Paul Greenberg

The other day a friend asked us if I'd written about the Copenhagen conference on climate change, carbon control, environmental technology, the ecological future of Spaceship Earth, cabbages and kings, and the 101 other Very Important Things covered by that huge, long-awaited and now suddenly fizzled international gabfest.

No, I hadn't written about it. Maybe because it ended not with a bang but with a whimper heard 'round the world: a flurry of non-binding agreements, aka vague misunderstandings. It was the biggest anticlimax since Geraldo the Great Rivera opened Al Capone's vault to find little more than dust. Any actual policies to come out of Copenhagen promise to be as empty.

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To sum up the essential deal made at Copenhagen: The developed world sort of promises to give the undeveloped one $30 billion over the next three years -- plus $100 billion a year after 2020 -- in exchange for its separate but equally nebulous promise not to develop too quickly. As with Obamacare, the theoretical benefits are to come first, then the real pain by some always-delayable deadline. It's more convenient that way. Just charge it to some future generation.

Besides the cocksure confidence the delegates displayed in man's ability to reset the world's thermostat, this kind of deal-making in which no one takes the deal made very seriously was the one consistent thread in the tangled web woven at Copenhagen.

There is consolation to be taken in the grand fizzle at Copenhagen. For there is something worse than the conference's failure. And that would have been its success at slowing the world's economic recovery and so dooming still more in the Third World to the bitter fruits of abject poverty: more malnutrition, more disease, and more chaos and instability in general.

Doing nothing has certain advantages over doing the wrong thing, especially on a grand and confusing scale. Besides, the failure of this lavish conference means the delegates can now anticipate many more equally elaborate confabs around the world on the public's tab, complete with equally hyped media coverage and just as inconsequential results. Nice work -- or play -- if you can get it.


Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.