The editor of the Irish Times, Frank McDonald, writes "a personal take" in Nature on the Conferences of Parties (COP) in the past two decades, from Rio in 1992 to Durban in 2011. There is nothing spectacular about his view; instead, what I learned from this comment is the role that narratives play when we talk about climate. After reading this story, I asked myself: are we writing the story, or do we only follow a prefabricated script? I'll give it a try and turn reality into a TV series, based on Frank McDonald's script "Watching the players at the climate poker table".
The COPs resemble more and more "Madmen" or "Lost" or other successful TV series on HBO or elsewhere. Frank McDonald is the main actor, who travels restlessly from one COP to the next around the world. The storyline is based on scientific evidence - climate change is happening now. Diverse players such as powerful nations and small islands, heroes and villains, negotiators and advocates enter and leave the stage in ever new episodes, it is a developing story. They are "the players at the climate poker table", at stake is saving the world. And here a warning: in case you do not share McDonald's point of view, be aware that your skeptical view is just another element in this entertaining series called "COP", now already season 17.
Here some of the ingredients that make up this developing story: main actors and ingredients are
a) the journalist - passing through different countries and climate zones, from Berlin to Bali, from Montreal to Durban;
b) the issue: climate change, as a distant threat in Berlin 1995 that has already turned into a reality. A reality confirmed by science, and which the journalist knows from personal experience: "anyone who has traveled in sub-Saharan Africa (as I have)..." knows that climate change is already in full swing;
c) expectations: back in Rio 1992, participants thought they would already have saved climate and species and everything else; instead, the issue became "his ticket to travel the world", and salvation or doom are at the end of the story, in a distant future...
d) negotiations and coalitions among often times unlikely partners; with India's environmental minister as a new big player in COP 17 and the EU seeking new partners among the small islands and Africa as the most recent development.
e) heroes and villains along the way. Angela Merkel was a hero when she just ignored the objections of Saudi-Arabia and the rules of the UN and "gavelled through the mandate that led us to the Kyoto Protocoll two years later". And the late Don Pearlman was the villain in his role as the advocate of the oil lobby - even the Saudis asked him for advice.
f) hope and disappointment: Durban was another success along the way; the journey will go on even though "except in Europe, bigger countries still seem unwilling to take the steps required to respond to the science". But maybe Europe can...just watch the next episode!
As we all know, those series on HBO or elsewhere on TV depend very much on the interest of the audience. Each series has its ups and downs. This one already lasts so long that we have accepted it as a valid construction of reality.
Maybe we are all trapped in this story like Truman in the Truman show. Remember when he manages to flee from the studio, and when he rows away in his small boat on the open sea? Suddenly thunder, lightning and storm comes up - another gimmick staged by the studio. Truman shouts desperately: Is there nothing real in this world? From the off, the producer says: "Sure, there is: you are real."