In an editorial written by the British newspaper The Guardian and carried by 56 newspapers in 45 countries, the writers said a rise of 3 to 4 degrees centigrade - "the smallest increase we can prudently expect to follow inaction - would parch continents, turning farmland into desert. Half of all species could become extinct, untold millions of people would be displaced, whole nations drowned by the sea."
The British delegate called it "crunch time for the planet." In that annoying moralizing that seems integral to the climate-change debate, the delegates from 192 countries were greeted by videos of children from around the world urging them to act. "Please help save the world," implores a little girl.
It's especially maddening when one considers that the event is taking place in the wake of the "climategate" e-mail revelations, which have exposed and discredited the global warming industry once and for all in the eyes of many.
Saving the world, according to Danish news accounts, requires limousines, lots of limousines - 1,200 of them. Emergency supplies of limos had to be shipped in from all over Europe. Combined with the 140 aircraft needed to fly in an estimated 110 heads of state and government, the Copenhagen conference will approximate the greenhouse emissions of a fair-sized city.
As is now customary at international gatherings, amorphous groups with high-minded names have threatened to disrupt or hijack the conference in pursuit of their murky goals. And as is now customary, the police brought in reinforcements, built a temporary jail in a disused brewery and purchased a new water cannon.
And even though the connection to global warming seems tenuous, the Danish sex workers' union offered each delegate a free roll in the hay.
Going back to the Clinton administration, when the president refused to submit an earlier global-warming protocol concocted in Kyoto to Congress, the U.S. has been a reluctant participant in the greenhouse-gas furor, perhaps because U.N. delegates seem to take it for granted that the U.S. should take the lead with the deepest cuts in emissions and shell out the most money for developing nations to follow suit.
The Guardian editorial singled out only the United States for a knuckle rapping. It did favorably mention President Barack Obama for his "reversal of years of U.S. obstructionism," but noted: "Even now the world finds itself at the mercy of American domestic politics, for the president cannot fully commit to the action required until the U.S. Congress has done so."
Democracies are like that. They have a way of thwarting the single-minded idealists who absolutely, positively know what's best for the rest of us.