Dystopian COP26 experience

12 November 2021

I’ve been struck by how so many dimensions of both the climate crisis and of its solutions are here at the COP in some way.

Indigenous voices and youth voices, the global south and the For those unfamiliar with Douglas Adams, the TPV is a machine designed to show an individual the whole of the universe, the infinity of creation, past, present, and future sweeping out in every direction, all at once — and a little arrow points out: “you are here.” It was designed as the ultimate torture device.

At COP26, I’ve rarely felt smaller, while the climate problem feels as vast and as infinite as the universe.  

It shouldn’t be this complicated

The Parties of the world—these are the people with the pink badges; “Party,” reads each, as if they should be having a good time. The other tens of thousands of COP badge wearers are classified as either “observer,” “press,” “security,” or, my personal favourite euphemism, “party overflow” — but it’s the Parties who must decide together when to stop burning fossil fuels, and immediately agree to end exploring and financing oil and gas. And for the damage already done, and the damage still to come—even if we stopped using fossil fuels tomorrow—the rich, responsible countries must pay for loss & damage to the vulnerable, least responsible countries.  

But the lobbyists, the oil and gas industry, and the party overflow seed the ground with excuses, empty promises, and perhaps worst of all, deceptive jargon. “Net-zero,” they repeat on panels. “Net-zero,” they chatter in the queue for haggis. “Net-zero,” is the whisper in the whoosh of the cars coming from the direction I did not expect. “Let us give you plenty of the good things we know you want, and you’ll never even notice that we’re still doing all the bad stuff — because it nets out in the end, right?” 

Deborah Burke, Rockefeller Brothers Fund

TV cameras chase after the youth who have had to grow up too fast and the Indigenous leaders in national dress.

“What are they doing in there? Don’t they care that we are losing the Earth?” I also wonder what the Parties are doing in there, in the inner negotiation rooms. My observer status doesn’t seem to come with a viewing area. 

Outside the COP, on Twitter, and on the streets of Glasgow, there is palatable anger and fear. “What are they doing in there?” A fearful man films the double ring of fences, the Scottish police in their neon yellow, and me, as I exit from another full day of observing nothing much.

What are we doing in there? I am also afraid. What am I doing in there?

I’m searching out rumours or truth.

Deborah Burke, Rockefeller Brothers Fund

Examining masked faces for anyone I know, hopefully one of my grantees, who are all much smarter than me and have a better view of the inner room. When I get too turned around, there’s a colourful map on the wall with an arrow that points out: “you are here.” 


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