In Copenhagen I saw $200 million thrown away. The money was lost at the UN World Summit on Social Development. I regret to admit, I was there. Although, I hasten to add, I don't think I was to blame.
The waste of this money by the political leaders of our world is an appalling scandal. Yet, as always, they will get away with it. They will explain it away. Most of the world will be too far away from what really happened to make an accurate judgement.
But, like I say, I was there. I'm sorry I was there, but sorry may not be good enough.
I found myself in a cheap hotel well away from the harbour side lodgings of the official delegations. Of course, I didn't have the harbour view. And there was no chauffeured Volvo down my end of town, laid on by the truly generous Danish government.
Not that I was complaining, mind you. The same Danish government had given me a free bus pass for the entire week. For free, I could go anywhere in Copenhagen. A few times I did, simply by getting on the wrong bus.
Not long ago I was in a village in Guatemala where a small child had just died because no one had the fifty cent bus fare to take her to hospital.
The Summit for Social Development was the latest in a series of UN events aiming to get global commitment to ensuring that the world will still be around for our children.
Surely you remember the Rio Summit? That was where we worried about the planet, pretending for most of the time that people weren't important in the equation.
Perhaps you heard about Vienna? That was about human rights. Since there were no baby seals, or almost-extinct fauna, it got little publicity.
Or the New York jamboree that was for children? A lot of really worthwhile commitments were made about eliminating childhood diseases and providing primary education for every kid on earth. Some of the deadlines for action have already passed.
And you must have heard about Cairo? That's where the world talked about whether people should be born in the first place. And the Vatican had a particular point of view.
In Copenhagen there were many journalists and little news. No animals were made extinct. No native trees were cut down. Just people. People were in danger. Twenty percent of the world living unnecessarily in absolute poverty.
And it wasn't that nobody cared. Everybody cared. We all cared the same. Indeed, we all agreed that something must be done. Such harmonious agreement doesn't run well on the six o'clock news.
Hilary Clinton even flew over to talk to me and say how much she and her husband appreciated the work of the non-government organisations. I would have thanked her, but there were 800 other people in the room, and she was the only one with a microphone.
So what was the problem? How come we wasted $200 million?
Everyone agreed something must be done. Nobody agreed to do anything.
Well, maybe that's not fair. Denmark forgave about $200 million of poor countries debts, getting itself more publicity than the poor creditors who forgave three times that amount of Alan Bond's debts.
And Hillary was vying for Hypocrite of the Year with her symbolic gift of US$100 million over ten years for women's literacy. That is hardly more than World Vision spends on women's literacy. And this from the richest nation on earth. A few crumbs for the illiterate. Too many people were so in awe of the First Lady they thought she was actually doing something important.
But apart from these few isolated and welcome symbolic acts, nobody agreed to do anything.
The Summit cost the Danish government around $40 million to run. The UN put in around $4 million. And each country must have spent up to half a million getting their delegations in town.
All wasted.
Of course, some will point out that some good came out of the Summit. All that useful networking and information sharing by the NGOs. All that healthy consensus in the Declaration around the nature and causes of poverty. After all, every cloud has a silver lining. Except, of course, if you wanted to mine silver, you'd find more cost-effective places to mine than in the clouds.
The truly regrettable thing is that the wrong people will get the blame.
First will be the vitriol slagged onto the United Nations. Someone will soon rush into print to tell you that the UN doesn't work, that it wastes money, and that it should celebrate its 50th birthday by committing suicide.
Pity. It's not the UN's fault. The people from the UN tried very hard to make the Copenhagen Summit a success. They provided a process, albeit incredibly bureaucratic and inefficient, in which real progress could have been made. They provided the playing field. But the players went on strike.
And it's not the charities that are at fault. Although sometimes we are our own worst enemies. A visit to the parallel NGO forum (for Non Government Organisations), down the road at the Holmen Naval Base, was a visit to a kind of save-the-world hippy wonderland.
Scatter-brained, intense loonies with ideas about how to save the world mingled with fair dinkum development aid workers. Some genuine people came to learn and share information. Often they were overwhelmed by the neurotic grandstanders. People who would offer workshops in the official program under headings like "The International Cerebral Attainment Coalition" and then fail to show at the appointed hour. Twenty people might be cheesed off that they cancelled the workshop, but two thousand people had seen their name in print.
Despite some truly useful exchanges, the NGO Forum felt indulgent and weird. Nonetheless, many people seemed to make the best of it. Cesar Lopez from the World Vision Dominican Republic enthusiastically joined in a week long caucus extolling the importance of small farmers in the global economy. He learned a lot. And he taught a lot.
But don't blame the NGOs for the failure of Copenhagen. The involvement of the development aid agencies was, at best, tolerated. Briefings held by official delegates, including our own Ambassador to the UN, Richard Butler, were marked by an atmosphere of indulgent condescension and diplomatic obfuscation (what you say when you don't want people to understand). For the first two days of the Summit, NGOs were required to line up (twice) for tickets to enter the main conference rooms. It was an exercise in exclusion. And since one of the Summit themes was "social exclusion" it was a good object lesson.
And don't blame the official negotiators. Most of them are faithful servants who are under instructions to push a particular small barrow. To protect their turf. To yield nothing. And they are good at it. Even if sometimes they are just following orders.
The real blame must be laid at the feet of political leaders.
It is they who have shown neither desire nor ability to compromise for the common good. The rich refused to give a milligram of extra support for social development. Ideas like a speculation tax on foreign currency transactions were dead before the Summit started. The only new initiative was called the 20:20 initiative because it required 20% of development aid and 20% of developing countries budgets to be spent on basic social development. By mid-week the proposal had been so watered down that it became merely voluntary. Don't worry about a stampede of volunteers.
The Summit failed because the leaders of our world are frightened. They are living in a past age in which people built bigger and stronger walls to keep out the invaders. The walled cities of Italy should be an object lesson. They caused more wars than Italy experienced before or since.
The "Fortress Me" neurosis is nowhere more evident than last week in Copenhagen.
The depth of this appalling failure of political will is revealed in a couple of facts.
The cost of ridding the world of poverty has been comprehensively calculated at $360 billion per year.
This is one-quarter of what the world presently spends on the military. In other words, four times as much to build the walls to keep the invaders out, as would be needed to ensure the invaders lived well and peaceably. And probably wouldn't want to invade.
We heard that, against his better judgement, Paul Keating was eventually persuaded that it would be embarrassing for him to be in Germany and not pop over for the Summit. I had felt the same about being half way round the world, in the USA, and not keeping going.
In the end, I have to say Paul's instincts were better than mine. He shouldn't have gone. And nor should I.
For me, the Summit provided no significant new opportunities to enhance my work among the poor through World Vision. Although, to be fair, I learned a few things from seminars I attended held by Danish Red Cross and others.
For Paul, the Summit merely provided him a chance to stand in the bright light wearing the Zenger suit of the emperor without clothes. He spoke fine words, and promised nothing to put those words into action.
Not that he was alone. Just about everyone who stood at the podium was dressed the same.