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Calderon on climate talks: “As were squabbling, the plane is going down.”

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"Calderon on climate talks: “As were squabbling, the plane is going down.”"

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In an impassioned speech, Felipe Calderon, the president of Mexico and the host of the international climate summit taking place in Cancun, called for the nations of the world to stop “squabbling” and to work as one to halt global warming. Brad Johnson has the story and video.

After a session featuring the heads of state from Norway to Nauru, he recalled the scene in Copenhagen, Denmark, when nearly all of the heads of state of the entire world came together last year, yet left with a sense of failure and recrimination. After a state dinner with the queen of Denmark, Calderon said, they spent their moment of opportunity fighting behind closed doors for hours over who was to blame for the disastrous situation our civilization faces now “” while the smallest nations, those least responsible for the pollution, are now on the “point of disappearance”:

Sometimes I think in this respect we fail to understand that we’re all passengers in the same vessel, in the same aircraft, or the same vehicle. Our aircraft has now seen the disappearance of the pilot. Something happened in the cabin. And all the passengers are responsible for the aircraft, and we’re squabbling about these matters. Whether the guilt lies with those in the tourist class or those sitting up front in first class and the plane continues to go down. It’s as if we were in a truck on a winding road and the driver has had a heart attack, and we’re all on the edge of hitting a tree, going over into a ravine, squabbling again. I think, friends, somebody has to take control of the aircraft or put on the brakes.

Calderon endorsed a practical and positive outcome to the Cancun talks “” an official acceptance of emissions targets, while recognizing that they may be insufficient to preserve the future of the small island states; immediate deployment of the international green fund for the least developed countries; the REDD+ mechanism to turn deforestation into reforestation; and forward steps on putting a price on carbon at the national level. These are just some of the challenges facing the negotiators today “” the United States delegation continues to be primarily concerned about transparency for China‘s pollution-reduction commitments, for example.

Expressing a sentiment shared by the activists outside the halls, and by the millions of people already suffering in our diminished, polluted world, Calderon called for the nations of the world to transcend their differences, disparities and faults and work together, finally, before all of civilization reaches the verge of disappearance.

“But today let us act,” Calderon concluded. Rejecting the ideological stand of the Bolivian negotiators “” and the typical diplomatic tactics of practically every party in Cancun “” Calderon said that “radical pretexts or all-or-nothing postures shouldn’t provide a proper excuse for those who don’t want to cooperate to spend another year fighting and squabbling among the passengers among that single truck, that single bus, that single aircraft which is on the point of crashing.”

Transcript of the English translation:

I’ve been sitting alongside the president of the Maldives, a good friend. And he repeatedly brought attention to the situation of the island states in Copenhagen. We had a dinner with Queen Margarita and many other heads of state. But after the event we went to a room to discuss until two, three, four am. I can describe what I saw there in that room. There were constant reproaches made by one group against others. There were developing countries who quite properly were blaming the developed countries because historically speaking, the increased carbon emissions through their industrial development. That was quite right. But the developed countries were saying even if the developed states got down to zero emissions that weren’t enough to halt global warming. They were also quite right. As developing states grow, we are going to emit greenhouse gases ourselves. We’ll all be worsening the problem.

And the sad and paradoxical thing is that the smaller the states, the more vulnerable they are. They haven’t in the past, nor today, aren’t emitting gases. They are not just vulnerable, they are on the point of disappearance. I think we need new terms.

Then the meeting continued not just that night, it’s been going on all year, in fact, it’s been going for 16 COPs now.

And a thought occurs to me. Sometimes I think in this respect we fail to understand that we’re all passengers in the same vessel, in the same aircraft, or the same vehicle. Our aircraft has now seen the disappearance of the pilot. Something happened in the cabin. And all the passengers are responsible for the aircraft, and we’re squabbling about these matters. Whether the guilt lies with those in the tourist class or those sitting up front in first class and the plane continues to go down. It’s as if we were in a truck on a winding road and the driver has had a heart attack, and we’re all on the edge of hitting a tree, going over into a ravine, squabbling again. I think, friends, somebody has to take control of the aircraft or put on the brakes.

I think the first key thing is to take control, and then to steer the process for emissions reductions, stop the discussions among our ranks about matters, however valuable they may be. I think that we have to reduce emissions so that global warming so that it is not more than 1.5 degrees. But the logical thing would be to stop global warming all together, to get down to zero. However the worst scenario is not to reach two degrees. The worst, as Nicholas Stern said yesterday, we will reach 5 degrees warming. And it’s not just the small island states “” the majority of our states will be on the verge of disappearance. Whether it is to be one, or five, or two, let us try to get control of the truck, control of the aircraft, stabilize things. Only that way will be able to not just refine the targets but also the instruments which we need.

And a last thought: We’ve been very very focused on targets “” 1.5, four, whatever. I think what is key is to focus on the methods, on the specific practical instruments here and now to reach those targets. Ultimately what we need to do is to apply all the instruments to the maximum to cut the emissions. We’ll reach those brakes and press those down to the floor. We have to do that.

In Cancun, I hope that in addition to endorsing the targets, we can start right now to looking at the instruments, the bus’s brakes, the controls of the aircraft. What are those? The resources that need to come on tap now, so that countires don’t delay the implementation of the green fund. We need the 28 billion dollars put to use now. Particularly in the least developed countries. The REDD+ mechanisms should come on line now as part of the effort, so that if you’ve got a deforested forest in Africa, or Central America, or Asia, you can reforest it, and thereby reduce emissions. So that discussions about a price on carbon gets underway now within a national context. These are the instruments, and I think that’s the path to follow.

Taking control of the truck, taking the rudder, and starting to apply the brakes isn’t the only problem. We don’t know which curve we’re going to crash in. We need to get back the controls which we lost a long time ago. Let us take that step. Let us be practical where we can be practical “” which implies not resignation or renunciation with respect to the fact that this is the only world we’ve got. The island states and everyone’s countries should last reasonably and should be fit for living in forever. This is the target. But today let us act. I don’t think that radical pretexts or all-or-nothing postures should provide a proper excuse for those who don’t want to cooperate to spend another year fighting and squabbling among the passengers among that single truck, that single bus, that single aircraft which is on the point of crashing. We need to get control back over the vessel.

- Brad Johnson, in a ThinkProgress cross post.

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13 Responses to Calderon on climate talks: “As were squabbling, the plane is going down.”

  1. Leland Palmer says:

    Yes, we have to act together.

    But the main obstacles to that are a small group of financial elite people, mostly located here in the U.S.

    They will not cooperate, and will not listen to reason, if history is any guide. ExxonMobil and Koch, for example, will not change unless forced to change, and their power and wealth is such that they have seized control of our political process, by creating the Tea Party and climate denier network.

    So, they must be removed or bypassed- if we want to live.

    Removal should be a simple case of nationalization, in my opinion. ExxonMobil should wake up some morning and find that all of its assets have been seized. In fact, the entire industrial network derived from the former Standard Oil empire founded by John D. Rockefeller including ExxonMobil and JPMorgan Chase should be nationalized, in my opinion. Koch Industries should also be seized, IMO. The President should just declare a state of emergency, and seize these corporations and all of their assets.

    A slower but more legal way to pursue the removal option might be to file a massive civil suit against the coal and oil industries for climate damages, assessing them damages in proportion to the amount of CO2 they have emitted. The cost of global warming should be the cost of adaptation, plus an estimate of the value of services lost that have been provided by the climate in the past, plus punitive damages for bad behavior. That total would no doubt be many trillions of dollars- sufficient to bankrupt the coal and oil industries and break their power. The President should declare that the major stockholders and their descendants are liable for the bill, and seize the money, wherever it goes, IMO.

    To do this, we need worldwide financial transparency- no more overseas numbered bank accounts. That way, we could follow the money if it tries to flee overseas, and get it back.

    Unfortunately, in U.S. courts such a suit would probably be an exercise in futility. Our conservative Supreme Court would block, minimize, or overturn it, likely.

    To bypass them, other countries especially China would have to use Biomass Energy with Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS) to put carbon back underground, IMO. If China and the rest of the world were to convert all practical coal fired power plants to BECCS they could hold our U.S. financial elites to a climate stalemate, I think.

    Calderon’s analogy is wrong, I think.

    The plane has pilots- who are trying to crash the airplane into the ground.

  2. Green Caboose says:

    They are not “squabbling” they are “delaying until any change of real action is gone”. There is a difference.

  3. Leif says:

    Interesting thought lines there Leland. What is the National debt currently owed to China? Any chance that China might want repayment with assets and not more paper? If China wants to seriously address Climatic Disruption perhaps China will want to seize control, but in the interests of continuing world wide economic function thru the WAWW, (“We All Win War”), transition, not try to “take it home” but just keep the profits for themselves. That action would not upset the apple cart that much as the profits currently are removed from circulation in our economy for the most part disappearing into the pockets of the filthy rich as is. In fact they could even call for a repeal of subsidies and pay all appropriate American taxes and MAKE POINTS!

  4. Leif says:

    “… seize control of EXXON”…. in the above statement. Dang those senior moments.

  5. A great metaphor here. Thanks. I like hearing different analogies. (Joe, I think you did a post on AGW metaphors at one time) Years ago I used to think our plight was something like the Titanic – and placed our situation variously before or after hitting the iceberg – depending on interpretation. Now I think the airplane going down is a better analogy.

    But so far the movie that works best is “Apollo 13″ – and our life support systems are running down fast. Although the rampant insanity and stupidy is closer to “Dr Strangelove”.

    And who is making this movie we are in? How much control do we have? Closing one’s eyes is not a smart thing to do.

  6. Paulm says:

    That is an outstanding speech.

    We certainly are in a global emergency. More so than in any time in modern human history.
    I believe the right thing to do is recognize this and take appropriate action.
    Ie start implementin states of extraordinary emegencies nations wide.

    It’s time to stop fooling ourselves. This problem is NOT going to be solved by market forces on it’s own.
    Our life styles are going to degrade, and there will be immense hardship to come.

  7. Roger says:

    Leland is correct. ExxonMobil, the Koch Brothers, and others like them who seem to be knowingly driving Earth towards an unlivable climate, are several orders of magnitude worse than the 911 terrorists. We need a war on climate change: As bad as was 911, the death toll was limited to thousands. Where we are headed with climate change the deaths will number in the millions—and that’s just in the early phases. First nationalize fossil fuels. Then gradually shut down production while retraining workers to do solar and etc.

  8. espiritwater says:

    What’s so upsetting is that so many people are oblivious of the situation. Almost everyone I talk to — whether on the bus, at the store, my neighbors, or whoever, they have no clue as to how bad it is. I almost feel embarrassed at saying the words: “global warming; climate change” because people snicker as if I’m ignorant for believing in it.

  9. Prokaryotes says:

    espritwater, i think that changed suddenly, at least in my town. I spoke with very conservative people recently and when i talk about climate change they just listen. Last year the same people did not listen.

    Yesterday i met someone from the UK and his home is at the coast and in front of his property is the biggest off shore wind park of the world. He made statements that he noted the different view at the horizon, when i told him how cool this view is and that it signals process of a new era i would photograph just for that, he thought different suddenly. Beside that he acknowledged climate change and seemed concerned.

  10. espiritwater says:

    I read in one book that if Obama did what was necessary to avert catastrophic climate change, then he would have a revolution on his hands. That’s the point: about half the people in this country don’t believe in it. Perhaps if we (who know the truth) threaten a revolution, if we scare him enough, then perhaps he will feel forced to do what needs to be done.

    This documentary I saw said that on the first Earth Day, there were about 10% of U.S. citizens in the streets, protesting the conditions of the environment (especially our rivers). It was the largest protest group ever to take place in the U.S. They had signs, were shouting, waving their fists, etc. and old Nixon had no choice except to appoint someone head of cleaning up our environment. And it worked! (Until Reagan became president and un-did it all!)

  11. Anonymous says:

    Leland – do you really want to live in a country where the government can seize assets just because some elected official decides to? Why not just get rid of our government and find a King! Maybe these companies are resisting because they see some of the measures suggested as simply “feel good” and know that instead of having any real affect, they will only raise our costs.

  12. re: 11

    Dear Anon,

    Look here, we never paid the real cost in the first place!

    We essentially took costly resources and paid pennies for them.

    People need to get that into their heads — we did not pay the real cost of these fuels.

    Now, we owe, and boy do we owe!

    And we are going to have to pay because if we don’t, we can forget about the planet and everything on it.

    So, do you want to pay up or not, huh?

  13. Chris Winter says:

    Anonymouse wrote: “Leland – do you really want to live in a country where the government can seize assets just because some elected official decides to? Why not just get rid of our government and find a King! Maybe these companies are resisting because they see some of the measures suggested as simply “feel good” and know that instead of having any real affect, they will only raise our costs.”

    This is the story we always get from companies: Any change in their business practices with the goal of dealing with environmental problems they create would be ruinously expensive. It was that way with removing tetraethyl lead from gasoline. More recently the same thing happened with the additive MTBE. Fly ash, arsenic, mercury, oxides of sulfur — name a pollutant, and I can show you estimates for the cost of cleaning it up that proved to be inflated once the job was undertaken.

    Don’t get me started on how that’s playing out for climate change.

    And in fact we do live in a country where, in many cases, “the government can seize assets just because some elected official decides to.” There’s eminent domain. There’s the drug asset forfeiture law (not its official title.)

    The problem is not an overbearing government stomping on companies that are struggling to survive. The problem is that large companies have gained such sway over government in the U.S. that they can, with a little patience, get pretty much whatever they want.