The Poznań Climate Conference ended in a jolt by UN Secretary-General Ban. A switchover to a new world order happened on 11-12 December 2008. With the events of the past eight years this jolt wasn't a big surprise. Still, viscerally, it feels like a sucker-punch.
"What we need, today, is leadership -- leadership by you," Ban said and went on: "We look for that leadership from the European Union."
Referring to a parallel EU summit, UN Secretary-General Ban went on: "The decisions currently made by European leaders in Brussels are of great consequence for the whole world." A day later, Brussels' decision was to stay on target. The European Council reaffirmed the goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to four fifths of the 1990 baseline as the benchmark set for the year 2020 (p. 8-9 pdf; pdf).
"We look for leadership from the United States. It is therefore encouraging to hear about the incoming administration's plan to put alternative energy, environmentalism and climate change at the very center of America's definition of national security, economic recovery, and prosperity. We see encouraging movement elsewhere, as well."
The torch has passed.
In other words, Europe, show us the way.
And America, thanks for getting up to speed and wanting to catch up.
Philosophically, via Enlightenment and Weltweisheit, you might ask what to make of this. Overall "this"is good. Clearer environmental trends are now matched by clearer planetary policies. Think about it: the worst pose to strike is to deny the very reality that threatens us. Posers are being exposed as posers and sent to the back of the line.
Put differently, over climate, the world community has a problem that can be solved through a coherent, realistic, and wise response. Now such a response is happening. Europe is taking the point, backed up by the international community. And that's what you do.
It's also good that the Europeans are not wavering in their resolve and are not going back on their word at Kyoto, especially now that capitalistic thumbscrews are tightening on global social welfare.
What's not good is the benchmark set, and this is obvious from the science since Kyoto. Remember, we're at 385 parts per million of atmospheric CO2, an apocalyptic concentration. For kids to have any chance at a good future, we must get down to 350 ppm at least. And that's only CO2; we haven't even started with serious benchmarks for methane or that orb-blistering plasma TV gas, NF3.
In a deeper conceptual way, it is also a relief that US climate policies have failed and that America is passing the torch to greater realists. US climate policies had been in sour denial of biospherical absolutes. They were guided by a contempt for facts and science—a contempt for objective reality. And in swing with American military activities, US climate policies were guided by contempt for civil evolution and moral universals. For how can there be civil evolution as long as the American way of life is non-negotiable? How could moral universals ever become meaningful in the face of American exceptionalism?
Somehow, this most admirable American trait, tolerance for dissent and freedom of opinion, was twisted by the Bush rule, consumerist media, and conventional academics into a self-serving skepticism. Old modern tolerance turned into new postmodern even-handedness: the idea that everything, including human rights and climate change, has another side to it. Postmodernity became Main Street, USA.
The USA was the flower of the Enlightenment. Yet go to a Philosophy or Humanities department in the past decade and ask a conventional American professor about the merits of that age. Odds are she’d launch into an ironic discourse or a dismissive critique. The values and views that built the American century had been deconstructed by its postmodern offspring and led to the opposite: Bushism, or the American Disenlightenment.
So the torch passed at Poznań. And so it is good. For imagine the alternative—imagine Bushism would now reign triumphant. Then all the insights one holds dear as wisdom, by ancients like Laozi, Confucius, or Aristotle, and by moderns like Kant, would have been just ‘narratives,’ just ‘viewpoints.’ Imagine this, and ask yourself: Can we go against the Tao, the Analects, the Nicomachean Ethics, and get away with it? Can we screw the Enlightenment and succeed?
U.S. President Bush, the climate-changer-in-chief, tried and failed.
With Poznań, the postmodern experiment has ended.