Generosity in Copenhagen

Caught in indescribably desperate times, my great grandmother Moriah Burke departed from the docks of Cork, Ireland and sailed to the United States using the last bit of money her parents had. At 14, she never saw her family or Ireland again.  Somehow she ended up in the poor Irish community in old Allegheny (now the North Side of Pittsburgh) living with distant relatives that she had not met before.

She never forgot her family nor did she forget that difficult life experience. Each day for the rest of her years, she would place food outside her kitchen window for the passing homeless families. When she baked an apple pie, she baked two-one for the family and one for the homeless who may be nearby. Her home was a known stopping place for the poor.

I thought about her today in Copenhagen. More to the point I thought about her spirit of generosity–giving to others without looking for a reward.

If there is to be a viable climate treaty among the many sovereign nations of the world, it will come not by loud demands, nor by blaming others for past failures but by old-fashion generosity. This must sound terribly naïve, but if there is to be progress here in Copenhagen and that is completely uncertain at this moment, negotiators must put down their unhelpful rhetoric and come forward with generous gifts of commitments.  It is time to end the vicious cycle of finger pointing and supplant it with a virtuous cycle of giving commitments to the world and to our children’s future.

Lead nations of the world can start by pledging to cut emissions at a pace that protects the planet. These cuts must be on a scale that reflects current emissions patterns and capacity to invest in new technologies.  Wealthy nations must also commit to providing the same 21st century technology and needed adaptation assistance to poor nations who are already struggling to cope with climate change while meeting their basic needs.  We must find a way to help them skip over the 20th century dependence on fossil fuel and move to a clean energy future.

Let us not forget those who need our help. By helping the world to transform to a clean economy, we may be protecting our children’s future.  Will the spirit of generosity emerge in Copenhagen at this time? We shall see.

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Published: December 11, 2009