Bad Climate Theatre

Is it just me or are international climate conferences looking more and more like lousy theatre? Predictable plots, rigid scripting, boring outcomes - its all there. The latest outing in Nairobi was no exception - here's my review of this stinker:

The award for worst acting in a minor role must surely go to Canada's own Rona Ambrose. With so many political posers from around the world, the competition for this ignoble honour was certainly stiff. However, the pained attempts to deliver her lines with sincerity were excruciating for everyone, especially the audience. How about this for awful dialogue: “We are on track to meet all of our obligations under the Kyoto Protocol, but not the targets.”

Good absurdist comedy - or surrealism perhaps - but clearly not what the crowd was looking for. “What kind of misleading nonsense is this?" howled Steven Guilbeault, the climate critic from Greenpeace. "Completely idiotic” panned Liberal MP John Godfrey.

Admittedly, it was the rigid and wooden direction by Stephen Harper that was the real showstopper. Without any flexibility for improvisation, both the audience and the players may as well have gone home early.

Secretary General Kofi Annan who opened the event was the latest in a Greek chorus of world leaders to name climate change a leading threat to the future of humanity. This made the milquetoast commitment as the curtain came down - largely to hold more meetings - even more disappointing.

Then there was the backdrop that made this predictable set piece such an exploration in rich irony. The unfolding tragedy of global warming is very real and the victims with the best seats in the house will be impoverished Africans.

However, the world’s wealthy nations seemed to do little more than fill the luxury hotels of Nairobi for two weeks accomplishing almost nothing on a global emergency created largely by the western lifestyle that will disproportionately devastate the world’s poorest continent.

Fourteen countries in Africa already endure devastating water shortages. This number is expected to increase to twenty-five by 2030. Recent research shows that global warming will reduce overall rainfall in southern Africa 10% by 2050.

Small-scale farming produces most of the food in Africa. It also provides employment for 70% of the working people. Global climate change will dangerously undermine the ability of Africans to feed and support themselves by making these droughts far more likely. The last major drought in southern Africa in 2002 left over 14 million people in need of direct food aid.

It is also no small irony that human induced climate change is as much of an imposition on the developing world as the economic policies of the World Bank and the IMF.

The average American produces sixty five times as much carbon dioxide per capita as someone who lives in sub-Saharan Africa. In fact, between 1980 and 2001, Africa was one of very few areas of the world to experience a decline in per capita carbon dioxide emissions – not because of conservation efforts but due to increasing poverty.

The world’s climate scientists are telling us that our choices in the next five years will determine nothing less than the fate of the planet – melodramatic I know, but the truth nonetheless. The script for a climate-altered Africa reads as a far greater tragedy than the present.

One would think that with that much at stake we would be treated to little more drama when the world’s leaders gather to supposedly hammer out a solution. The problem is that all the meetings to date have seemed hollow rehearsals for the day when we actually chose to take this issue seriously rather than just go through the motions. If the actors don’t care then why should the audience?

I don’t have high hopes that when the curtain rises on the next climate conference in 2008 the show will be any more compelling. There is no doubt however that these wooden productions will one day be replaced with genuine desire for action - forced on us through the imperatives of an increasingly violent and unpredictable climate. The question is: how much precious time will be wasted in the interim?

I dearly wish international climate conferences were just lousy theatre - then we would only be out of pocket about two hours and $20. As it is, the real cost of such failed and boring productions is quite a bit more.

Mitchell Anderson is a freelance writer living in Vancouver. This piece ran nowhere.

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