A Paris Climate Conference Dispatch
A hearty and collective Bonjour! from Paris, if I may speak for 10,000 functionaries of various governments, 7,000 NGO representatives (you might know them as “lobbyists”), and assorted media cheerleaders all of us eagerly awaiting Monday’s commencement of political-level talks for a successor to the Kyoto global warming treaty.
Contrary to what you may have heard, the event is not taking place in a rail car outside of Compiègne. Instead, it is being held at Le Bourget, also home to the annual Paris Air Show, a very different kind of event where handing over large sums of money actually purchases something.
On Sunday I plowed through the jet lag and made the trek out of town to the conference facility to obtain my credentials. All of the strained “oui, oui” jokes in my repertoire could not change that these credentials do not entitle me to use the restroom until Monday. I do wish I were making that up.
Speaking of climate lingo — amusingly (in hindsight), “leakage” is a key taboo topic here — the Paris treaty replaces a treaty, amends a treaty, meets very specific instructions from the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations as to what constitutes a climate treaty (Exec. Rept. 102-55, p. 14), contains an international court plainly intended to put us in the dock, automatically renews and tightens with new cuts every five years that are “progressive beyond previous commitments.” It shares every other bodily function of a treaty. However, we are assured is not a treaty.
Admitting it is a treaty would kill it, of course. And participants are on strict orders from the President of the Conference, also France’s Foreign Minister, Laurent Fabius, to play make believe on this point. Wouldn’t want to see all that U.S. taxpayer money they’re banking on just fly away like so many other objects of desire at big Le Bourget events.
Calling the Paris treaty “not a treaty” is only so reassuring once its proposed “International Climate Justice Tribunal” gets ginned up. But there is some other historical perspective lacking here at the Paris treaty talks.
Surely, many Paris attendees share the sentiments tweeted out by the President of these United States, Barack Obama: “We are the first generation to feel the effect of climate change.”
Others, however, may not have forgotten everything they learned in school. Nonetheless, it was here in Paris just last month that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry observed “You certainly don’t need to be a scientist to see that our climate is already changing.”
Indeed. You don’t even need to be a diplomat or president to see that, as diplomats and presidents, not to mention Vikings and witch-bunging enthusiasts, have noticed it for centuries. For example, the same wine-loving yet, clearly, far more sober-minded former U.S. Ambassador to France, Thomas Jefferson:
“Snows are less frequent and less deep. They do not often lie, below the mountains, more than one, two, or three days, and very rarely a week. They are remembered to have been formerly frequent, deep, and of long continuance. The elderly inform me the earth used to be covered with snow about three months in every year. The rivers, which then seldom failed to freeze over in the course of the winter, scarcely ever do so now. “ — Former Ambassador of the United States to France, Thomas Jefferson (1785-1789), Notes on the State of Virginia 1781
“It is a common opinion that the climates of the several states of our union have undergone a sensible change since the dates of their first settlements; that the degrees of both cold & heat are moderated. The same opinion prevails as to Europe; if facts gleaned from history give reasons to believe that, since the times of Augustus Caesar, the climate of Italy, for example, has changed regularly at the rate of 1 [degree] of Fahrenheit’s thermometer for every century. May we not hope that the methods invented in latter times for measuring with accuracy the degrees of heat and cold, and the observations which have been & will be made and preserved, will at length ascertain this curious fact in physical history?” — from Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello Weather Diary, January 1, 1810 to December 31, 1816 (January 1817)
Whatever that was Mr. Jefferson experienced, and wrote of others around the world experiencing, we are now assured by a U.S. president, in the most re-educational Tweet I for one have ever encountered, that it wasn’t climate change. After all, “We are the first generation to feel the effect of climate change”.
Still, Jefferson knew a treaty when he saw one, didn’t he?