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Environmental activists, young and old, come together at the 2009 United Nations Climate Change Conference. Courtesy of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark

Copenhagen Day Three

Two solitudes

By David MacDonald

There is enormous energy and activity here. It is expressed in many ways. Intense conversations, cellphones and laptops in constant use, people rushing to a series of competing meetings and endless line ups in various food courts and at instant coffee stands.

Amid this hubbub, two forces bump up against one another — at least, when they are not preoccupied with their own interests and issues

One group is made up of the mostly older participants in business attire and serious demeanour. They are engaged in piercing the fog of endless UN debate.

The other group is a good deal younger and are primarily concerned with the difficult moral challenges of creating a world that is more just, fair and healthy. Some emphasize this with colourful demonstrations.

While each group is aware of the other, they both tend to believe that the issues they deal with are the real ones — worthy of the world’s efforts and attention.

From time to time, they do meet and talk together. But they tend to talk past one another. This is unfortunate. They both have a piece of reality; but not the whole picture. Given the importance of the issues and the number of years that many have been working on them, why is genuine dialogue not happening?

I believe it results from an imbalance of power.

The evolution of complex systems of decision-making, coupled with the undue influence of large institutions and corporations, has marginalized all but the most vocal or visible of those on the outside. Even democratic countries lack real engagement from their citizens.

This does not need to be so. We know much today about how healthy societies and communities make good decisions. We teach models of this in our educational institutions. Perhaps, if we were able to learn or relearn good decision-making skills, we really could solve the challenge of climate change.

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