Grist's coverage of Copenhagen climate talks

Looking tanned and coiffed, California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger stood in sharp contrast to the wan, glum denizens of Copenhagen’s Bella Center.

According to one political insider, the typical morale trajectory for a conference of this scale is cautious optimism for the first few days, despair in the middle, a spurt of can-do spirit in the final days, and either total despair or euphoria in the final hours.

We’re in the despair phase at the moment, with everyone fretting that details aren’t being hammered out fast enough for any meaningful agreement to be signed at week’s end.

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In an attempt to raise spirits, the Governator lowered expectations: failing in Copenhagen won’t discredit all the amazing progress that’s happening at state and local levels. It was a shockingly defeatist speech tricked out with sunny language about private-sector innovation. Here’s a few highlights:

On the power of individuals and private enterprise:

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I always liked The Ugly Duckling — a tale of transformation that spoke to me inside. I believe in the power of personal transformation…[in the] desire for planetary transformation has brought us together.

… Up to 80 percent of greenhouse gas mitigation will be at a sub-national level … What if we all agreed that national agreements will never do enough? Wouldn’t that expand the approach for progress we can deliver?

… History tells us that movements begin with the people, not with government, and then when they become powerful enough, government responds. They do not begin in the corridors of Washington.

Some inspiration:

One activist in India is replacing kerosene lanterns with solar panels for 400 million people.

… In a small town in Texas, a German company has completed the world’s largest wind farm.

… California is 7th largest economy in the world. We will get 45 percent [of our energy] from renewables 10 years from now, if you include hydro. We are behaving as though progress doesn’t have to wait for Washington or Beijing or Kyoto.

What’s next:

The U.N. [should] convene this conference for city [government leaders rather than national government leaders] — I recommend it strongly to be held in California.

On why we shouldn’t despair about failure in Copenhagen:

If this conference doesn’t get strong national agreement some will say we have failed … but this conference is automatically and already a success … it brought the focus to the world that something has to be done.

… The world’s governments alone cannot make progress … They need cities, states, corporations, activists, scientists, and universities. They need everybody out there. Let us regain our momentum, our purpose, our hope, liberating our transformative power [at the grassroots level]. That could be the great contribution of Copenhagen.

Schwarzenegger urged the U.N. to convene a climate conference for city government rather than national leaders, and “strongly” recommended that said conference take place in California.

For a guy who was introduced by Canadian premier Gordon Campbell as “a climate action hero for the globe,” the Governor’s comments reflect staggeringly low expectations for the officials at Copenhagen.

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