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Posted on EnviroNation
The highlight of my first day at COP15 was a conversation with the extraordinary Nigerian poet and activist Nnimmo Bassey, chair of Friends of the Earth International. We talked about the fact that some of the toughest activists here still pull their punches when it comes to Obama, even as his climate team works tirelessly to do away with the Kyoto Protocol, replacing it with much weaker piecemeal targets.
If George W. Bush had pulled some of the things Obama has done here, he would have been burned in effigy on the steps of the convention center. With Obama, however, even the most timid actions are greeted as historic breakthroughs, or at least a good start.
"Everyone says: 'give Obama time,'" Bassey told me. "But when it comes to climate change, there is no more time." The best analogy, he said, is a soccer game that has gone into overtime. "It's not even injury time, it's sudden death. It’s the nick of time, but there is no more extra time."
Reporting from Geneva, Naomi Klein, a contributing editor to Harper’s Magazine, reveals the grudges and absurdities of Durban II, the follow-up convention to the World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, which took place in Durban, South Africa, in 2001. Such issues as reparations for slavery—and the correction of other immense historical imbalances resulting from colonialism and racism—are overshadowed, in the months leading up to the conference, by supporters of Israel, who seize on fears that the conference will promote an anti-Israel and anti-Semitic agenda. In reality, the U.N. goes to great lengths to ensure the neutrality of the proceedings, but the objections reduce Durban II to an event that nobody (except anti-Israel crusader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad) wants to touch, and the bare-knuckles fight seems convincingly won. Meanwhile, U.S. public-policy activists report the word that the White House is interested only in hearing about projects that are “race neutral”—and not in anything that targets disadvantaged constituencies. Which all leads to the question of whether the relatively thin charge of anti-Semitism was, for many developed nations, an excuse to avoid Durban II’s questions about what the rich countries of the world might reasonably owe on their debts to the peoples they once exploited. Klein pays particular attention to the Obama Administration’s legislative inaction on racial issues—and what it means for all of us.