US Press Briefing – The Big Question

December 2, 2008

December 1st – This was the first of two press briefings I attended today.  I bluffed my way into the room.  Actually, I walked prepared to bluff if challenged, but was not challenged.  Having had to choose between status as an NGO observer and status as a member of the press, I chose the former (on advice) and so really am not supposed to attend press briefings.  But I won’t tell anyone if you won’t.

This ‘side event’ was a major reason for my attending this conference.  The world knows that the obstructionist Bush administration’s days are numbered (count down to January 20th proceeds apace).  What was not clear, until this briefing, was whether the old guard would yield gracefully to the new, or go out dragging the curtains down with them.  I am afraid the latter may be the case.

There were two representatives of the Bush team.  Dr. Harlan Watson and Depty Assistant Secretary of State for the Environment, Daniel Reisnyder (please don’t take off points for spelling!), a short man with a long title.  They were clearly not comfortable being there.  The tension in the room was palpable.  The skepticism with which anything they would say would be greated was clear.  But then there were those of us who were waiting for that signal.  Would they be spoilers again this year?

At this point my notes from Dr. Harlan’s presentation would be apt to show you…

“Talked about methane markets… a load of b.s.  Blah, blah blah.  Many words, nothing said… came off like reading the telephone book… everyone concentrating on carbon… there are other greenhouse gasses too… look what the US has done on these… ”

I didn’t know whether to revile this man or pity him.  I decided that I would try one of my questions on him.  I quickly composed the following semi-rhetorical question, but shortened it a bit when I asked it.

“You stated that ‘consensus is something that certainly the Bush Administration supported’.  I do not think this position is shared either by involved Americans or people around the world.  You also said that the US delegation would be making positive contributions here in Poznan.  Specifically, what positive contributions will you be making here?  That is, have you been instructed to make any new proposals or facilitation of any existing proposals or is your brief to be obstructionist to progress and consensus as has been your position in the past?”

His response was basically, technology funding and technology transfer activities would be the specific contributions this session.

All the questions might be characterized as incredulity in varying degrees.  Some wanted to know about the transition to the new Obama team and would that significantly alter the US stance.  His obfuscation here amounted to saying that the US congress would probably still impede progress since the individual interests of states was a problem too.  Well sure, if the guys at the top are pushing in that direction, and the Republican base has its way through special interests and lobbyists.

When asked about all the criticism that the US had come under, he acknowledged that criticism with a gesture of his arms and the statement, “You are right, we have come under criticism, and I can show you some of the scars.”  And well deserved scars they are at that.  The greedy self-interest of the outgoing administration deserves more than mere scars.  This is the future of life on earth they are trading for the sake of ‘accumulation of personal wealth’.