/ 18 December 2009

Arnie and the megafauna charm Copenhagen

Until now Copenhagen’s most famous citizen was a girl with a fishy tail sitting on a rock. No more. The conference saw the big beasts of the green jungle arrive — what ecologists would term the “charismatic megafauna”, intent on adding their weight and lustre to the struggling climate talks.

First up was “Governator” Arnold Schwarzenegger, who arrived with 10 men in black with wires sprouting from their ears, a phalanx of cameramen and a perma-tan. Lesser beasts, like mere ministers, diplomats, United Nations chiefs and state governors, bowed before him.

“Arnie is a climate activist hero, his words are short, his actions long, he reaches out to all of us. No one has done more for climate. He is an exemplary role model,” scraped Gordon Campbell, the governor of British Columbia chosen to welcome him.

“Dat’s the way I wrote it,” said the green-tied beast with perfect teeth, who recalled he had once been to Copenhagen as a body-builder. “Some will say da world will melt and we will all die; but I say dis conference is already a success. We’re beginning one of history’s great transitions,” he said.

The lesser fauna cheered, the cameras whirred, the teeth flashed and Arnie handed the baton to Prince Charles, who addressed diplomats and negotiators at the ceremonial opening of the high-level political part of the summit.

If Arnie was glam, Charles was glum: “The grim reality is that our planet has reached a point of crisis … we appear intent upon consuming the planet … fisheries will collapse by 2050 … fresh water is scarce.”

He offered some hope: “Just as mankind had the power to push the world to the brink, so, too, do we have the power to bring it back into balance”, but not enough for one woman, who concluded: “He sure needs a hug.”

Climate groupies then queued to hear economist Nick Stern, Nobel prize-winner Wangari Maathai and Daryl Hannah, but it was Al Gore – “I used to be the next president of the United States” – who packed in the biggest crowd.

“Today alone we have dumped 90-million tonnes of carbon into the atmosphere,” he began.

“We’re on a track that takes us past many tipping points … glaciers are entering runaway melting mode.” It was a green superstar in full flow.

Last came the mayor of London, Boris Johnson, one-time climate sceptic, talking in the shade of a 15m white globe in the city centre.

Sandwiched on a panel between the mayors of Los Angeles, Copenhagen, New York and Johannesburg, Johnson struck out at the glums. “Stop being so unremittingly negative and gloomy,” he said. “A golden era of clean, green electric motoring is upon us.” —