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Margaret Wente

Great news from Cancun! Add to ...

In a rare burst of tripartisan hypocrisy (oops, unity), all three of our national parties are declaring the Cancun climate talks a great success. "A real breakthrough," announced the NDP's environment critic. "Consequential," affirmed the Liberals, despite the fact that Canada was "almost marginalized" by the awful record of the Harper government. As for the government itself, a spokesman assured us that the talks produced "huge accomplishments."

International officialdom added to the cheery unanimity. The Union of Concerned Scientists said that, even though the Cancun accord "wasn't enough to save the climate," it did "restore the credibility of the United Nations as a forum where progress can be made." Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, declared: "This is not the end, but it is a new beginning."

Translation: Nothing happened, but we need to save face. See you next year in Durban! Actually, something happened. There were lots of parties with Mexican music and free booze. At the end, everyone agreed to agree next time. One thing they did agree on was a $100-billion transfer of money from rich countries to developing countries - just as soon as they can figure out where the money's coming from and where it's going to. If you seriously believe that will ever come to pass, then you probably believe in Tinkerbell.

Why does no one tell the truth? Maybe they believe that, so long as they keep clapping, Tinkerbell won't die. Even worse, they'd be forced to admit that the hopeless UN climate process, in which they have invested so much lip service, is a ridiculous boondoggle that benefits no one but the vast bureaucracy needed to support it.

Besides, events such as Cancun are an inexpensive way for politicians to show they really care about the planet. If you're in opposition, they're a great excuse to bash the government for not caring enough. If you're in government, they're a great excuse to pretend you'd gladly do more if only the rest of the world would get its act together.

What impresses me most about these mash-ups is the willful ignorance required to keep them going. I'm not talking merely about the futility of seeking to negotiate a top-down global deal that's actually enforceable, or the hubris of believing we have the knowledge or the means to control the global temperature in 2050. (King Canute, come on down!) I'm talking about the refusal to acknowledge the most basic facts about global energy demand and energy technology.

Please note: This has nothing at all to do with climate-change denial. Many knowledgeable people believe that human activity affects the climate in important ways, and also that we can't do much about it.

Other people don't like to hear this. They insist we have a moral duty to "do something." But they underestimate the challenge. The global population is set to grow by another three billion, and the consequent explosion in energy demand is unstoppable. Even if somebody discovered how to make cheap solar power by tomorrow, the world's energy infrastructure would take several decades to rebuild.

Some day - after we've invested stupendous amounts in energy innovation - the world will be powered by clean, green energy. But that day is a very long way off. Meantime, the world's most pressing energy problem will be finding a lot more of the old stuff. But who wants to think about that? Way more fun to think about next year, in Durban.

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