Don't be fooled by the lavish media attention given to raucous anti-globalization types at the 15th Conference of the Parties to the United National Framework Convention on Climate Change in Copenhagen, Denmark. I've seen only scant traces of that riffraff.
Instead of Seattle 1999 – the site of massive rioting at a World Trade Organization meeting – COP-15 is more like a green Woodstock. Thousands of naive young environmentalists have come to Copenhagen to revel in eco-harmony.
The UNFCCC classifies participants to the COP-15 three ways: observers, media and negotiators. Of the three, observers are by far the largest group, and they mostly fit a similar profile. They are younger than 30, they work in the nonprofit sector in the United States or Western Europe, and they passionately believe the world needs to fight global warming.
Yet dedication to the cause isn't the only reason they traveled to Copenhagen. They also came for the vibe.
Concerts are constant in the huge temporary soundstage erected in city square. At the end of the first week, seemingly everyone was excited for the "NGO Party" on Saturday at Vega, Copenhagen's foremost discotheque. The party flier screamed in bold, "Free Entrance/Conference Badge Required!" According to the hash peddlers in Christiantown, an anything-goes commune in the northern part of the city, business has been brisk during the Copenhagen conference.
To be sure, I don't begrudge anyone a good time, and I admire these young people's passion for their chosen cause. My main problem with this generation green is that not very many of them seem to have thought things through. When encountered by the nuance of a nation's interest or the compromise inherent to democratic politics, they revert to slogans and chants. Like most idealists, they are all too readily mugged by reality.
It is also true that this green corps isn't interested much in intellectual consistency. Outside the COP-15 Saturday night, a vigil marked the end of a march from the Danish Parliament building. The crowd cheered when a British rocker called for a "revolution," and it cheered five minutes later when an Indian academic urged support for China's rejection of emissions targets. These are mutually exclusive exhortations, mind you.
Generation green doesn't recognize the trade-offs of costs and benefits. Indeed, they don't seem to recognize costs at all. This is likely the fault of politicians in Western countries. Consider President Obama, who refuses to acknowledge that his renewable-energy policies are expensive energy policies, for the simple reason that renewable energy costs more than conventional energy. Instead, he trumpets the creation of green jobs. The president surely knows better, so he is pretending that his energy policies are all gain and no pain. The problem is that the youth are listening, and they believe him.
Perhaps the biggest indictment of the young idealists who descended upon Denmark is the mere fact that they came. After all, world leaders conceded that COP-15 would be a failure a month before it even started. Since 2007, the Copenhagen climate conference was supposed to have been the deadline for a legally binding, multilateral treaty to fight global warming.
After two years of intense negotiations, however, diplomats have made exactly zero progress in answering the all-important question: Who is going to pay the $45 trillion that the International Energy Agency says it would cost to cure the climate of its supposed ills? Developed countries refuse to pay without significant participation from developing countries, which refuse to pay anything. In the face of this diplomatic gridlock, world leaders announced at November's Asian Pacific Economic Conference Summit that COP-15 would fail to produce a treaty. As such, thousands of young people spewed untold tons of greenhouse gases flying to and living in Copenhagen for a pointless climate conference. The only lasting impact of COP-15 will be its huge carbon footprint! By participating in the Copenhagen climate confab, generation green exhibits the same sort of mindless consumption that it came to protest.
All the time I've been here in Copenhagen, I have kept thinking about the opportunity cost of generation green's quixotic dedication to "doing something" about global warming. What if they cared this much about homelessness? Or mental illness? Or breast cancer?
For a decade, temperatures on Earth have remained the same, but human beings still suffer much the same as they always have. Generation green's passion is commendable. Its priorities, however, are abominable.