The Nation: We'll Save The Earth On Our Terms

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US Sec. of State Hillary Clinton in Copenhagen i i

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks during a press conference at the Bella Center in Copenhagen on December 17, 2009. Oliver Morin/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Oliver Morin/AFP/Getty Images
US Sec. of State Hillary Clinton in Copenhagen

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks during a press conference at the Bella Center in Copenhagen on December 17, 2009.

Oliver Morin/AFP/Getty Images

Yesterday was the second to last day of the climate conference and I had the worst case of laryngitis of my life. I opened my mouth and nothing came out.

It's frustrating because I was just at Hillary Clinton's press conference and desperately wanted to ask her a question — or six. She said that the U.S. would contribute its "share" to a $100-billion financing package for developing countries by 2020, but only if all countries agreed to the terms of the climate deal that the U.S. has slammed on the table here, which include killing Kyoto, replacing legally binding measures with the fuzzy concept of "transparency," and nixing universal emissions targets in favor of vague "national plans" that are mashed together. Oh, and abandoning the whole concept (which the U.S. agreed to by singing the UN climate convention) that the rich countries that created the climate crisis have to take the lead in solving it.

Unless every country here agrees to the U.S. terms, the Secretary explained, "there will not be that kind of a [financial] commitment, at least from the United States."

It was naked blackmail — forcing developing countries to choose between a strong fair deal that stands a chance of averting climate chaos and the funds they need to cope with the droughts and floods that have already arrived. I wanted to ask Clinton: Is this not climate structural adjustment, on a global scale? We'll give you cash, but only with our draconian conditions?

And who is the U.S. to call the shots when it carries the heaviest responsibility for emitting the gasses that are already wreaking havoc on the climates of the global south — what happened to the principle that the polluter pays?

But...no point raising my hand, no voice.

I feel a bit like a walking metaphor because this is the day that pretty much all the NGOs have been locked out of the Bella Center, making this a much less interesting place. Almost all the side events have been canceled and people are scrambling to find alternative spaces around the city in which to meet. Some youth groups staged a sit-in last night to protest their expulsion.

As the big shots arrive and civil society is expelled, it may well turn out that months of activism and negotiations don't matter much in the face of raw power plays like the one Clinton launched this morning: sign on our terms or get nothing.

Bolivia's Ambassador to the United Nations, Pablo Solon put it best: "It seems negotiators are living in the Matrix, while the real negotiation is taking place in the 'Green room,' in small stealth dinners with selective guests."

The image from the Bella Center that will forever stay with me is seeing security guards refuse entry to Nnimmo Bassey, chair of Friends of the Earth International, who has been fighting Shell and other oil giants in the Niger Delta for decades, losing friends like Ken Saro Wiwa to the struggle and being jailed himself. Meanwhile, the oil execs walk the halls of the Bella Center with impunity.

Even if I could talk I'd be speechless.

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