Pardon me if I’m not impressed

Well folks, with the passing of another year and our attention collectively turning to the supposed hope and promise of a new year and a new decade, I believe it may be worthwhile to draw some comparisons between the tragically and almost comically uncommitted approach we seem to take to both our personal goals, labeled as resolutions, and the challenges faced by global society as a whole.

Tradition has it that every January much of Western society feels some obligation to create a list of topics that could bear improvement through some amount of personal exertion. We are all familiar with the recurring wish to fit that special swimsuit come springtime or lose a certain number of pounds, and we are also all familiar with the chuckling and the eye-rolling that we include with these lists, especially as the next year rolls around and the new list is the same as the old one — unaccomplished.

Commitment and discipline seem to be rare commodities these days. In general, this lack of follow through may seem harmless, but the implications of our apparent lack of will power are in fact much more disturbing when you consider some of the larger problems that remain perennially unaddressed. Case in point: the climate change debate — an issue that has been beaten and discussed to death until recently.

As opposed to the stubborn — shall we say “ignorant” — minority still insisting that the process is a myth, I believe in the basic and widely accepted idea that human combustion of fossil fuels is releasing considerable amounts of carbon into the atmosphere and subsequently causing the global temperature to increase.

Climate change is believed to have negative consequences on the environment, just like an extra 20 pounds could act on one’s health, in some cases. If correcting this problem is left up to individual consumers, the cause will be lost. It is not feasible to summon the voluntary social willpower necessary to make the drastic lifestyle changes that would be required to change the average carbon footprint to sustainable levels.

It is common knowledge that losing weight can be rather challenging, and that it is an issue where the results are directly related to the effort you put in, and where no one else’s actions have any bearing. Imagine — if we all lost weight at the same rate — if I spent all day running, and four other people spent all day eating pizza, my effort would merely slow the rate that we all gained. I, for one, would quickly trade in my running shoes for an extra-large meat lovers’ with double cheese. This scenario seems to point to a need for some guidance on the topic of carbon emissions, and world government seems to be the obvious choice.

Against such a backdrop, heads of state from around the world convened in Kyoto, Japan, in 1997, where an international treaty was produced to cut global emissions by 5.9 per cent below 1990 levels. In fact, when the treaty was created, emissions were already far higher than the 1990 levels that were used as a benchmark, necessitating reductions of far more than the 5.9 per cent bandied about. In reality, emissions continued to rocket the world over for the next ten years, and the U.S. (the world’s biggest carbon emitter) failed to even enter the treaty into domestic law.

This extremely ambitious and unsuccessful Kyoto Protocol is set to expire in 2012, and therefore the world recently convened again in Copenhagen to attempt to create a framework for another treaty. Just like the annual New Year’s goals and the gyms that are crowded in January, but empty come February, our global community can’t even look itself in the eye as it promises to lose weight (measured, of course, in tons of CO2).

This time our leaders did not even leave with a treaty, let alone a binding treaty, but instead, an ambiguous “meaningful agreement.” The consensus was to pledge to keep the world’s average temperature from rising more than two degrees, which is the equivalent of a 300-pound person stating their wish to avoid weight-related health problems by keeping their weight under 400 pounds.

So, there lies the state of our much heralded global leadership on the climate change issue, and as sad as it is, it seems our best bet at the moment is to trust in individual conscientiousness and hope for the best. While some left Copenhagen with smiles and reassurance that they were finally going to get serious about this issue, I fail to feel any excitement, and as for their “meaningful agreement,” excuse me if I’m not impressed.

Zach Wolff is a fourth-year student of mechanical engineering and business management.