Leading Up to Copenhagen’s Wake

Yesterday, we hosted a large event on the environmental transformation of the New York City region since 1609. Titled in the Wake of the Half Moon: Environmental Transformation of the New York Metropolitan Region: 1609-2109, the event traced the relationship between (new European) people and their environment since Hudson’s voyage to the region in 1609.  We ended the conference with a great talk by Cynthia Rosenzweig of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies at Columbia University, who serves as Co-Chair of the New York City Panel on Climate Change with our Director, Bill Solecki. wake

She opened her discussion by saying that as she made her way South to the conference,  from her home up the Hudson, she imagined herself as part of the crew of Hudson’s ship, The Half Moon. But this wasn’t in 1609, it is in 2109.  She then proceeded to talk about climate change effects in the region and what one might see on a ship in the year 2109. Besides being an imaginative and inspiring close to a wonderful–but long–day, she got me thinking about the decisions we make and the wake that follows them.

When we think about environmental issues, protection, conservation, ecological services, climate change, etc., we are actually dealing with the combined wakes of any type of decision that has been made until now. Essentially, we don’t have a blank canvas. I used this term last week to talk about Detroit. But even there, development and revitalization is only a transition from what something once was. We create new policies and interventions in the wake of other ones.

So, enter Copenhagen, the last chance to create something new and positive in the wake of many other intentional and default decisions on modes of production and how we organize our societies in general.  A few weeks ago, all hope was given up that anything substantial would happen. There would be no binding agreement. Copenhagen would fail, just like Bali, Poland, and most importantly, Kyoto.

As has been reported, the stalled legislation in the United States is not helpful, nor is the boycott of initial talks by developing nations, specifically African ones. The economy is still the bottom line. But today, there were signs of life from the Obama administration that even though Copenhagen may not create the binding agreement we all wished it would, there is still a desire to create a deal that will have an “immediate effect.” Obama has been speaking with Chinese president Hu Jintao about the huge role that the U.S. and China play in creating carbon emissions and the role they must play in reducing them.  Text or not text, the Copenhagen conference seeks to 1) get solid agreements from developed nations on emissions reductions, 2) secure cold hard cash for developing nations to follow suit.  For the full news feed from Reuters, click here.

Yes, there is still concern that Copenhagen will not provide the urgent action needed. But the recognition that Copenhagen can not be a full failure acknowledges that there are decisions to build on, that China and the U.S. are crucial components to the agreement and most importantly, there is a wake that follows in which we all must live.

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