Burning up logic

June 17th, 2008
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The concluding episode of Burn Up lived up to expectations. As one might expect from a gripping mini-series, the setting is… wait for it… an international climate conference! Called Kyoto II, it’s of course set in Calgary. It starts, if you’ll pardon the pun, with the heat being turned on the U.S. (and other developed nations) to cut 25% of GHGs by 2020, 60% cut by 2050.


Enter our nasty antagonist, a backroom boy from Arrow, leading the conspiracy to scuttle the deal. NGOs, and a chanting troupe of Tibetan monks who follow him around, call him “The High Priest of Carbon”. Fronting the “Open Business Coalition” he calls Kyoto II “socialism . . . The coal stays in the ground. The cars go electric. We get 50 cents on a gallon of gas. The biggest raft of restrictive regulations since the Bolshevik Revolution!… what about the man on the street, who’s trying to put food on the table with honest, hard work, who believes in liberty, enterprise, markets that are free – all of the things that they want to stamp out. If Kyoto II becomes reality, everything our forefathers fought for, everything the West stands for, dies! “

Re-enter the poor Saudi oil workers killed in Episode I. Turns out that they had evidence their government was up to no good and paid for it with their lives! It seems the illicit surveying done in the Western Desert proves Saudi’s running out of oil – when it expected to supply the world for 60 years! “This makes Peak Oil now” – oil prices doubling overnight, world economy into freefall, energy wars – dogs and cats, sleeping together… The good news, however, according to Neve, is that “They’re going to have to go after renewables now – they’ve got no choice”.

Another sub-plot emerges: the “Re-Insurers” approaches the good guys saying they’re ready to break ranks with the Open Business Coalition because the very carbon-based businesses they invest in – oil, coal and gas – are creating the climatic conditions that will drive them bankrupt. Then, the good guys slip, under the hotel room doors of every Kyoto II delegate, a damning Pentagon-commissioned report confirming man-made warming threatens U.S. security.  The solution?  Break the Colorado River Treaty with Mexico, stealing that country’s main source of water!

And so it goes. The lead U.S. representative, an insensitive buffoon, likens Americans’ desire to have walk-in refrigerators to the legitimate development needs of China, India and Africa. With finely-honed, nuanced negotiating skills he threatens to revoke AIDS funding for small island states if they don’t submit. Thankfully, the valiant Europeans step in to say they’ll make up any shortfall. The prospect of a Katrina II is also held out if Kyoto II doesn’t pass.

Then, the U.S. starts to crack. Have the Re-Insurers have gotten to them? Our evil antagonist does not give up, however, threatening to withdraw Coalition funds from the Re-Insurers if they don’t back off. He alternates between dismissing the Saudi survey results and pleading with our protagonist to repress the information. “Economies will fail if the news gets out. Save the world from a repeat of 1929.” Our protagonist faces an agonizing dilemma!

Meanwhile, a bigwig from Washington arrives in Calgary and reverses the U.S. commitment of the day before. Kyoto II, only yesterday so tantalizingly close, is once again in jeopardy. The good guys’ proposed response is to “get really, really drunk at the ENGO party.”. It’s also a great place for our protagonist to get it back on with Neve – outdoors on the roof of the Palliser Hotel. (It’s winter in Calgary, but maybe there’s a Chinook.)

After their act of passion, Neve inspires him to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. Blackmail the U.S. – release the Saudi seismic data unless the Yanks sign Kyoto II. Neve downplays the effect of a possible oil war saying it’s preferable to a “water war, a refugee war or a food war”. By releasing the data, he will help start “the Third Energy Age – the one that will save us – the solar one, the wind one, the one that won’t kill us!”

Neve then meets the antagonist at the deserted Calgary Stampede grounds (no problem getting in late at night) and offers him a deal. If he “allows” the U.S. to sign onto Kyoto II, she’ll destroy the Saudi data. He calls her bluff, and tells her to leave town for her own good. Too late, just after leaving the Stampede, he hears a shot. Neve’s dead; another life sacrificed for the cause.

Now the conference enters its final stages. The Chinese sign on. They need more power, not less, and the answer (carbon sequestration) comes from the selfless EU. The Chinese can build 87 clean coal power stations and sell the every single carbon credit back to the EU!  A true win-win.

Our antagonist has an attack of conscience. He renounces his comrades, who tell him all they want is the Saudi data and they’ll stop killing people. Meanwhile, our protagonist, in a jolly mood because of the Chinese signings and unaware of Neve’s demise, tells Neve’s voicemail that he loves her. He shows up at her suitably downscale hotel (looks like the old homeless shelter) and learns the awful truth.

Back at Kyoto II, the crowds inside and out stand and cheer the PRC’s signing. “Thank you, China. U.S., you have the floor,” the Chairwoman intones. The U.S. comes through, but it’s a trick, of course – a parallel treaty to share all technologies, “with a particular emphasis on nuclear power… which will cut carbon emissions without cutting the growth of the world economy.”

Asked one more time, the U.S. will not sign Kyoto II. The delegates and all the previously peaceful demonstrators outside boo. Both groups start to clap in unison as the recalcitrant American delegation stomps. Outside the conference, Calgary’s finest struggle to keep U.S. flag-burning protestors under control.

Pan to the inevitable showdown between our principals – on a freely-accessible skyscraper rooftop. Our antagonist finally lets the cat out of the bag and clues us all in on the grand U.S. climate change conspiracy. Carbon dioxide, he asserts, “is part of our foreign policy. The Himalayas melt . . . rice crops failing, famine in China . . . hundreds of thousands of people die, probably millions . . . it’s cheaper than the military. It’s definitely more efficient. Political, economic, military dominance assured. God bless global warming!” While the U.S. itself is not immune from the impacts of global warming, “it’s a question of who’s the last man standing”.

Our protagonist has a brilliant solution. “The world doesn’t have to go to hell – just the economy… the crash is coming and when it does, something better will come out of the mess, something much better!” Give me the data”, our antagonist pleads. “I can get it out of here”. Why? “Because there’s a chance you might not be wrong, and that’s good enough for me.” The Saudi data is turned over.

Rid of the data, our protagonist is now off the hook with the shadowy American operatives that knocked off Neve, while our erstwhile antagonist turns the data over to the good guys. Burn Up fades out to snippets of news broadcasts describing global meltdown, panicked buying, record unemployment but, also positive reports – a thickening of Antarctic ice! . . . With the end of the oil age, the world is being reborn, or at least the ice caps.

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