A Call to Action

December 21, 2009

“We’re not going to let jobs be destroyed in America for some esoteric environmental benefit 100 years from now.”

These are the words of Joe Barton, a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Texas.  To tear this argument apart, piece by piece, would be easy.  It would also be a colossal waste of time, given that Mr. Barton traveled all the way to Copenhagen to push this disregard for science on an unsympathetic European audience without the slightest intention of reexamining the facts or reestablishing his position.  Like many, he came with an agenda.  The actions taken at COP15 had the potential to have enormous impact on the world.  The words of Joe Barton, too, have this potential.  It’s time to show the impact of his actions.

If this quotation and others like it frustrate you, make you question the sources that thought these words fit to print, cause you to wonder where we would be in our pursuit of a sustainable future without these unnecessary roadblocks, then I have a challenge for you.  We face a critical crossroads in our history, and our story can be one of triumph if we choose.  I challenge those of you bothered by these unnecessary hurdles to speak out against them.  The scientific evidence shows unequivocally that our planet is warming as a result of our behavior, yet public opinion (in the US) does not reflect this.  Nearly all scientists agree with the consensus without a doubt, yet the few skeptics receive almost equal attention in the media.  We may not be able to change the media or convince skeptics to reverse their views, but we can use our overwhelming numbers to drown out the few proponents of inaction.  We can’t quiet climate change deniers but we can make ourselves louder.  The two most powerful tools in the pursuit of a sustainable energy future are the consensus science and the huge majority of people who understand its significance.

President Obama described the result of COP15 as a small step in the right direction.  Indeed, it is a very small step, though significant nonetheless. But we are reaching a point where we can no longer afford small steps.

So this is our task.  Call and email your congressmen and senators letting them know that climate change skeptics don’t represent your views.  Make it known that although the voices of inaction can be heard, so, too, can the voices of the vastly more numerous supporters of climate change action.  Make COP16 a discussion of 80% cuts by 2020 or 2050, not whether or not to cut at all.  Reach out to others and make sure their voices are heard, too.  A global accord can still provide the answer to climate change (and it might just be the only way), but it will take a little more help from us than some expected.  Let COP15 be a lesson to us that we have more influence than we may have thought.  And let COP16 be the proof that when we stand up for a cause in overwhelming numbers the right way forward cannot be denied.

~Jordan

One perspective that shouldn’t go unnoticed is the economics of climate change. This past week at the Bella Center a panel discussion held by five economists from various European countries discussed how the private sector needs results from Copenhagen. The standing economic plan towards “greening” the economic has reached a plateau.

Currently our global economy has been based of carbon intensive markets. The reason for this is that these markets appeal to investors because they have proven stable returns over the years. Other investments in carbon consuming companies include manufacturing and therefore consumerism (an American pastime). In order to reduce climate change we need to make a change where investments are made which will only occur if they appear as stable, with better or equal returns. In the original Kyoto Protocol there was a device designed to make this transition.

The Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) “stimulates sustainable development and emission reductions, while giving industrialized countries some flexibility in how they meet their emission reduction or limitation targets.” Although this sounds tempting, countries have not been meeting their goals since it was made let alone the US signing the Kyoto protocol. The net result of this is that a new solution must be met.

The panelists gave good reason for why it has been so difficult to make this switch. Like any economic endeavor the balance between risk and reward must be met from the investors standpoint. If we took for example the UN program REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries) which is an excellent idea for countries to reduce their emissions by preventing deforestation. However only if this method of conservation is effective enough will it eventually reach the interest of the private sector.

The private sector would want to see initial issies such as forest issues like leakage (where an area closely protected results in the heavier taking of another area). So there could be no faults in the program to begin with. Second, they would want to see governments make the initial investments to see the course they follow to ensure stability. Next the returns must rise as the risks decrease and only through public finance reduce the risk.

This may mean a couple of things. We do know that it has to be the governments that make the initial jump into the uncertain reduced carbon market. This increased confidence will help private investors join and only through careful monitoring can this happen. This may mean that we need a new mechanism to replace the CDM with the eventual hopes of building a new market that can include non-annex 1 countries that may include private investors.  The ultimate goal of rewarding countries who make the greatest strides towards reducing their CO2 emissions while increasing the non carbon intensive market.

Benjamin Ross ’10

Inside COP15

December 18, 2009

Where Negotiations (supposedly) Occur

Things are getting serious.  If a substantial agreement is going to be reached, it will emerge tomorrow and over the weekend.  So far, it looks like the delegates will determine the framework for REDD – a mechanism that allows countries to claim carbon credits for preserving forests – and maybe some minor details of other issues.  The U.S. has apparently tried to inject some last minute momentum into the negotiations by pledging to provide billions to developing countries.  Still, a fair, ambitious, and legally binding agreement seems nearly out of reach.  Dr. Rosales joked that at this point COP15 may result in “non-binding thoughts, on paper”.  Give me a break.

Overall, the atmosphere inside the Bella Center has been remarkably enthusiastic and hopeful.  A sense of urgency is in the air, and it’s great to see so many passionate people in one room.  On the global level and behind closed doors, though, that urgency seems to be missing.  As a result, it’s not hard to feel hopeless about this process from time to time.  The science couldn’t be clearer, the stakes couldn’t be higher, a crisis is imminent, and we still can’t act.  This is THE global test, and we are failing miserably.

Though political momentum is conspicuously absent, the momentum from an unprecedented number of supporters may prove to be the turning point.  We hope that this momentum will carry over into the U.S Congress and Mexico City (the site of COP16).  For now, we hope that the sluggish progress of the last week and a half is not indicative of how this conference will end.  We hope that the countries of the world will come together, all making sacrifices and all recognizing the threat of inaction, and take bold steps toward building a sustainable future.  This is one of the biggest tests international cooperation will ever face.  Failure is not an option, yet one might think that many nations are considering it.

~Jordan

Alternatives

December 17, 2009

Yesterday was a crazy day, again, here in Copenhagen. After most of NGOs members were declined entrance to the Bella Center ( even if they had their second badges), things started to heat up. There were protests were NGO people burnt their badges, people pushing to get in the Bella Center, peaceful protests in the train stations, etc. Even delegates and ministers tried to walk out the Bella Center in support of the people outside, and as a demonstration of their frustration, however, they were not allowed outside. I was caught in the middle, I could not get out the Bella Center, nor would they let me back in. I was literally in the middle of all this chaos.

The police express their frustration through violence. They beat up and arrested many protesters, most of them were very pacific – in fact, I’m surprised on how pacific things are here, yet, how high the presence of the police is-; however, the general frustration is huge. Inside the COP, Hilary Clinton is trying to see the financial commitment that the US can engage to; while China is not so willing to negotiate and Japan has committed financial aid of 1.5 million 3 year contribution for adaptation and mitigation. Many presidents of developing countries will not sign anything, if it is not a fair and legally binding agreement. The president form the ALBA country will speak this afternoon in an un-official event outside the Bella Center, promoting a system change – as mentioned by Chavez yesterday in the COP. The event is open to anyone that has 20$ to pay.

But this is not the only alternative, there is a NGO “place” where you can see the negotiations on TV, the Klima Forum, where there are still events going on, there are NGOs booths, movies, music, speakers, and cheap organic food. A more grassroots event in Christiania, where people are gathering to sing, eat and talk about alternative lifestyles. It is very interesting to see all this, and the different approaches to the topic. People are each time more hopeless and frustrated, but the importance is the outcome of this frustration. Will there be a climate revolution? Maybe not now, but next year?or will be just gathered around the fire talking about utopia? This is the movement from our generation, a movement that encompases human rights at all different levels. Can we stand up?

Nicole Szucs

Youth Group Frustration

December 16, 2009

 

Having met a few Danes in Copenhagen, there is an overall decline in optimism amongst youth groups about what the pending COP15 results will be. The Danish youth group about 30 students between the ages of 17 and 30 went into this conference excited their country’s capital would be hosting the COP that would finally cause countries to make serious commitments to climate change. Today, as the Summit has progressed, countries remain inconclusive over reductions and caps for scattered time frames. This inaction I believe is both frustrating for the youth as well as the politicians.
Heads of State (such as Obama) are arriving from many countries for the concluding days of the COP. In reaction to these arrivals, the Danish government today replaced Connie Hedegaard, Climate Minister of Denmark, with their own head of state Lars Loekke. This political formality has discouraged the youth as they believe a better and more conclusive COP lies with Hedegaard. An additional blow to the disheartened Danish youth group has been as they put it, “our own country’s weak ambitions lack progression” especially as host of the COP. Other grumbles from the youth include concerns that conferences delay and once they are confronted, there is no agreed conclusion. Lastly, they are not pleased the heads of state will be leaving the Bella Center (location of the conference) tomorrow, to travel and have dinner at the Danish Queens castle, instead of staying to resolve issues in the dwindling time.
To see the declining energy and rising frustration from the youth group here in Copenhagen has made a couple of things clear: discussions are easy; policies are difficult; implementation and action are almost impossible. It has made an impact on me as an observer to see disappointment even in the students who live in a country at the forefront of sustainability. Keep this in mind fellow Americans.

Benjamin Ross ’10

Forest Day field trip

December 16, 2009

On Monday I was fortunate enough to attend a field trip up the east coast of Denmark to several protected forests.  The first one we visited was in a Deer Park and was the oldest protected forest in Denmark.  It was filled with beech trees over 1000 years old, but it was kind of an odd forest because there was no underbrush because there are hundreds of deer populating the area that eat any sapling that begins to grow.  What’s funny is the foresters want to keep it that way to continue to attract tourists with the deer populations.  So to keep the population of beech going, the foresters pour a lot of money into fencing saplings in a separate area and then transporting them after 30 years of upkeep (it takes 30 years for a beech to have strong enough bark to withstand a stag’s antlers).  It was quite interesting to hear the extent at which the park goes to to keep the population of deer, and thus the tourists.  Also for the tourists, the park maintains the tree distribution with dynamite, surprisingly enough.  They said that they used dynamite as opposed to a chain saw to get rid of a tree that was in a dangerous location because it looks more natural, so much so that sometimes foresters themselves cannot tell if it fell from lightning or dynamite.  The deer are maintained as well.  They are very comfortable with humans, but if one gets too comfortable, it has to be killed because it could potentially be dangerous for tourists.

I found this stop quite interesting because it is, on one hand, great that the Denmark is protecting these ancient trees so well.  On the other hand, there is very little biodiversity there because of the lack of undergrowth.  The forest is centered around maintaining a population of deer, which are quiet amazing I admit.  There are three species in the park, all very different and exciting to watch, so I understand the draw for tourists and thus the foresters to maintain.

The rest of the day was filled with more forests and discussions of carbon sequestration, biofuels, disease, and more.  What was most fascinating to me, however, was talking to all the interesting people on the trip.  One young woman, Marie Allimant, was from both France and Madagascar.  She now lives in Madagascar and has started a company that is trying to save rainforest there.  She explained that you cannot buy land in Madagascar unless you are a citizen, so  her company takes investments from people around the world and she then buys the forest land for them.  I think it is fantastic what she is doing.  I also met a forester from Benin in western Africa.  He explained that he has had to kill many people on the job to prevent citizens from stealing timber from the forest.  I found this quite shocking, but he explained how necessary it is to keep the forest safe.  He also told me that he can see in his country the desert from the south moving up and that from the north moving down.  He has seen this in the last ten years, and he finds it very worrying.  I met many other interesting people, such as an environmental economist from Korea, a few PhD students from Australia and France, and many others.  It was an extremely enriching day and I loved talking to such knowledgeable people in regards to forests from around the world.  It was a great day.

Lauren Vorhees

St. Lawrence at COP15

December 16, 2009

Dr. Jon Rosales, Lauren Vorhees, Benjamin Ross, Nicole Szucs, Jordan Garfinkle

Al Gore Speaks Up

December 15, 2009

Al Gore’s address today was perhaps the most visible American event thus far.  The former Vice President gave an impassioned speech about the moral obligation to combat climate change and the political will necessary to accomplish lofty goals.  He began with an overview of the current climate change science and the well known implications of unmitigated emissions.  After this introduction, his rhetoric turned more emotional.  He began his discussion of the moral obligation to act by calling climate change deniers “reckless fools”.

While he understands that the required binding agreement will not be achieved at COP15, Al Gore stressed that this conference must be a turning point.  He called on negotiators to set the foundation for next year, when COP16 in Mexico City will provide another opportunity to reach a binding treaty.  In a demonstration of the urgency of climate change, he suggested that the next conference – tentatively scheduled for November or December, 2010 – be held instead in July.  Similarly, he has requested that the US congress set April 22nd as the date of final action on American climate legislation.  This date is significant because it will be the 40th anniversary of Earth Day.

Finally, Al Gore tackled three major global issues as integrated problems with an interrelated solution.  He cited the security crisis, the economic crisis, and the climate crisis as incredibly complex and overwhelming issues when viewed individually.  Together, however, they share a simple common thread – our reliance on fossil energy.  By reducing this insatiable thirst for petroleum and other fossil fuels, we can take great strides towards reducing the looming threats of all three global issues.

According to Al Gore, the technology and regulation mechanisms exist to solve this energy crisis.  The missing ingredient, he says, is political will.  He is hopeful, though, emphasizing that we are capable of rising to the occasion despite the difficulties.  Although we have not demonstrated the necessary bold political moves to address climate change, “political will is a renewable resource”.  Let’s hope so.

~Jordan

A circus…

December 15, 2009

I just got in the Bella Center, after standing outside for 3 hours, and I was a lucky one because I already had the 2 budges needed to get in the Center. Surrounded by many NGOs members, including the president of Green Peace, I had nothing more to do than stand there and wait for the organization to be sorted. While in line, I finally had time to –stand- and reflect about the irony and the ridiculous contradictions of this whole process.

The UN accredited 43 000 people for this COP, the highest number ever. However, the Bella Center only holds 15 000. They significantly reduced the number of people allowed in the center by giving just certain number of second badges; nevertheless, people are still trying to get in. From far away in the line, you could see a sing that said: If you don’t have a badge, expect at least 5 hours of delay. Five hours, in the cold, to get in and see fights, frustration and a couple of cheerful youth.

What is happening right now, is that many people, very frustrated are leaving the Bella center, to attend the alternative people’s Forum ( Klima Forum 09) to express their opinions, concerns and share their knowledge there.

The organization of this Conference is non-sense in general, making 43000 people transport them selves to Copenhagen to later not allow them in, is simply not environmentally friendly. Not to mention the ridiculous amount of energy being used in the conference, food being wasted, paper flying all over the Center that is going to go into the trash. I’m personally very frustrated and disappointed with the contradiction between ideology, practice and the political game.

I cannot deny that there are people and activists here that truly care about the cause and that are highly personally touched or affected by the climate crisis. However, many politicians, business people and negotiators, are taking this conference as an ego/power busting experience.

It is troubling to see so many things wasted here; from precious time and talent, to water, resources, plastic cups, food and patience. I think the frustrations in terms of the negotiations are general, but I just wanted to highlight the irony and contradictions that are so evident in this circus. Do people really care?  Are the people really being affected – meaning, mostly, the South- going to unite and stand up for themselves? Are the  negotiators, NGOs and business ever realize that tackling the Climate crisis can also come from personal choices? Would they change their lifestyles and finally act?

A big campaign here says: how old will you be in 2050? Most of the politicians will probably be dead, so is not their future any longer they are negotiating. After all, this is a business as usual negotiation; money is placed over survival and morals. People outside the negotiations, in different countries are getting very frustrated, could we really unite? Or are differences and politics stronger than the need of survival?

Nicole Szucs



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