COPENHAGEN — I’ve always loved walking this city, especially in the late winter months when it seems to lie enshrouded in clouds on the mouth of the Baltic Sea, its canals and row-houses dusted in the most delicate frost.
Visiting Copenhagen again recently, on the eve of a conference, I found no frost — but Copenhagen’s plazas and broad avenues are just as large and refreshing as when I first saw them a few years ago. The city’s larger, outer harbor remains a bit bleak and industrial for my taste, but the historic buildings and royal houses in the center of the city, with their spires and towers, and the narrow streets near the University of Copenhagen, all still seem quite elegant to my provincial eye.
I’ve arrived a few days before an industry conference called Carbon Insights 2007, a three-day shindig for traders, investors, scientists and other professionals who work in the emerging world-wide market in carbon emissions. In the few free days I have before the event, I’m visiting old pubs and restaurants and trying to meet some of the city’s 1.2m Danes before I have to start writing about CERs and ERUs, AAUs and EUAs — just some of the carbon-related permits and instruments created under that multilateral monstrosity known as the Kyoto Protocol.
As I find out during the conference’s inaugural reception, this is actually a very hot market. One quick look around the exhibit halls at the Bella conference center shows that bulge bracket firms like Merrill Lynch, Morgan Stanley, and Cantor Fitzgerald have all gone green. There are also a host of start-ups, environmental brokers, carbon securities firms and certification specialists. As I walked around, my mind reeled at the dizzying array of industry newsletters and advisory services; somewhere deep inside, I marvelled at the sheer financial ingenuity of man.
On Monday night, the organisers, a Copenhagen-based research firm called PointCarbon, said they expected 1,600 delegates — traders, lawyers, investment bankers and policy analysts — from around the world. By Tuesday night, one could almost smell the money emanating from some of the more enthusiastic delegates.
Al Gore spoke on the first morning. I don’t know if he flew in specifically to give the keynote speech and, to be honest, I don’t really know what he said. For some reason the press wasn’t allowed to hear his speech. But I’ve since gotten over the snub. I later listened (with what can only be called glee) as several US delegates told me that Gore had been insipid, uninspiring, and wooden.
But his presence here was significant considering the small size of this nascent market. How small? For three days, commodity news services reported that liquidity and volatility in global carbon markets were dampened due to the “absence of traders” from their desks. No surprise there: They were all drinking Carlsberg in Copenhagen.
I attended most of the sessions, many of which dealt with the development of carbon markets and the link with traditional energy markets. But when speakers began to drone on about operational entities, additionality, and EU directives, I knew I had to step out for air.
One day, I took lunch in the Husmanns Vinstue, a restaurant from 1888 located in a basement of a building in the center of the city. It’s a dark, smoky, noisy little place but, somehow, I felt at home. At the suggestion of the waiter and the lovely, silver-haired couple to my right, I ordered a variety of traditional dishes, a pilsner and, of course, aquavit.
But once you’ve had your third aquavit, you know you’re on a quick road to ruin. It’s not that the bread and butter, the herring and pork, beets and lard aren’t sufficient to slow the effects of the spirit; it’s that the varieties of aquavit are seductively intoxicating, each one demanding to be savored carefully, slowly.
From here, for me, it was a slow stagger down to the harbor, across the bridge and through the psychedelic wooden gates of Freetown Christiania, the forgotten anarchist compound founded in 1971 just across from Parliament. I was in search of music because, if you’re lucky, you can catch a spontaneous live music show in an abandoned warehouse somewhere on the borough’s many acres. What’s truly amazing is that this decrepit Utopia has survived this long. If there ever was a worthy case to be made in favor of a government’s expropriation of private property, then Christiania is it.
Like most cities save the most savage, Copenhagen is certainly worth a visit — but not a hurried one. One has to have a delicate touch while here. Contemporary Danish design — think of audio and video designer Bang & Olufsen — is sleek and sophisticated; the fashion sense seems rather up-market yet casual and relaxed; the women — and men — are predictably chiseled and beautiful.
Denmark’s sense of refinement and decorum was developed over many generations, building (I’m told) on state efforts to educate the country’s significant rural communities and farmsteads. Such a centralized push to educate the broad mass of people may be anathema to free-marketers. But in Denmark, it seems to have produced a country where the general level of education has sustained a broad sense of civility, fairness and tolerance. Life here may still require a hearty disposition towards the elements at times but the benefits — and the pleasure of being in a city where things work — are innumerable.
Alvino-Mario Fantini is Europe correspondent for Brainwash. He is currently an Erasmus Mundus scholar through the European Union.
Source: AFF Doublethink Online | Joseph Hammond
Source: AFF Doublethink Online | Emma Elliott Freire