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Observations of Hasty Travel and Opulent Exhibitions


Amidst the insanity of Copenhagen negotiations, I find myself disappointed with the American delegation’s obsession with appearing to be a global leader concerning climate change.

Finally I am here. After a semester of intense study, last minute funding, almost-missed flights, and uncommonly cramped quarters on the ship in which we are staying, we, the DePauw delegates to COP-15 have arrived. Unfortunately, we were mistaken in assuming that life would calm following our arrival. It has been quite to the contrary. For example: Monday at the Bella Center, the location of negotiations these two weeks, a small yet determined group of us were repeatedly blocked from entering speeches and negotiations – our record was 0 for 9 at last count, I believe.

When we did manage to find an accessible room and an empty seat, as in a contact group set to negotiate reduction targets, countries such as Sweden, supported by the G-77 and a few others, voted almost immediately to suspend negotiations. There goes upwards of three hours of waiting. Though fascinating to observe first hand the dynamics between negotiating parties, the timing was most unfortunate. And we have recently been told that our access to the Bella Center for the remainder of the week has been denied, due to the overabundance of registered attendees. It is at times such as these that we learn to sigh and recognize that, though the attendance of approx. 117 heads of state to this conference is of the upmost importance, it does make our attempts to follow the happenings here firsthand rather difficult indeed.

Despite these frantic few days, I was, amidst the confusion and bustle of the Bella Center, able to make an interesting yet all at once quite explicable observation. In the Bella Center, in addition to conference rooms and the like, there are spaces that countries’ delegations may rent as office space for the duration of the negotiations. Many countries took advantage of this opportunity and have “set up shop.” However, it would only be the United States that would rent such a space, in addition to their other offices, in which to hang a giant globe! A quasi theatre projection screen on which to demonstrate the potential effects of climate change and the dire consequences of inaction is prominently hung, and the daily program for the Bella Center is host to an entire page of “show times” for this abomination. Of course, one would not expect an educational device to be seen as an “abomination.” Yet this display bothers me for multiple reasons.

First of all, how presumptuous of the United States to assume that delegates and representatives, climate experts from all around the world, would need instruction on the basic science of climate change! In my opinion, it is a demeaning display suggesting that America alone holds the knowledge with which to explain, and possibly solve the issue of climate change. This, of course, coming from a country whose reduction targets are so low as to suggest the frivolity of the belief that climate change is even occurring!

Secondly, and what is most discouraging and disappointing in my view, is the fact that, while the United States is concerned with presenting the issue of climate change at the conference, in a ridiculous and opulent manner no less, there is little to no representation of this most pressing issue within the country itself. It would make more sense, perhaps, for this exhibit to be displayed were its contents also expressed frequently in the country. They are, however, not. Yes, I assume that most citizens at least know what climate change is, but they are rarely, if ever, informed of the current and future effects of climate change not only upon the United States but also upon those inhabitants of OTHER COUNTRIES. Perhaps citizens of the United States might place more pressure on politicians to set higher binding targets and agree to a deal if they actually knew about the water shortages in Africa, the sinking of small islands, the effects of a melting polar ice cap… I will refrain from expounding to a ridiculous degree.

In short, America needs to increase education concerning climate change, extending not only in the youth, but also, and especially, to those who have the privilege of voting and have thus far missed the memo.

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