On the Copenhagen wagon

From a Greek perspective, the Copenhagen climate summit could not come at a worse time. For one, Prime Minister George Papandreou has found another excuse to go gallivanting across the planet, leaving a carbon footprint as big as an abominable snowman's, at a time when Greece's economic woes are piling up and the country is in the international spotlight for the danger it poses to the eurozone and itself. Secondly, fears about the planet's future compound our anxiety about the immediate future of Greece, as we see the economy worsening while our leaders don't appear to be focused on averting disaster. That said, the Copenhagen world climate summit is of paramount importance to Greece as our country - with its countless coastal settlements and arid mountains - is likely to suffer greatly from the consequences of higher temperatures. Also, being a laggard in controlling carbon emissions and in adopting renewable energy sources, Greece has a lot to learn - and a lot to pledge - at Copenhagen. The proposals made by Environment, Energy and Climate Change Minister Tina Birbili ahead of the summit are a good starting point - albeit highly ambitious in terms of Greece's tardiness in developing renewable energy sources, despite the plentiful wind and sun. What the summit can do more than anything else is make Greeks wake up to the fact that climate change is going to change their lives. People need to make their personal choices regarding the amounts and forms of energy they consume but they must also hold their local and national officials accountable for their policies. Everything we do is marked by wastefulness: Traffic jams and chaotic parking contribute to slow average speeds and greater pollution; disproportionate reliance on fossil fuels for power production; houses and office buildings that are badly insulated and incapable of maintaining steady temperatures while they are heated by burning oil and gas and cooled by air-conditioning units; a lack of renewable energy sources because of red tape combined with time-consuming protests at plans to build solar and wind installations; streams, rivers and seas filled with industrial effluent and fertilizer and pesticide runoff; garbage dumps and litter all across the country. Fittingly, the Copenhagen summit coincides with yet another strike by garbage collectors in Athens, condemning citizens to live with the results of their waste and their leaders' indifference to this, while worrying about their jobs and the economy and global warming. An important aspect of our addiction to waste is reflected in the garbage strike, in which municipal trash collectors, who enjoy permanent employment, are demanding that contract workers be hired on a permanent basis. This is a long-running racket: When the contract workers become permanent, they move on from collecting trash and so new contract workers are hired. Then everyone goes on strike until the new workers are hired permanently and new contract workers are brought on - until there are far more people needed for the job while all of them are ready to go on strike. So, even as payrolls get bigger and bigger, less work gets done. It's no wonder that the public sector has sucked the life out of the economy. Athens Mayor Nikitas Kaklamanis, who says the strikers have a point and is involved in a slanging match with Interior Minister Yiannis Ragousis over the issue, plans to go to Copenhagen with a delegation from the City of Athens. Leaving Athens, its garbage and its miserable residents behind should be a relief for him - and perhaps he and other Greeks will get some ideas from the Danish capital. Because what all Greek officials need to consider is that just making the effort to make your home, your city and your administration more efficient is the first and greatest step toward limiting waste and pollution. You don't need a world summit to see that. Just look at most other cities - except Greek ones.