Fear and Loathing on the Road to Copenhagen

I've been in Bangkok for a scant 36 hours, and already the shame is sickening. I'm an American tracking the American position at international climate negotiations where America stands as the biggest obstacle.
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Over the next three months, I'll be tracking the American positions in the international climate treaty negotiations for the Adopt-A-Negotiator project. Together, we're tracking the negotiators from twelve key countries up to and through the December COP15 meetings in Copenhagen.

I've been in Bangkok for a scant 36 hours, and already the shame is sickening. I'm an American tracking the American position at these international negotiations where America stands clumsy and tall as the biggest obstacle to an effective agreement. An agreement which -- it's no hyperbole to say -- could mean the difference between a manageable future and utter climatic catastrophe. An agreement that everyone with a shred of conscience wants to be fair, ambitious, and binding. Indeed, all of us trackers in this Adopt-a-Negotiator program, and everyone in the TckTckTck campaign that we're a part of, are working to ensure that an eventual treaty in Copenhagen could be rightly described by these three characteristics. The U.S. positions, as figured at present, can't possibly be defined as either fair, ambitious, or binding.

So as I step out of the American bubble where the villains are clear and discreet -- a bunch of Senators, the Chamber of Commerce, Fox News, ACCCE, ExxonMobil -- to the grand stage of international diplomacy where the perception is of a single, simple villain: the United States of America. The nuances of the American climate challenge that I spend most of my waking life fretting over -- that our Senators have bastardized and abused the filibuster, that a huge chunk of our public is purposefully deceived by a major national news network, that a small number of very rich people have corrupted healthy debate with violent and malicious lies -- don't matter a lick here. All that matters is what the United States brings to the international table. And what we've served up thus far has been received like a steaming pile of turd.

Now the good news: our position can only improve. And I'm confident that it will. For starters, we've got as solid a squad managing this team as you could ever hope for. Holding the playbook here in Bangkok is Jonathan Pershing, the State Department's Deputy Special Envoy for Climate Change, formerly of World Resources Institute, one of the lead authors of the IPCC's Fourth Assessment Report (and, thus, Nobel Prize winner), and a guy who absolutely and unequivocally knows exactly what the science demands in terms of international action and agreement on climate change. Pershing reports to Todd Stern, the U.S. Special Envoy for Climate Change and Obama's lead negotiator, who has been more active thus far in bilateral talks (most notably with China) and who testified before the House earlier this month about the importance of being a positive force heading into Copenhagen. And then, of course, there's President Obama, who did more in his first 100 days to kickstart America's transition to a clean energy economy than everyone in all of our country's history, and who we all know can churn public support with bold words deliberately delivered. (Many who were hoping for such a speech last week at the U.N. were sorely disappointed, but Beltway insiders seem to think it's coming. The sooner, the better.)

We know that Pershing and Stern can -- and want to -- deliver American positions that are fair, ambitious, and binding. Obama can set them free to do so, if Americans demand it of him. For the next couple of weeks, however, Pershing will be the one to watch, and I'm here in Bangkok to watch him.

Follow along the U.S. delegation as they negotiate their way to Copenhagen.

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