(Photo of people at the UN watching Ahmadinejad’s speech)
When UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon kicked off the special session on climate change in the hopes of capturing the news cycle to build political momentum toward the December UNFCCC meeting in Bali.
Unfortunately, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad seems to have stolen the attention of the New York and national media with his speech at Columbia University this afternoon. Even at the UN it seems the controversial figure has captured the attention of the attendees of this session. Much to my chagrin, the entrance to the cafeteria was blocked off my the mob of people crowded around the one television displaying the live CNN feed of Ahmadinejad’s speech.
This underscores the difficulties the climate change debate has encountered time and again — how do we raise the
spectre of global climate change to the level of imminence, and in turn, raise the political salience? There is wider debate in the US than I think there needs to be but nevertheless, even those who are willing to acknowledge the climate threat are not convinced it trumps more imminent threats like blowback from the Iraq war, the next terrorist attack on US soil, or possible Iranian acquisition of nuclear weapons. Hence the reason Ahmadinejad stole Ban Ki Moon’s news cycle.
When the job of the President and this Congress is increasingly driven by crises rather than long-term planning to meet emerging challenges — especially the greatest collective action problem perhaps the world has ever known — it would take someone fiercely determined like former Vice President Al Gore (who thundered away at the UN today in his call to arms against climate change) to manage crises without allowing the total usurpation of a long-term agenda.