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Margaret Wente (Curtis Lantinga)
Margaret Wente (Curtis Lantinga)

Margaret Wente

Copenhagen climate rage: Who's the villain? Add to ...

What exactly is the purpose of Copenhagen?

For Western countries, it's to hammer out a unified response to the global threat of climate change. But for poorer countries, environmental groups and other activists, the purpose is quite different. It's to extract huge sums of money from the capitalist West, as soon as possible. They've made their bottom line clear: No money, no deal.

Developing countries say they're owed massive amounts of money as compensation for the climate crisis. After all, it's the First World that created it, but they're the ones paying the price. "Millions of people are suffering from the effects of a problem to which they did not contribute," said Angelica Navarro, Bolivia's chief climate negotiator, who described how melting glaciers are threatening the water supply.

This line of argument marks a "dramatic shift" in climate activism, says Naomi Klein, a big star in Copenhagen. She's right. Her recent article in Rolling Stone, Climate Rage, is a must-read guide to the climate summit. The argument that the West owes the Rest a "climate debt" has now been firmly embraced by the West. The only question is how much.

Even Stephen Harper has signed on to a $10-billion-a-year climate fund. Sounds nice. But that amount "would not buy developing countries' citizens enough coffins," said Lumumba Stanislaus Di-Aping, the Sudanese chief negotiator for a coalition of poor countries. The European Union says the fund should grow to $150-billion by 2020. But China says $400-billion a year would be more like it.

In some ways, a climate fund seems only fair. But no one knows how the money would be raised, who should oversee the spending, or even what it's really for. Western governments presumably would like it spent on helping poorer countries adjust to climate change and reduce their carbon dioxide emissions. But the poorer countries have no intention of reducing emissions. Instead, they want the rich ones to make steep cuts while they "catch up." That's essentially what the big flap over the leaked draft memo was about. In a nutshell: It's their turn.

It's no surprise that accusations of "carbon colonialism" are filling the air in Denmark. Ms. Klein says the concept of "climate debt," also known as "reparations," is a direct steal from the left-wing argument that Western powers owe a vaguely defined "economical debt" to poor countries for centuries of colonial land grabs and resource extraction. But climate debt is better, because you can actually measure carbon dioxide. As she puts it, the United States owes the world's poor for "200 years of over-emissions."

If you're wondering whether all these billions are likely to be spent wisely - given the history of foreign aid to governments not always known for their competence, transparency or honesty - then you're not alone. But that's not the point. The point is that the West (capitalism) is to blame for every natural disaster in the world, all of which are now presumed to have been caused by global warming, which is presumed to have been caused by us. Feeling guilty yet? Here's Sharon Looremeta, an advocate for Kenya's Masai, who've lost millions of cattle to drought in recent years. "The Masai community does not drive 4x4s or fly off on holidays in airplanes. We have not caused climate change, yet we are the ones suffering. This is an injustice and should be stopped right now."

It was the West that invented airplanes, too. Bad us. The trouble with energy consumption is that it is inextricably linked with prosperity, productivity and progress - even in righteous Denmark, which oozes green but remains highly tied to fossil fuels. Canada emits far more greenhouse gases than Kenya because we are far more prosperous and successful. And so - no matter how carbon virtuous we are - we're doomed to be cast as global greenhouse villains.

And if that sounds like the familiar old morality of socialism, it is.

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