The Complete Idiot’s Guide to being a Head of State at the Earth Summit

Hi kids! Have you been watching the proceedings of the Earth Summit in Johannesburg? Do you wish that YOU too could take bold commitments to save the world and turn them into mushy language full of loopholes, wiggle room, and ambiguity GUARANTEED to ensure you never have to lift a finger to save the planet???

Well now you CAN! Let’s pretend you’re a real world leader in Johannesburg! Here’s what you should do when handed a draft agreement.

Let’s say this draft contains the following statement:

All countries agree to phase out coal as an energy source.

Isn’t that just awful? So clear and so simple a child could have written it, but it’ll mean a lot of work for you when you get home. It may also make some of those pals of yours a little bit upset. They might not buy you any more elections! So let’s swing into action!

Now, if you’re a national delegate, you can tell the Chairman that you want to put that statement in brackets. Brackets mean you’re not entirely happy with that text, and you’d like to strangle it. Go on. Any country can do it, all by themselves, for any reason at all. Brackets are cheap, so sprinkle them liberally throughout any text that suggest actually doing anything! It’s so easy!!!

[All countries agree to phase out coal as an energy source.]

Now that you’ve got it in brackets, let’s add some cool inactivating phrases. Personally, I’ve always liked “take measures to.” Watch!

[All countries agree to {take measures to} phase out coal as an energy source.]

Still, that’s a bit too crisp. So let’s reach into our document hat and find another nifty nugget. How about “have instruments in place”??? Sounds like lawyers will get involved! Now THAT ought to slow things down!

[All countries agree to {take measures to} {have instruments in place to} phase out coal as an energy source.]

Now, our commitment is a little lopsided, so lets look at a couple conditional clauses for the second half. Let’s try the ever popular, “inter alia, where possible”! Now we’ve got a spiffy little loophole!

[All countries agree to {take measures to} {have instruments in place to} phase out {inter alia, where possible} coal as an energy source.]

Super-duper! Now, by putting one little phrase in front of the entire sentence, we can make it look like we value talking to everybody before doing anything. If we word it right, we’ll find ourselves making a commitment to simply TALK ABOUT making a commitment! Outstanding!!!! So, let’s “Develop multi-stakeholder approaches with the aim to,” shall we?

[All countries agree to {develop multi-stakeholder approaches with the aim to {take measures to} {have instruments in place to} phase out {inter alia, where possible} coal as an energy source.]

But wait a minute, we’ve been talking for ten years about some of these subjects, and talking is really, really tiring. So let’s see if we can’t change this into a commitment to THINKING about TALKING about taking action. Oh boy oh boy! Let’s “Consider adopting plans to”!!! Rockin!

[All countries agree to {consider adopting plans to} {develop multi-stakeholder approaches, with the aim to {take measures to} {have instruments in place to} phase out {inter alia, where possible} coal as an energy source.]

And there we have it! A masterpiece of syntactical inaction designed to send you home from Johannesburg with zippity-do-dah diddley-squat to do!!!

This would be an excellent time to use your new found leisure to take up a hobby, one you might practice, inter alia, where possible, in front to the fire. How about those violin lessons you’ve been putting off???

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