'll have to plant some trees. Or if you intend to keep burning coal, you can contribute some money so that cows fart less. In Uganda. That's what Alberta's TransAlta Utilities is doing, and expects "carbon credits" for its good works.
Canada is nearly as despicable as the U.S. Our delegation is headed by "H.E. Lloyd Axworthy, Privy Councillor, Canada." His Excellency skirts the issue of how the burning of fossil fuels is contaminating the air. Instead, he talks about trees.
"When not properly managed, forests and agriculture can become a source of carbon in the atmosphere. To truly reduce greenhouse gases, we need to manage our forests and agriculture environments so they can become an effective sink to withdraw carbon from the atmosphere."
Sinks could sink this agreement by dodging the serious metamorphosis required to move into the embrace of a solar- and wind-powered renewable future.
Or, alternately, we could embrace the failed, expensive and dangerous technologies of the last millennium. Nuclear. That's what Canada is pushing here. Axworthy has come here not only to smother Canada's bad rep with his good-guy image earned from digging up land mines. He's also touting Canadian nuclear technology as a way to a cleaner world.
A Japanese journalist asks, "Why does Canada love nuclear power?"
Ax: "Nuclear energy has been a very effective supplier of energy for Canada and around the world. The Candu reactor is second to none, and it doesn't put emissions into the air. I think that's one of the reasons it's on the table here."
Words. There's lots of talk of carbon, but none of cars. Nobody has the courage to say "gasoline." The addiction is too close to the heart.
Everybody expects the United States to do the wrong thing and work hard to yank out any loose teeth left in the Kyoto watchdog. They are doing that handily, and obviously.
Canada is more subtle, but no less guilty. A worldwide coalition of environmental groups gives out awards every day at the conference for the most regressive country (www.fossil-of-the-day.org).