The silence is profound but strangely incomplete, as the quiet thickness of the water carries the soft scraping of grazing creatures to your ears. The weightlessness is soothing but not quite total, the lethargic grouper gently bobbing with his mass, mirroring your own breath-induced undulations. The vivid vibrancy of the vital colors harks back to the delicate grandeur of the finest botanical gardens, though these winding paths, raised beds, fragile trellises and inviting bowers have been shaped by their own design, surpassing the wonder and finery of the most skillful hands with the simple passage of aquatic time. The minute coral heads stretch longingly into the passing waters. A group of young box fish pilot their yellow cuboid forms amongst some red-hued tentacles, clumsily foraging. The dark eyes of a spotted moray eel leer out from his calcified castle, matching his markings and giving him an even more mythological flavor. The magnificent but terrible form of a white-tip reef shark cruises above as an ominous silhouette, a shadow reminding you that down in this realm it is not man that rules.
With more sound but in the same manner, the elephant rule the plains. Journeying to the ends of their earth, they track the meandering rains and browse the life-giving greenery, their sonorous sub-sonic calls falling on all ears and announcing their lordly satisfaction. Carrying across the waters, their deep resonance prickles the senses of kindred kings, the big bears that rule their own wooded slopes. They consider everything to be both friend and food, and make stealth and oafishness their trade in equal measure. Relaying this message of majesty, their husky roars break out from the forest and rise up into the clouded kingdom of the warm mountains, the eerie elfin woodlands found rarely in this world. The calls drift around the dwarf trees, slowly moving through the mists and moss, looking in vain for a mighty sovereign. As it becomes almost a dying whisper, it is echoed from up on a deep green leaf, a short, shrill trill from a bright blue tree frog, a humble ruler more by default than by domination.
Such sights, smells and sounds are all food for the soul, boundless reflections of purity that offer the beholder more than just visual splendor. Their untold philosophical worth to our busy, troubled humanity is really without peer, while their role in the functioning of our still natural world has value greater than the greatest of all economies. The richest of ironies is the apparent neglect of this indescribable significance. Without being checked, our penchant for burning things will dangerously exacerbate any natural climatic trends through the greenhouse effect, and leave the reefs bleached and lifeless, the elephant diminished and wandering, the bears more confused and the cloud forests but a memory. The calls of nature’s kingship which carry the story of life itself will be resigned to sadly verbose descriptions in the books of our children. This brings us to the current tale, where the judgement of both ourselves and our environment lies in the hands of the political few, currently congregating in the Danish city of Copenhagen.
The sea chose to cloak the coastal city in haunting mystery during the opening hours of the UN climate change conference. Both the neo-gothic buildings and the rotating blades of the wind turbines periodically disappeared into the fog as we approached the Bella Centre on the unmanned electric metro, our charge presumably being powered by the spinning offshore sentinels. Taking stock as the freezing air drew away our morning vagueness, the homogenously well-shod characters in the registration queue revealed their true international identity, musical accents and strange dialects not heeding the hats, scarves and gloves that they hid behind. Steaming cups of fair-trade coffee were being shared by elaborately dressed activists while a few low budget climate skeptics waved printed handouts at the uninterested line of NGO members, at that point more interested in shelter than in dialog. Still, there remained an undeniable electricity in the air, an uncertainty that was quiet but not calm, the changeable tone of the voices revealing the magnitude of the occasion. Being admitted with our tattered nomination letters and filing past the courteous but edgy security guards, we were met with both an ecologically sensible temperature rise and a marvelously random drama: while a group of South American tribesman beat their drums and blew the horns of their forefathers, a pretty blond girl cycled leisurely past selling organic apples from a basket, a few suited and serious delegates were solving problems over some creamed caffeine, and the bright eyes of all the world were hurrying past to various side events, overflowing with the newfound hope and excitement that has been growing in the past weeks as momentum has built.
Some whispers say that this is the most important international meeting since WWII, while the more zealous insist it’s the most significant in the history of mankind. Whichever way, the negotiations between the plethora of countries that grace Bella’s halls will decide how the industrial world compensates the emerging countries for the climatic damage they’ve inflicted, what the flow of finances will look like to help the poorer countries conserve and adapt, and how these emissions cuts and responsibilities will be shared out. However, at present it, is looking relatively unlikely to draw together a proper, international, legally binding ‘Copenhagen Protocol’; we’ll probably see a ‘framework’ created, with the details filled in later next year. The preparatory discussions have primarily become mired around the responsibilities of the ‘North’ and ‘South’, the negotiations at times more closely resembling an unsuccessful children’s tea party than a progressive climate summit. This is where the magnificent power of true altruism, the selflessness that we witness at battle lines, in the family, and on the pavements, is entirely necessary to resolve this most challenging of problems. Greater harm to both humanity and the nature in which we reside will only be prevented by some level of self-sacrifice. These next two weeks will tell indeed.