Gorbachev on climate change and the Berlin Wall

2009-11-10

in Economics, Politics, The environment

Mikhail Gorbachev has written an article for The Times arguing that there are similarities between the battle against climate change today and the fall of the Berlin Wall twenty years ago:

Addressing climate change demands a paradigm shift on a scale akin to that required to end the Cold War. But we need a “circuit-breaker” to escape from the business-as-usual that currently dominates the political agenda. It was the transformation brought about by perestroika and glasnost that provided the quantum leap for freedom for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, and opened the way for the democratic revolution that saved history. Climate change is complex and closely entwined with a host of other challenges, but a similar breakthrough in our values and priorities is needed.

There is not just one wall to topple, but many. There is the wall between those states which are already industrialised, and those developing countries which do not want to be held back. There is the wall between those who cause climate change, and those who suffer the consequences. There is the wall between those who heed the scientific evidence, and those who pander to vested interests. And there is the wall between the citizens who are changing their own behaviour and want strong global action, and the leaders who are so far letting them down.

He also calls on the leaders of the US, UK, India and China to attend the Copenhagen summit personally.

Of course, there are major differences between the two cases. The Berlin Wall was effectively a mechanism to hold people back from acting as they wished to, halting the movement of people from East to West Germany, and beyond. Dealing with climate change isn’t about allowing the energy people already have to be put into application, but rather about encouraging and compelling them to behave in better ways, largely for the welfare of others. That being said, it is good to see the historic importance of success or failure on this issue recognized. Hopefully, Copenhagen will go better than people are predicting.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

R.K. November 11, 2009 at 12:15 am

Such humility!

“What did my policies of perestroika and glasnost do? Why, they saved history!”

. November 12, 2009 at 2:23 pm

“Even to those who had been confident of the eventual triumph of the West, the fall of the Berlin Wall was surprisingly accidental. When 200,000 East Germans took advantage of Hungary’s decision to open its borders and fled to the West, their communist government decided to modify the travel restrictions that imprisoned them. Asked about the timing, the unbriefed propaganda minister mumbled: “As far as I know, effective immediately.” When that was reported on television, the Berliners were off. Baffled border guards who would have shot their “comrades” a week earlier let the crowd through—and a barrier that had divided the world was soon being gleefully dismantled. West Germany’s chancellor, Helmut Kohl, was so unready for history that he was out of the country.”

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