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12.23.09

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Christmas in Copenhagen

The further adventures of Sally Smart, cub reporter

By Juliane Poirier


Christmas Eve in Copenhagen. Shivering in the icy winds from far off the Baltic Sea, cub reporter Sally Smart scuttles miserably down Amager Boulevard, bits of ice edging her eyelids. No one from back home would have recognized the slim reporter from The Weekly Planet newspaper, now resembling a sidewalk dirigible in a down overcoat, massive woolen hat and gloves. She might have passed for the awkward heroine from Bridget Jones's Diary but for her utter lack of pluck and Colin Firth. "No," Sally tells herself, "I'm not going to get a date in the land of Vikings any more than I'm going to get a story."

She kicks at some ice. "Oh, why did I do it?" Sally asks herself again, upset that she had let her mother book her flight to Denmark. Sally's nonrefundable flight arrived the week after the event. Sally knows math professors can't understand calendars, and her mother's clueless attempts at consoling her made it worse.

"Copenhagen will be so much nicer without those crowds," Professor Smart had said. "You can see a lot more without demonstrators blocking the scenery, and I'm sure those bells would have given you a headache." Sally had burst into tears at the mention of the bells. "What?" The professor was often perplexed by displays of emotion. "Did I say something wrong?"

Sally had hoped to be there, standing in the middle of the city when hundreds of old church bells rang 350 times for a sustainable climate, once for each particle per million of allowable carbon. Something of a romantic, Sally believed the resonance of bells would make everyone feel all Kumbaya and willing to do the right thing—to make serious and binding carbon-reduction goals, and give money to poorer countries to help implement right climate actions.

Just 22 and fresh out of journalism school, Sally wanted something beautiful to report about the not-so-beautiful conference. But she missed it entirely—missed the bells and the excitement, the massive demonstrations and arrests, the near-collapse of negotiations, the meeting of over a hundred world leaders and their wimpy accord. "Maybe I can write a travel piece," she pondered feebly. "Maybe something about the food?"

She thinks instead about what might happen now that COP-15 is over. "If this accord is all we have," she reasons, "will half a million innocent people die in developing nations a few decades from now because of what we consume in the United States? If everyone gives up, will that tiny island nation drown, will we have a 7 degree Celsius increase in the middle of North America, will the Sierras stop delivering the right amount of water, will the food crops be ruined, will people starve, and will those weird diseases wipe out as many humans as predicted? Am I the only person left on Earth who still thinks these are important questions?"

Sally tries to stop thinking about it. "It's Christmas Eve," she tells herself gloomily. "Lighten up!" She decides to look for a cafe and celebrate alone over a pickled herring sandwich on Danish cracker bread.

All of a sudden she hears faint music she recognizes: "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day." "Longfellow," Sally says hopefully. "Henry Longfellow wrote the words to that song. It's a bit somber but ends well." The notes grow distinct before a hotel built of pale stone. She pushes on the glass door and steps inside. There, a young man in jeans and turtleneck plays carols to a near empty lobby, singing in accented English. She looks at him. He looks at her. They smile.

Suddenly Sally feels optimistic about the future of climate protection. Noticing that the cello case at his feet is adorned with climate-protection slogans in multiple languages, Sally pulls out her microrecorder, newly inspired. "The same church bells that rang in concert during COP-15 will soon ring in a Danish Christmas," Sally whispers into the mike. "Meanwhile, a lone cellist plays carols in Copenhagen, the magical city of Hans Christian Andersen, where we are reminded that a heartfelt fantasy—eco-justice on a cool earth—is always worth hoping for."


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