Ten years ago, protesters gathered in a port city; politicians arrived for intense backroom negotiations; the city's hotels were booked out by representatives of thousands of NGOs from all over the world. In 1999 Seattle, like Copenhagen this week, was a big international meeting attempting to exert some governance over globalisation. There's a fitting symmetry that these two meetings bookend this decade.
And we've lost a decade in curbing the rapacious corporate drive to exploit natural resources, driven by the west's insatiable appetite for economic growth. Last week, there was a report of the acidification of the world's oceans, now accelerating at a terrifying speed, threatening all marine life. A third of the world's soils, millions of years in the making, are depleting faster than we regenerate them. On every continent an environmental catastrophe is brewing that makes you want to weep: Australia is a cocktail of water scarcity, salination and soil erosion. The continent would have been better off if we had never discovered it, never taken our cloven-hoofed animals there to destroy its fragile soils.
It's been a decade of hubris that has led only to tragedy. The limits of western military force have been exposed; its financial power has been revealed as a form of gambling that brought the global economy to the edge. The fallout – in jobs and lives – has only just begun. Copenhagen reminds us that we have been living in a civilisation which has been destroying the life systems on which human wellbeing depends. Never has it been so hard to argue that there is such a thing as progress and that it is represented by liberal capitalism – 1999 promised the beginnings of a global civil protest, but the message of the protesters in Seattle was too radical and too true so it had to be ridiculed and marginalised.