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The Copenhagen Slugfest


-Keelin Kelly, Castle Rock, CO

I have been so bogged down by finals week that it has been hard to blog much about Copenhagen. However, my final paper for my Political Science Equality and Justice class relates to Copenhagen. Therefore, I thought I would post part of it.

The part I’m posting uses Friedrich Nietzsche’s theories to help explain why accomplishing a successful treaty is so difficult and maybe impossible. The basic principle behind my argument is well captured by the quote:

“This is not a climate-change negotiation,” said Janos Pasztor, director of the U.N. secretary-general’s climate-change support team. “It’s about something much more fundamental. It’s about economic strength.” Countries, he added, “just have to slug it out.”’s_Most_Popular

My paper uses Nietzsche to explain why slugfest politics will ultimately not be successful. Of course, Nietzsche’s theories are weird and confusing so this may not make much sense out of the context of my political theory class. It has been suggested Nietzsche is best understood with the aid of a cocktail J However, I thought I would post it anyway in case someone is in the mood for some “theoretical heavy lifting” to quote my professor.

Also, a word of caution: THIS IS REALLY PESSIMISTIC because it basically argues the COP talks will not be successful unless there is a fundamental reordering of international values.

Anyway, here is it:

Just to provide some context, because I did not post the intro, oppositional claims to justice indicate claims to justice made my nations in opposition to one another. For example, Annex 1 nations find it just for Annex 2 countries to take more responsibility for reducing emissions and vice versa.

The oppositional claims to justice, which can also be viewed as equal and fair treatment by the treaty, made by nations within the negotiations complicate the process and in some respects typify ressentiment. Many arguments furthered by nations cast other nations as “evil” or claim the sole rectitude of their form of justice. These oppositional claims to justice in some respects originate from ressentiment: “in order to exist, the slave morality always first needs a hostile external world; it needs, psychologically speaking, external stimuli in order act at all—its action is fundamentally reaction.”[i] Thus, arguments by many countries are rooted in an attempt to establish their rectitude by demonizing their opposition. Justice is not framed as an internal necessity but as an external requirement nations place upon one another.

For example, developing nations argue wealthy nations are attempting to abandon the Kyoto protocol, which only holds Annex 1 nations accountable to reduce emissions, so more nations can be obligated to carbon reductions: “‘The Kyoto protocol is of paramount importance to us,’ said Mama Konate, chief delegate for the African nation of Mali. ‘We can never accept the killing of the Kyoto protocol.’”[ii] The rhetoric of “killing” implies “evil” actions from developed nations. This, to an extent, conforms to Nietzsche’s explanation of the human construction of evil: “The man of ressentiment conceives him . . .he has conceived ‘the evil enemy’ . . .and this in fact is his basic concept, from which he then evolves, as an afterthought and pendant, a ‘good one’—himself.”[iii] Therefore, developing nations’ frame their appeals to justice as a demand for developed nations to be primarily accountable for emissions reductions. This conception of justice makes it difficult for the process to move forward because developed nations do not want to agree to this form of justice.

This is because, the “good” versus “evil” basis for argumentation is evident from developed nations too.  For example, the U.S. negotiation position is often guided more by its opposition to developing nations than by taking internal responsibility for its own emissions. U.S. chief climate negotiator Todd Stern argued: “There is no way to solve this problem by giving developing countries a pass . . .Virtually all of the growth in emissions going forward . . . will be coming from developing countries.”[iv] It is problematic that the position of wealthy nations is cast in opposition to developing nations. Instead of seeking internal reasons as to why they should remedy climate change, arguments by these nations too are often fueled by oppositional ressentiment.

These arguments grounded in ressentiment have brought the negotiations to a standstill. In effect, to borrow Nietzsche’s famous analogy, both developed and developing nations are attempting to cast themselves as victimized lambs who are being forced to sacrifice too much, and they thus cast the other side as “evil” birds of prey attempting to harm them.[v] It is ironic that the U.S., a very powerful nation, would adopt such a position. However, it is also quite problematic because by both sides arguing from a “victimized” perspective, nothing can be accomplished. In a sense, every nation is demanded it should receive fair and equal treatment by the treaty which overshadows claims to environmental justice.

This position based upon guilt and victimhood typifies the principle Nietzsche articulates concerning how slave mortality is nihilistic: “add to these the entire antisensualitsitic metaphysic of the priests that makes men indolent and overrefined . . . and finally the only-too-comprehensible satiety with all things, together with the radical cure for it, nothingness.”[vi] While this quote primarily speaks to the problems with aestheticism, it also helps demonstrate that slave morality is nihilistic because by holding itself in opposition to other things it cannot contextualize itself. Thus, if two oppositional parties define themselves against one another, and do not take internal responsibility for their own actions, nihilism often is the end product of their dispute. Their positions are inherently irreconcilable, and they have not other means of justifying their claims.

For these serious complications, justice and a fair, equal solution are impossible to achieve at Copenhagen. Both sides define a just solution as the other side taking more responsibility. The different parties similarly problematize the issue of equality, in terms of justly delineating responsibility for emissions because they have inherently oppositional views on this subject. Therefore, in many ways, ressentiment has become a block to the international community reaching an agreement. Furthermore, these claims to justice have “trumped” the perhaps more important claims to justice—remedying environmental injury. If environmental justice was the goal of nations it would be much easier to achieve a solution because parties would find it their internal responsibility to help remedy environmental harm. Nietzsche would probably argue this internal claim to justice would be much more effective then external, oppositional claims to justice.

[i] Nietzsche, Friedrich. 1967. “On the Genealogy of Morality.” New York: Random House. p. 37.

[ii]Ward, Andrew. 14 December 2009. “Deadlock Threatens Copenhagen Climate Deal.” The Financial Times. (accessed December 14, 2009)

[iii] Nietzsche, Friedrich. 1967. “On the Genealogy of Morality.” New York: Random House. p. 39.

[iv]Torello, Alessandro.  10 December 2009. “Envory Say U.S. won’t Pay China to Cut Emissions.” The Wall Street Journal. (accessed December 14, 2009)

[v] Nietzsche, Friedrich. 1967. “On the Genealogy of Morality.” New York: Random House. p. 44-45.

[vi] Nietzsche, Friedrich. 1967. “On the Genealogy of Morality.” New York: Random House. p. 32.

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