Economics, Energy and the Environment

Copen-Babel

In the biblical story of Babel, the tribes of the world conspire together to build a tower to reach to heaven. Before long, God decides to thwart their efforts, by dividing the languages of the mutinous tribes so that they can no longer communicate. Thereafter, the nations scatter across the face of the Earth, presumably limiting the collective damage they could do. The story is sort of a recapitulation of the original sin of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, who fell for the serpent’s temptation to be “like gods.”

As I watched the last three days of the Copenhagen Climate Fiasco, I kept thinking of the Tower of Babel. The Copenhagen Summit was the “largest gathering of world leaders in recent history.” It was not, however, unprecedented, still less a “turning point in human nature,” as Colin Blakemore in the Guardian opined. It was, rather, another instance of the human propensity for self-aggrandizement and hubris. Instead of building a tower to heaven, delegates from 193 nations gathered in Copenhagen for the purpose of controlling the future climate of the planet. Instead of unified agreement, however, they got chaos.

Playing to eager reporters, President Obama tried to clutch victory from the jaws of defeat. He announced, just before he left to return home, a back-of-the-envelope “agreement” reached among the United States and four other nations: “‘Each agreed,’ he said, ‘to list national actions and commitments with international consultation and analysis under clearly defined guidelines’ and aim to limit the global temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius.” But the deal was denounced as a “sham” by many of the other countries who were not privy to the deal.

In ordinary circumstances, can you imagine any sensible person making such a precise claim about controlling the future climate with a straight face? It sounds like the opening line of a joke: “Did you hear the one about the presidents of the United States, China, India, Brazil, and South Africa who decided to limit the rise in global temperature to 2 degrees?”

And, like Babel, this risible hubris is not the delusion of a single or even a few megalomaniacs, but is believed by the key players to be within human competence.

The scattering of the nations started three weeks before the conference began, when the world learned that leading climate scientists, on whom the United Nations depends, had been manipulating the peer-review process, the data, and the statistical methods to make climate change appear more severe. And by the end of the two week conference on “global governance,” the developing world was mad at the developed world, China and the United States were mad at each other, “everyone” was mad at Obama, and dictator/court jester Hugo Chavez had taken the stage—twice—to condemn the United States and capitalism, to enthusiastic applause. Riots ensued outside the conference and chaos inside. Scores of environmental non-profits are now incensed at an ineffectual and incompetent United Nations, and are in despair about the prospects of international “cooperation” in preventing people from using the most affordable forms of energy. During the grand finale, Copenhagen, which has a moderate, maritime climate, suffered a blizzard, while President Obama and the American congressional delegation returned to Washington D.C. to face another, record-breaking, blizzard.

I wouldn’t go so far as to claim that all this is proof of a divine smack-down akin to the Tower of Babel, but I would suggest that it’s evidence that God has a sense of humor.

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