Tooker and Kelly in Europe: A Letter From the Hague

By Tooker Gomberg, The Hague, Nov. 24, 2000

We’re holed up in a media trailer graciously handed over by the Dutch government – seems no one else needed it – trying to make sense of a tragedy of unfathomable proportions. We’re in the Hague Conference Centre, perched above the sands of the Netherlands, where enormous effort has been made to keep back the sea.

We’re at the monstrous World Conference on Climate Change with thousands of other delegates, media, non-governmental organizations, and indigenous people, among many others.

I got within a few feet of the queen the other day. Queen Beatrix. She smiled a lot, and looked glamorous But what about the climate? She arrived with a procession of motor vehicles and breezed in to the plenary.

“Work it Out!” is the slogan of the conference. We’ve been mumbling it while we try to find a compost bin. We head to go to the media conferences where the delegates from the G77 group of less industrialized countries get half an hour to put their spin on how best to carve up the pie. The world’s atmosphere, that is.

We’ve just gotten word that six Japanese youth will (theatrically) commit Harakiri (suicide) tomorrow morning, to show how their government is killing their future with nuclear power. “We are ashamed about our government, and tell them how the situation is serious.”

Just a little while ago somebody brought out a four-square-foot earth cake, the continents bright on a bed of blue ocean. The theme: the north wants to have its cake and eat it to.

It’s the United States and our very own Canada that are the most retrograde at this gathering, concocting a plan to keep on business as usual, plant a few trees and thereby earn a few points so that their failure to live up to the emissions cuts in the Kyoto accord won’t be as evident.

It looks like, once again, the powerful will get their way. The U.S. delegation will prevail so polluting can continue as usual. The cars will roll off the assembly lines at an accelerating rate, and the power plants can keep belching out fumes.

Maybe there will be a small price to pay. Like for every car driven you’ll have to plant some trees. Or if you intend to keep burning coal, you can contribute some money to change so that cows fart less. In Uganda. That’s what Alberta’s TransAlta Utilities is doing, and expects “carbon credits” for such good works.

Canada is nearly as despicable as the United States. Our delegation is headed by “H.E. Lloyd Axworthy, Privy Councillor, CANADA. His excellency skirted the issue of how the burning of fossil fuels is contaminating the air. Instead, he talked about trees.

“When not properly managed forests and agriculture can become a source of carbon in the atmosphere. To truly reduce greenhouse gases we need to manage our forests and agriculture environments so they can become an effective sink to withdraw carbon from the atmosphere.” Sinks could sink this agreement by dodging the serious metamorphosis required to move into the embrace of a solar and wind powered renewable future.

Or, alternately, we could embrace the failed, expensive, and dangerous technologies of the last millennium. Nuclear. That’s what Canada is pushing here. Axworthy has come here not only to smother Canada’s bad rep with his good-guy image earned from digging up landmines. He’s also touting Canadian nuclear technology as a way to a cleaner world.

A Japanese journalist asks: “Why does Canada love nuclear power?” Ax: “Nuclear energy has been very effective supplier of energy for Canada and around the world. The Candu reactor is second to none and it doesn’t put emissions into the air and I think that’s one of the reasons it’s on the table here.”

Words. There’s lots of talk of carbon, but none of cars. Nobody has the courage to say “gasoline.” The addiction is too close to the heart.

Everybody expects the United State to do the wrong thing and work hard to yank out any loose teeth left in the Kyoto watchdog. They are doing that handily, and obviously.

Canada is more subtle, but no less guilty. Every day a worldwide coalition of environmental groups gives out awards for the most regressive country (www.fossil-of Only Canada has as many awards as the USA.