Obama: Take It Or Leave It

| Fri Dec. 18, 2009 11:55 AM EST

Nearly two decades after writing a book that popularized the term "global warming," MoJo contributing writer Bill McKibben founded 350.org. He is chronicling his journey into organizing with a series of columns about the global climate summit in Copenhagen. You can find the others here. Check out MoJo's live stream of collaborative Copenhagen coverage here.

I watched Barack Obama from the back of a drafty warehouse that the United Nations has repurposed as the holding tank for all the NGOs kicked out of the Bella Center. Great idea, except that they didn’t manage to hook up Internet. So now I’m at a nearby coffeeshop monitoring the end of the conference, or world, depending on how you view it.

It's been a curious day. Number one question has been: why is your name scrawled all over those leaked bombshell documents (Kumi Naidoo of Greenpeace today called it the "most important piece of paper in the world.") I still have no idea, but of course it matters not at all. What matters is that those papers show that the drama here today is largely greasepaint stuff.

Obama’s speech wasn’t much of a speech—basically, 'take it or leave it,' without even the slightest hint that perhaps US history, and the current state of US politics, have put the planet in a tight spot. Nothing new on offer—though by repeating his 17 percent cut, I’m guessing he's leaving himself room to go to 20 percent. He's still aiming for two degrees, which we now know in UN language means "three degrees." These numbers are in Celsius, and put into Fahrenheit they mean: killer heatwaves and droughts, a world free of ice, sea levels rising into geologic time, and a lot more fun of the same kind.

And if you’re a small, vulnerable, poor country they mean: out of business. Find somewhere else to live.

It didn’t sound like it was Obama’s final speech. He’s going to have to twist arms to get agreement to this package—he's clearly not trying to convince the poor countries, confident they can be either quashed or ignored. China is his target—it needs to be "monitored." Probably they can work out some kind of patch to cover the various gaping holes, though at the moment the seams are showing (a copy of the draft agreement circulating in the hall right now calls for "X reductions" by "Y year" which is not exactly reassuring). There are rumors Obama may have to spend the night to get something done.

If it works, look for many congratulations for his brave intervention. Look for physics to continue operating.