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Monday, December 21, 2009

Copenhagen from a personal perspective

Several years ago, I attended an international meeting in Aarhus, Denmark. Aarhus is the largest city on Jutland, the mainland part of Denmark. I liked the town and the people a lot, although it was what passes for summer in Denmark, and the whole town smelt a bit like off butter.

This meeting was one in a series to develop the International Biosafety Protocol, for trade in genetically modified organisms. The round in which I was involved actually failed, but the process was restarted later and led to the Cartegana Protocol, named after the city in Colombia where some of the meetings were later held.

So, the Copenhagen meeting reminded me a little of my own experience in Aarhus. I know how cumbersome these meetings are, how glacial the progress can be.

I was not surprised Copenhagen was a bit of a flop.

This whole meliorist tendency in modern thinking, this belief in social improvement, has been a feature of all our lives throughout my lifetime. Whenever it is inclined to irritate me, I remind myself that the environmental movement, the animal welfare movement, all of the schemes for the betterment of mankind that have come out of the big American foundations, the universities, the agencies of the United Nations, have given otherwise unemployable biology graduates like me a reasonable career in public service.

In many ways, Copenhagen was the final apotheosis of this entire international betterment movement. It contained all the high hopes, the noble sentiments, the "best and the brightest" of the jetset intelligensia, the hopers, the dreamers - and all the hypocrisy - of such movements. It was a synod of smug.

Julian

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