Year 2, Month 12, Day 14: Maybe It’s Because I’m A Cow

The Grey Lady analyzes why things don’t work:

DURBAN, South Africa — For 17 years, officials from nearly 200 countries have gathered under the auspices of the United Nations to try to deal with one of the most vexing questions of our era — how to slow the heating of the planet.

Every year they leave a trail of disillusion and discontent, particularly among the poorest nations and those most vulnerable to rising seas and spreading deserts. Every year they fail to significantly advance their own stated goal of keeping the average global temperature from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius, or about 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, above preindustrial levels.

There is no denying the dedication and stamina of the environment ministers and climate diplomats who conduct these talks. But maybe the task is too tall. The issues on the table are far broader than atmospheric carbon levels or forestry practices or how to devise a fund to compensate those most affected by global warming.


Effectively addressing climate change will require over the coming decades a fundamental remaking of energy production, transportation and agriculture around the world — the sinews of modern life. It is simply too big a job for the men and women who have gathered for these talks under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the 1992 treaty that began this grinding process.

There was a Gary Larson cartoon showing a jazz band in a club. Standing on the bandstand is a figure holding a saxophone, saying something like, “look fellas, it’s just not working. Maybe it’s the tempo, or maybe it’s the changes, or maybe it’s because I’m a cow.” Sent December 10:

While the task of reining in global greenhouse emissions is indeed an enormously daunting one, the alternative is inaction, which (although excellent for the oil industry’s profit margins) is unacceptable for the majority of the world’s people. The failure to achieve any substantive agreement at Durban is hardly surprising, given the degree to which American government has been so thoroughly co-opted by corporate interests.

Meaningful action on climate must be polycentric, operating on scales of size from individuals to nations; it must also be polytemporal, reflecting both long- and short-term thinking. We all have individual parts to play — but in the global arena, our wholly-owned government can no longer be presumed to have our interests at heart. The petroleum industry’s disproportionate influence on our political system has made America’s intransigence a worldwide embarrassment. In the machinery of climate negotiations, oil is not a lubricant, but a hindrance to progress.

Warren Senders

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