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First impressions of tonight’s “deal”

December 19, 2009

When I was young, I always lobbied my parents for the flashing, colored Christmas lights. Plain white lights just seemed too boring. But as the colored lights of Obama’s motorcade flashed across the television screen in my Danish host home, I wasn’t too excited.

Earlier today, Obama flew into Copenhagen for what was planned to be the final day of the historic Copenhagen climate summit. Last night’s negotiations didn’t provide the consensus that might have provided him an easy day of handshakes and photographs. Obama spent the day in closed-door meetings with other world leaders in a last attempt to forge an agreement.

Long-standing divisions seemed unresolvable. Press conferences were delayed and eventually cancelled.

This evening, many sources reported that a deal was close. The President’s team announced that President Obama would speak on a new climate deal at 10:30pm.

We listened, and then we tried to interpret the President’s words. What did they agree on? Who actually agreed? Was it really a deal?

Press articles with brief analyses have already been printed. We’re tired, so we’ll provide a policy analysis later. Unfortunately, there’s not a lot to analyze.

For now, we’re posting each of our first reactions to this historic event. Tonight was an experience we won’t soon forget.

Andrew: Tonight’s events confirmed a hard reality I didn’t want to accept: The United Nations climate change process cannot stop global warming. It can’t even lead the charge. The issue is too big, too pressing, too intimidating and perhaps even too unclear.

When Obama made his big announcement, I wanted to be glued to the TV. I wanted to be flabbergasted and humbled. I wanted to run my hands through my unwashed hair in astonishment. A tiny part of me was convinced that world leaders could go out on a limb and get it right.

Instead, I listened to the TV with one ear, but jumped on to ESPN to check whether Tiger Woods’ divorce was official. I thought about how good another slice of lemony apple tart sounded. Indifferent and nonplussed, I was ready to move on.

Every social strata below the UN will keep working towards 350 ppm of CO2 in the atmosphere and as much funding as possible for developing nations. I’ll remember that in a low-carbon world we might move more slowly, be more social and less wasteful, and reduce inequality across economic divides.

World leaders will have to follow as civil society takes off. And they’ll have to react as the climate makes business-as-usual more difficult.

Anthony: After spending hours following Twitter rumors and trying to interpret Danish TV coverage of the COP-15, I finally heard Obama’s voice on the White House website. I sat on the floor and listened. He first pointed out that the most important part of an international treaty is parties’ sincere participation. Kyoto was “legally- binding,” but countries didn’t follow through because there was no enforcement.

By the end, I felt encouraged. I thought maybe the major emitters would now trust each other and commit together. But now there’s news that Brazil – an inner-circle member in the last-minute deal-making – may not not be on board. Maybe the trust lasted 12 minutes?

Taylor: To me, Obama seemed tired and frustrated. I sat on the Andersen’s comfy chair staring at the front window for a while after he finished his speech. Words, words, words.

He delivered a deal. A deal? The word “deal” has been plied, pounded, and pinched into something resembling the wrinkled receipts I find in my pockets at the end of the day. I put them in there thinking those dimly-printed financial records will hold meaning later. Days later, I toss crinkled wads into the trash. Even if they were legible, I don’t know what I’d do with them.

He arrived this morning, he rammed through the ‘deadlock’, he called it a “meaningful deal,” but now I can’t tell you what we have now that we didn’t before.

A signal that world power has shifted away from the US? A social movement powerful enough to jam the gears of politics-as-usual because its vision is beyond what our politicians can deliver? A social-environmental crisis shown to be insoluble for human institutions as we know them?

Tonight’s negotiations haven’t even ended yet.

On a last note, demonstrations are going late into the night in response to Obama’s announcement and the state of negotiations.

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