Dennis Meadows, author of The Limits to Growth gave a bit of wake-up call of an interview to der Spiegel as the Copenhagen conference kicked off. It featured this gem of an exchange:

"SPIEGEL ONLINE: How do you deal with the fact that your analyses have failed to bring about any real changes?

Meadows: A long time ago I thought we would have to achieve a total utopia in order to avoid total collapse. Today I am somewhat more balanced. For me personally it is enough if I make the world a little better than it would have been without me. Everyone should rethink their own lifestyle, their carbon footprint and try to think one step ahead into the future.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: What has the reaction been to this kind of advice?

Meadows: A fashion editor once asked me about lifestyle changes. I asked her how many pairs of shoes she had. It was 18. I advised her that three pairs would be enough. Unfortunately the article was never published. Many habits are deeply rooted and it takes practice to get rid of them."

A far meatier presentation of Mr Meadow's views comes in this speech he gave last November at the Central European University in Budapest. Uncomfortable stuff.

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Copenhagen this time of year is not the easiest place to sell global warming. Last Friday night the only thing warming the city centre (well, for half the population) were the many giant posters of Sonia Rykiel's new lingerie collection.

Gratuitous? Hardly - once you've peeked through H&M's Sustainability Report: let no unsound productive practices come between a woman and her knickers.

There are other, more serious, reminders of the sustainability principle from the off. Passengers arriving in Copenhagen on their still non-biofuel powered, jackboot-sized carbon footprinted aeroplanes are greeted by the words "Stop climate change here!" visible on the sail of a yacht anchored immediately under the flight path.

By this time visitors flying SAS will have read though Scanorama, the in-flight magazine, which features an interview with Connie Hedegaard the Danish Minister for Climate & Energy. The minister is refreshingly straightforward and must make PR executives wince:

[Interviewer] "You normally bike from your home to that something you do for the climate?"

[Minister] "No, it's just as much for blowing the cobwebs out of my head and for exercise"

Into the city itself and "Hopenhagen" is the brave theme everywhere (as in the top photo and sponsored, it seems, by McDonald's) occasionally interspersed with "Til Leje" signs seeking renters for office/shop space.

And on the property buy side, residential apartments near Nordea bank's HQ in the Christianhavn district (near opposite the shot, below, of Greenpeace's Arctic Sunrise) are running at over €18k/square metre. A little surprising for a place with (allegedly) one of the worst housing slumps in Europe.

How, one wonders, will budgets be found to pay the price of environmental sustainability in a global economy where even the best-off have financial worries?

A compact paper was published last week by Benjamin Jones and Michael Keen of the IMF called Climate Policy and the Recovery and puts this debate even-handedly and coolly in context. Featuring the large and sad disclaimer:

"The views expressed herein are those of the author(s) and should not be attributed to the IMF, its Executive Board, or its management"

it is worth reading beyond the executive summary.

Prevailing macroeconomic conditions make the task of pricing pollution more sensitive but no less necessary. Useful policy changes would not be impossible to live with; and there is something precious in it for those balancing the most precarious and tax-revenue starved fiscal positions.

Hopenhagen for Christmas.

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