When expecting anything from the organizers of the World Future Energy Summit, you are generally told that your energy will be better spent in the future. The global green technologies conference is coordinated by one company and subcontracted to another for general staffing, hosted in the national exhibition center but sponsored and organized by the real energy enterprise, Masdar, itself a subsidiary of a development company that is in turn owned by the government. The resulting backstage chaos is not only commonplace in the Emirates, it is essential to the expo experience, and the requisite favor-trading, blood clots, and temper tantrums administrators, assistants and the like could not feel whole without.
The key is to find someone who has stake — in anything. Generally, you are told to go over there, and when you get there, the word is still that the action is here. Here, there’s another there where you should be, and there, there’s yet another further there — that’s where you want to be. Except that it isn’t. Once you get far enough away, a misguided assistant (to someone so many degrees removed they don’t know the name of the company your contact works for) inquires gently if you’ve ever been to where you came from three hours ago. Yes, you’ll say, and collapse into a heap on the floor.
But when the clouds of dust and paint chips settle and the curtain is finally lifted, everything runs how-do-they-do-it smoothly. After passing through security identical to an airport (installed that morning), the world is brought to you. The opening ceremonies of the WFES were held in a large, dark hall, with two identical screens tracking the trillions of tons of greenhouse gasses currently in the atmosphere. Tick. Tick.There’s ten million more pounds. If it’s supposed to give a sense of urgency to the Summit, it does. But it also makes the 90 minute wait for the MC seem a hell of a lot longer.
And then it’s finally time — time for many of the world’s most titular to expand upon the necessity of sustainably energy, of power sources that are not exhausted by time, nor weakened by multiple uses. Clearly, they don’t have that technology for speeches. And of course, this is also a valuable time to sing one’s own praises — especially if no one else is going to do it (here’s looking at you, Pakistan).
His Excellency Ban Ki-Moon, Secretary General of the United Nations, kicked off the proceedings with several mentions of the “future” and ”energy”, using words like “renewable” and “green” and “Highnesses”. (Speaking of which, if a girl prince is a princess, and a female count is a countess, shouldn’t a male highness be a “highn”?) Beginning with Mr. Moon, I counted keywords for the next hour.
Thus began a veritable buffet of silly accents, exquisite delicacies not often savored in the West. The Portuguese Prime Minister made sounds with a mouth that seemed like it was constantly making room for someone to juggle inside of it. “In six years in Portugal, we changed the whole scenario in Portugal,” he said. Apparently, they haven’t done too much yet with energy efficiency. In Portugal.
The lovely, old Prime Minister from Bangladesh said nice things about Nepal and Bhutan, and criticized the world for putting them innocent victims in danger — all with intonation like the rise and fall of a salt-water taffy machine, and with all zees pronounced jay. “Changes in nature are taking place around us,” she pointed out.
Her Royal Highness, Princess (I forget) of Sweden made the first and only joke of the evening — a bold and thankless mission in a crowd of non-native English speakers and a lot of stuffy types. “Some,” she gambled, “would say that cooling is a hot, hot issue.” Crickets. Damn.
Later, I saw HRH the Princess at the expo, surrounded by guards and Swedish military in naval getup. “I laughed,” I told her in my mind. I laughed.
But it was Asif Ali Zardari, President of Pakistan and leading figure for all genuinely dislikable human beings, that in a speech only three times longer than many others, captured the spirit of the Summit: confusion packaged with tingly positive aspirations for the tomorrow children of the green sustainable future vision. A former American President, he explained, was laughed at for presenting global warming as an urgent matter. “Now,” Zardari added, “the last laugh is upon us.”
At long last, a fifty-seater bus came and took three of us away. Tick. Tick. The last laugh is upon us, indeed.
Of course, this, the Summit’s organization and pomp, are but the plating and the cutlery of a very fine restaurant. Yes, like a kid out for burgers but lost at the slaughterhouse, I’ve had a bit too much exposure behind the scenes. But the Expo itself — the environmental trade show and the showcase of dozens of new and modern technologies for a bluer, greener planet — is just great. And as long as frustration remains a renewable resource, that’s all that really matters.
Below, many of the words said far too many times in an hour by 8 heads and shoulders of state (not including proper nouns):
More Summit silliness: