27 October 2010

My First One-on-One Conversation with a Politician

"Excuse me," the man said, "does this train go to Nagoya?"
"Yes," I said while smiling. "It's two stops from here. Do you want a hand with that bag?" The man was lugging a box from Noritake (a fine porcelain store) and a large suitcase onto the subway.
"Yes, thank you."

We exchanged pleasantries while riding the subway and it turns out I was talking to the former Minister for the Environment of Nicaragua. He was here for the COP (COP stands for the Conference of the Parties to the Convention of Biological Diversity) conference that's being held in Nagoya this year. I asked him in what capacity he was here since he was no longer the Minister for the Environment and he said that he was just here for public relations and to stir up awareness. And also, a very important political position: dirty joke teller. Apparently he likes to tell dirty jokes when he travels.

We continued to talk and he told me that all of the important discussions had already been had before COP 10 had convened. There would be nothing talked about spur of the moment, nothing added to the agenda. There wasn't even anything to sign - it had all been done before any of the nations arrived in Japan. This confirmed a long-standing belief I've had about large, multi-national meetings like COP: they're useless.

Meetings like these (G8, G20, etcetera) could be held over the internet and would save millions of dollars, time, energy, and resources. Instead the host countries waste all of those things for the prestige of hosting these meetings. What a joke. If everything can get agreed upon and signed without having an in-person meeting, then why have one?

There are two other things about giant conferences like COP that bother me: infrastructure that gets built only because there's a big event in town and wasteful advertising.


This is a new bike rental station. I realize that bike rental stations don't fall under infrastructure but I wasn't sure how to classify them. These bike rental stations popped up in about a one kilometer radius of the main COP 10 conference location a week before it convened. They're covered in COP 10 advertising so there's little chance their arrival didn't just happen coincide with the COP 10 conference.

I'm not against bike rentals stations. I think having these stations is a fantastic idea and riding a bike is a great way to see almost any city. Nagoya is quite flat so it's an especially good idea here. My problem is that a project like this likely wouldn't have been undertaken without the COP 10 conference being here. I liken it to Vancouver finally getting a Light Rapid Transit line from downtown Vancouver to the airport. It had been talked about ever since the LRT system first started but it took the Olympics coming to town to finally get it done. Why does something like the Olympics (or in this case a conference whose size pales in comparison to the size of the Olympics) have to come to town to get really useful infrastructure built? If Vancouver was able to throw the kind of money it did at the Olympics then it easily could have afforded to build the Canada Line years ago, so I don't buy the line that the Olympics were necessary to get the money to do it.


Usually the Nagoya TV Tower is lit up with regular lights but since COP 10 is being held here all of the lights were changed to green. I think this is an unnecessary waste of energy - especially to advertise for a conference about environmentalism. It's also a waste of light bulbs - how many new ones had to be purchased to make the tower green? A better message would have been to have the lights on the TV tower turned off for the conference's two week duration. Having the tower darkened would have caused just as much conversation and would have saved a lot of energy and money.

Meeting this politician was both good and bad. Bad because it made me angry about how much of a waste of time the COP 10 conference is. Good because he was an interesting and funny man. When I asked him what he bought from Noritake he smiled and said, "A beautiful vase for my wife. I have to silence the beast."

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