The Copenhagen Climate Conference

The atmosphere at Copenhagen

Marketplace Staff Dec 10, 2009
The Copenhagen Climate Conference

The atmosphere at Copenhagen

Marketplace Staff Dec 10, 2009


Kai Ryssdal: There are some truisms about the goings on in Copenhagen, Denmark, this week and next that might be helpful if you’re interested in a fuller understanding of the UN climate conference. One is that it’s dark and it’s cold. About 7 hours of daylight today. Temperatures in the low 40’s with rain as well. Another is that there’s way more going on than just a bunch of official delegates sitting around talking climate policy. Marketplace’s Stephen Beard is at the conference for us. Hello, Stephen.


Ryssdal: So what is it like there?

BEARD: It is the most bizarre, and bewildering event that I’ve ever had to cover, Kai. I mean first of all one of the negotiating teams was quoted as saying at the outset, we’ve got two weeks to save the planet. Well, I have to tell you saving the planet is not as exciting as it seems. This is what it sounds like…

COPENHAGEN CONFERENCE: The UNFCCC parties had already decided to invite…

Ryssdal: Wake me when that one is over, huh, Stephen?

BEARD: It’s not quite the way Hollywood would cover the saving of the planet. But it’s not as boring as it sounds because you’ve got, we’re in this huge conference center, and at the heart of it is a big conference hall, absolutely gigantic, like an aircraft hanger. And in this vast communal space you’ve got all the negotiators and the journalists, and the delegates, and the environmental activists all mingling. And this area is actually constantly erupting in spontaneous demonstrations, with protesters chanting some of the oddest slogans I’ve ever heard.

PROTESTERS: We want one degree! We want one degree!

Ryssdal: We want one degree, right? Is that what that was?

BEARD: We want one degree, that’s it. What they’re saying is we want a ceiling of one degree. We don’t want to see global average temperatures rise more than one degree by the end of the century. Something even odder, actually, when we arrived at the summit center this morning, another bunch of people shivering in their underpants outside the summit shouting, “We’re in the cold, to stop the heat.”

PROTESTERS: We’re in the cold to stop the heat! We’re in the cold to stop the heat!

Ryssdal: So far Stephen, I will tell you, it sounds not unlike a carnival.

BEARD: Or even a madhouse. But in fact what one should say is there is an enormous amount of idealism here. A lot of young people. Five hundred American kids, in fact, who are here to press the case for a new climate treaty. One of them, Ethan, is a 19-year-old student from Minnesota.

ETHAN: I feel charged and motivated and powered and impassioned to try to really push for the U.S. negotiators to understand our ecological debt, to understand how much we owe to the world.

Ryssdal: Well, if that’s the idealism, Stephen, surely there are skeptics there as well. It’s an equal-opportunity conference, I imagine.

BEARD: Oh, it certainly is, although I should say the overwhelming majority here are routing for a new climate treaty. But I did find one climate-change skeptic. A British peer, who as a skeptic, felt he was rather in enemy territory.

CLIMATE-CHANGE SKEPTIC: I have been surrounded by chanting children with zombie-like faces, who have been trained by their teachers to yell fatuous slogans, such as, “Oooh, oooh, it’s hot in here, there’s too much carbon in the atmosphere.”

Ryssdal: All right, well, Stephen, so where do we go from here. Once you get passed it all, there is serious work being done, yes?

BEARD: Yes, behind closed doors they’re negotiating hard, and the signs are that something serious is emerging. What is certainly really focusing minds here now is that next week the leaders arrive, more than hundred heads of states will be here, including President Obama. And that has convinced many that in spite of all the circus and the carnival, something meaningful and something serious will emerge from Copenhagen.

Ryssdal: Stephen Beard in the Danish capital with a slice of life, if you will. Thank you, Stephen.


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