Vol. 35 No. 12 · 20 June 2013

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How can we live with it?

Thomas Jones tells us that the ‘signatories of the Copenhagen Accord in 2009 agreed it would be nice’ if the average temperature rose no more than 2°C by 2100 (LRB, 23 May). But the Copenhagen Conference was unable to agree anything at all in its formal deliberations, and was saved from embarrassment only when a self-selecting group of five countries – Brazil, China, India, South Africa and the US – drafted the Copenhagen Accord outside normal channels. It is an informal document with no legal status, and as such does not have ‘signatories’, if that term implies an agreement that could ever come into legal force.

The Accord doesn’t, in any case, say anything to the effect that ‘it would be nice’ to hold to the 2°C limit. Far from committing to global emissions reductions, it says that ‘social and economic development and poverty eradication are the first and overriding priorities of developing countries.’ This reiterates the permission given to the major industrialising countries in the 1992 Framework Convention, the basis of law on this issue, to emit as much as they see fit. The Kyoto Protocol, which was agreed in 1997 and entered into force in 2005, tried to give some content to the Convention, but it too endorsed the permissions granted by the Convention and placed no concrete obligations of any sort on the major industrialising countries.

None of these countries’ notifications of what they intended to do in response to the Accord made any commitment to absolute emissions reductions and all of them forcefully insisted on their commitment to the legal position that they could not be required to do so, which was indeed the case.

By the end of the first commitment period under Kyoto, which ended last year, global emissions were enormously higher than they were in 1990 and climate change policy had achieved nothing. How could it have, when the emissions of the major industrialising countries alone would have been enough to derail it? The policy is now being abandoned by every significant emitter outside the UK and the EU (and they too are showing signs of disengagement). The world’s three largest economies (the US, China and Japan, which together account for more than 40 per cent of global GDP) and five largest emitters (China, the US, India, Russia and Japan, responsible for over 60 per cent of global emissions) now have no Kyoto commitments at all. It’s time to give up altogether on an astronomically costly policy which never had any chance of success, has completely failed, and which now clings to life only in the form of such fantastic proposals as China abandoning coal in the foreseeable future, a carbon tax that will cut global emissions, the entire Sahara being turned into a forest, and parasols the size of football pitches being put into orbit.

David Campbell
University of Leeds

Recently, in duty-free, when I asked to be spared the huge, thick plastic bag for the single small item I had bought, the assistant said there was no point in living if it had to be with constant deprivation.

Laetitia van Haren
Versonnex, France

Find better victims

Was I the only reader to be unconvinced by James Meek’s two examples of ordinary people who have lost out in Cyprus (LRB, 9 May)? First, there was Panikos Demetriou, whose plan for retiring at the age of fifty consisted of placing €178,000 in a single bank account and living off the interest. The kindest word for this would be ‘optimistic’, given the inevitable impact of inflation, the strong likelihood of falling interest rates and (since 2008) the well-publicised frailty of the European banking system. I felt mildly sorry for Demetriou, but these feelings were tempered by the fact that I have no prospect of retiring at fifty, nor do I have a spare €178,000 to invest.

Meek’s second example was an anonymous individual who had deposited €800,000 in the bank in order to get a €500,000 loan to buy a house in the UK. Did Meek not feel the need to push his informant on why he hadn’t just used his money to buy the house, instead of lumbering himself with a huge mortgage (monthly repayments of around €3000, assuming a 25-year mortgage and 5 per cent interest rate)? Meek could even have asked himself whether there might be other motives behind this curious decision. Speculative property investment and tax evasion strike me as possibilities.

Tim Gutteridge

Not exactly zero

Neal Ascherson writes: ‘The Second World War, followed by inflation and currency change, severed the artery of wealth transmission by legacy. In property terms as in everything else, Germany in 1945 started from zero’ (LRB, 6 June). I was four years old then, but when the Reichsmark was abandoned in 1948 my parents received their Kopfgeld (‘bounty’) of 40 Deutschmark like everyone else and rebuilt their lives with 80 DM and a few pieces of old furniture. Those who owned factories or shops full of hoarded goods had a better start. Even Alfried Krupp, who at Nuremberg was sentenced to 12 years’ imprisonment for employing slave labour from concentration camps, was pardoned three years later and had his factories handed back. This surely was wealth transmission by legacy, and it operated for all industrialists. How else can we explain the continuity of the big industrial conglomerates such as Krupp, Thyssen, Siemens, BASF, AEG and others from their beginnings in the 19th century through the Third Reich to today?

Matthias Tomczak
Port Adelaide, Australia

Iniquity in Romford

Bernard Porter mentions that Mark Roodhouse singles out Romford and Northern Ireland as centres of the ‘black’ trade in his Black Market Britain 1939-55 (LRB, 23 May). In the postwar period in Northern Ireland, the privations of rationing produced some rather unlikely transgressors – among them, my maternal grandmother. Her speciality was to smuggle butter under her stylish hat on bus trips across the border. Happily, it being Ireland, the weather was never warm enough for the butter to melt. Northern Ireland has graduated from such low-level infractions, condoned, Roodhouse comments, by border communities, to today’s thriving informal economy, which includes illegally manufactured cigarettes (‘cheap whites’), drugs, counterfeit goods, stolen goods, money-laundering and fuel smuggling. Paramilitaries had a key role in developing this economy and are thought to retain a strong presence in the criminal gangs involved in these activities.

James Grainger
Bishop’s Stortford, Hertfordshire

Alles Ständische

As a student of Tocqueville who unfortunately knows no German, I am fascinated by the correspondence about Marx’s phrase ‘Alles Ständische’. Jem Thomas’s letter suggests to me that ‘ständisch, Stand’ are exactly what Tocqueville was concerned with in Democracy in America (Letters, 6 June). In his opening sentence Tocqueville says that nothing caught his attention in the United States so much as ‘l’égalité des conditions’. This phrase has given modern readers and translators a lot of trouble, as ‘conditions’ nowadays are almost always taken to be physical – material – economic. I have long preferred to use the word ‘status’ to express Tocqueville’s meaning, and it is clear from Thomas’s letter that this is exactly what Marx had in mind. ‘Alles Ständische und Stehende verdampft’ would have given Tocqueville no trouble (he did know German); but he would of course have differed from Marx in not wanting or expecting a proletarian order to ensue. What is most striking to me is that both sages laid so much stress on the same phenomenon – the collapse of the ancien régime. The irreversibility of this calamity may seem self-evident to us, but it was hardly so in Restoration Europe, the Europe of Metternich, Nicholas II and Guizot, which shaped both men. By Thomas’s account, Weber merely deepens and intensifies Tocqueville’s anxious account of the new democratic regime.

All that was solid had indeed melted into air, and we are still struggling with the consequences. I seem to glimpse a new framework of historical interpretation, which will leave the stale orthodoxies of left and right on the scrapheap at last.

Hugh Brogan
University of Essex

Different for Grandees

Diarmaid MacCulloch writes that ‘in one vital respect’ the Council of Trent ‘altered the life of every Roman Catholic’: ‘there was no such thing as a church wedding in the first millennium of church history’ (LRB, 9 May). In the East, however, Justinian legislated in 538 that, while ordinary people could constitute their marriage by intent alone, without matrimonial contracts, grandees who wished to marry without such contracts had to present themselves at a house of worship and have a marriage certificate made out, witnessed by at least three clerics.

David Miller

Who benefits?

R.W. Johnson attributes to Angela Merkel the observation that ‘the EU accounts for 9 per cent of the world’s people, 15 per cent of its GDP and 50 per cent of its welfare payments’, and suggests that this discrepancy is unsustainable (Letters, 23 May). But discrepancies of this sort are inevitable in a divided and unequal world. India has 20 per cent of the world’s children and 30 per cent of all children in poverty – is that also unsustainable? It certainly bodes ill for India, economically as well as socially. The US accounts for 5 per cent of the world’s population and nearly 20 per cent of the world’s prison population: again, a discrepancy that surely cries out to be redressed. Profligate France, with only half of 1 per cent of the world’s land area, has nearly 5 per cent of its Unesco World Heritage sites – and let’s not even mention its cheeses. The numbers only tell the stories we use them to tell – and, unsurprisingly, some stories are easier to tell than others.

Phil Edwards
Manchester Metropolitan University

Advantage Pyongyang

Richard Lloyd Parry refers to molybdenum as a ‘rare earth metal’ (LRB, 9 May). Chemists use that term to talk about elements 57 to 70; they’re also called ‘lanthanides’ because lanthanum is the first element in the series. Molybdenum has an atomic number of 42 and is a ‘transition metal’. It isn’t particularly rare, by the by, being the 54th most abundant element in the Earth’s crust.

Bernard Liengme
Antigonish, Nova Scotia

In Gravesend

Iain Sinclair’s perceptions notwithstanding, it isn’t all rain, sodden trainers and violent death in Gravesend (LRB, 9 May). The following was forwarded to me last week:

Title: Provision of Elves’ Hats
Council: Gravesham Borough Council
Category: Leisure Services, Performing Arts

The Council wishes to identify suppliers of elves’ hats who will be able to provide c.1200 in number ahead of the 2013 Christmas season. The hats will be required to be available in a range of sizes. The hats should be available in green and red colours but if other colour options are available please advise.

Grace Kenny
London W14

Too much?

Re: Christian Lorentzen’s piece on Alice Munro (LRB, 6 June). I just ate ten two-pound boxes of See’s chocolates. I feel terrible. The chocolates must be bad.

Robert Barrett
Santa Monica, California

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