Let's Not Talk About Liability

This is the second guest blog post from Rev. Peggy Clarke, representing Unitarian Universalists at the Paris climate negotiations. This was written shortly before her team's meeting with the US team writing the section on Damage and Loss. Peggy is using the US's current share of annual emissions (16%) to make her point, which is even more dramatic when we look at the historical share of US emissions (27%), posted below from World Resource Institute data.  -Tim  

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Three words not allowed on the table when talking with US negotiators today: Liability, Compensation or Restitution. That’s what we were told before our briefing with the team working on language related to loss and damage in the document being written at COP21. If we want to use our time wisely, we won’t utter any of those words. 

It’s an interesting stand. I remember breaking a mirror as a teenager. I slammed a door and the whole thing shattered all over the room. My mother- the focus of my fury- came running in to help. We cleaned the glass up together, but the new mirror was on me. I broke it, I buy it. I was accountable for my actions. I said I was sorry and compensated her for the mirror. I haven’t slammed a door since. 

Isn’t the US in a similar position? We created a problem. Now it’s time for us to help clean up the mess. The US is responsible for 16% of the world’s carbon emissions, second only to China with the entire European Union as a distant third. We have 30% of the population China has. So, when island nations are disappearing or drought is creating a food crisis in Africa as a result of the climate change we are creating, is it fair to say that we won’t accept any legal blame, that we won’t be held accountable for our actions?

That’s not a rhetorical question. I’m wrestling with it myself. Maybe it’s better to move on, to accept that we are where we are and let it go. Maybe the politically savvy who say, “Don’t even mention it” understand the best way to approach this multilateral, multicultural, multi-everything Agreement. We have a Congress committed to stagnation; why give them a reason to reject this document and all the good work being done here in Paris?

But something keeps nagging at me. If we create a problem and feel almost none of the consequences, what’s stopping us from doing it again? If we don’t even have to say we’re sorry after breaking the mirror, let along buy a new one, what’s to stop us from slamming doors all over town?

-Rev. Peggy Clarke


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  • commented 2015-12-07 01:46:59 -0500
    I Love Paris💙Alpha Blondy
  • commented 2015-12-04 11:13:58 -0500
    I believe that Rosemary is correct. It’ll take something big, like people in revolt over the power structure, worldwide. Part of me believes that those in power won’t mind at all when large numbers of people die from the effects of a changing climate. They’ll be in their high towers, watching in safety.
  • commented 2015-12-04 10:52:15 -0500
    I appreciate Rev. Clarke’s struggle to have something constructive come out of the climate talks. But I don’t see how this is possible. Corporate power and bottom line thinking (greed) is on display and influencing US policy on gun control as well as climate. Only people in the streets will force some change, not the usual liberal approach of hoping and pretending that democracy exists and that people in power will negotiate in good faith.