Friday, January 1, 2010

My Experience, in Pictures

Part of our delegation heading to Copenhagen from LAX.

The insane line outside the Bella Center, where the COP15 talks were held.

A vegetarian advocate at the Bella Center.

A dirty power-plant in the middle of the city

KlimaForum 09: The People's Summit

Audience listening to environmentalist Bill McKibben

Bill McKibben talks about the 350 project

McKibben was forceful about the 350 ppm target

The number everyone is rallying around

President Mohamed Nasheed of the Maldives islands

Nasheed is the most outspoken leader for climate solutions,
because his nation could disappear under rising seas

Protesters outside the COP15 are boxed in by the police

This woman was tear-gassed by the police

This man was part of a medical team for the protest

A journalist tries to get a better view of the proceedings

The COP15 is denounced for producing false solutions

Nearby, a 20-foot art exhibit depicts climate refugees

Gloves given away in the Bella Center

_Andrew Dunn

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Emma's KlimaForum Wednesday part 2

the continuation of my earlier post entitled "Klima Forum":

Following the talk and discussion on the topic of transportation systems, I attended a larger presentation entitled "Growth is Good" -- a phrase generally taken with a grain of salt when applied to the global climate condition. The speaker was Dr. Michael Braungart, advocate of the cradle to cradle design. His first key point was that the problem we find ourselves faced with is not an energy problem, but a materials management problem, and that the only way to have zero emissions is to not exist. He continued to explain cradle to cradle, as a design practice that, in the production and design of consumer products, considers how integrated recyclables are rendered disposable (from being individually recyclable) when meshed for production, so rather than send what could be recycled to the land fill, cradle-to-cradle keeps plastics segregated from metals and papers enough so that when the product begins to fall apart, the individual components can be extracted and recycled through other products longer than if the materials were integrated. Dr Braungart stressed the idea of cradle-to-cradle as buying the use of the product, because pieces of the (for example) chair that was purchased would b e returned to the producer and reused in another product. He also was careful to point out that through what is widely considered the ecologically responsible habit of buying recycled paper products, for example, if environmental toxins were used to produce the initial product then all the consumer is doing is "up-cycling" -- re-using the toxins. Here I would stop to think critically. I am a student and find it hard to get away from using paper; I'm being told that the 90% post-consumer printer paper I use for class essays is bad -- what's the most ecologically friendly thing I could do? (of course it's always nice when professors allow for Internet submissions, but...). I didn't raise my hand to ask, but an answer I would expect to hear would be-- what? use guilt free paper... does that exist? At this point, where we depend on paper and other materials that are not produced in this cradle-to-cradle manner, I put forth we should just try to reduce our demand for the products (by double siding printing etc), but when possible try to utilize so called "up-cycled" products (over virgin-products) since although they may be re-using toxins and consuming energy to produce, they at least reduce demand for the not recycled version of the product.

Following the talk on cradle-to-cradle, I attended a briefing of the day's activities at the Bella Center. We were initially told that the Danish environmental minister (Connie Hedegaard) had resigned, although at the time that was all we were told. According to news since then, she has hopes for taking on a bigger role in the climate change solution process. Also, since the day was Wednesday, we were briefed on the protest that happened at the Bella Center -- particular groups were banned because of past trouble, police kept people inside the Center from joining those on the outside as planned. However the protest was largely considered a success by those at Klimaforum: it demonstrated how the average citizens felt at the prospect of no results (angry!) and it encouraged repression by the Danish police (it was a big enough action to merit arrest). The briefing then transformed into a time where people who were at or near the protest came up to speak about what they experienced. (I paraphrase what was reported): "The demonstration was labeled as illegal, although it was largely non-violent on the part of the protesters." "It was beautifully organized and executed, we really made a statement." "It was crazy, people getting tear gassed...!". I was hoping that the briefing would be more of an objective summary of the happenings of the day, but I found it to be severely slanted to what the protesters wanted to hear -- only really talking about the protest, not at all the discussions that ensued or even the topics of conversation in the Center. The session ended with an announcement of actions to come.

What's a little troubling to me is that the people of KlimaForum never really seemed to be presenting solutions. There was a lot of anger at the system the U.N. was using, but aside from the actions against that, Klimaforum (to me) didn't seem to be constructively addressing the global issue either. I agree that a "solution" to the climate change problem is in bringing things back to local scales, but now that corporations have gone transnational and pollution etc will always be transboundary, international cooperation is necessary. I'm aware of how idealist it seems, 192 countries working together realizing that they are each a part of the closed system called Earth, but if it were plausible climate change would be less of a problem. I say "solution" in quotes because there have been too many years of exploitation and pollution to ever be able to pretend that climate change is not a constant issue. What Klimaforum did do was to promote awareness about issues related to climate change -- the effects of sea level rise on small island nations, how food waste is associated with green house gasses etc.


~Emma Fujii

Monday, December 28, 2009

Hannah's initial impressions

On Saturday December 19th after 14 hours of post finals traveling, deprived of adequate sleep or food I was remarkably full of energy flying into the Denmark airport. I was going to witness one of the most historic conferences of our generation. For the past several weeks the majority of my thoughts were consumed with visions of COP15—a global delegation with 119 heads of state discussing various solutions to the current climate crisis. Finally I was here—extremely energetic and a tad overly optimistic. As an accredited observer I had the privilege to sit in plenary, debriefing, and side events all concerning climate change policies. After finding our bags in the airport three other peers and I went to get accredited at the Bella center where the conference was being held. With windmills as the backdrop, illuminated with climate activists and environmental delegates, to me, the Bella center represented a Mecca for change in the current systems disturbing our climate. We bustled through vegetarian advocates and security personal to find our place in the line to get accredited. Standing in line, there was a distinct fervor in the air; people from all over the world were brought together because of this global crisis. The energy inside me accelerated with the energy vibrating from the Bella center.

Embarking on this trip, I was specifically interested in the policies being formed in the food and agriculture sector. My interest in this field was fueled Professor David Cleveland’s World Agriculture class. This class taught me the skills to critically analyze differing viewpoints on any issue. This method allowed me to think critically about my own values and especially the assumptions I make about the world on a day-to-day basis. It was gratifying to be able to apply these skills to how I viewed the climate conference. While sitting in on debriefings and panel discussions I attempted to understand the assumptions, methods, and speculations of various parties in order to unravel the validity of an argument. For example the first day I attended a debriefing session about the role agriculture and the forestry sector plays in the climate crisis. In this session, delegates stated that food security, a growing global concern, must be taken into consideration when forming policies for the climate crisis. The panelists continually referred to the world food crisis as a problem of food insecurity rather than food sovereignty and inequiaty over the power distribution of food systems. This distinction is extremely important to people who feel that they have no power or voice in how or where their food is grown. In class we referred to these differing perspectives as mainstream versus alternative. When one talks about the “mainstream” viewpoint of the World Food crisis it is largely the stance that we must increase food security by producing more food—a top-down approach. The alternative viewpoint, on the other hand, describes the solution to the World Food Crisis by granting food sovereignty to those countries that deserve to control their own food system and have equal power to resources to produce more food.

This divide, between mainstream and alternative approaches, was more evident to me as the conference continued. Probably the most extreme distinction between these two perspectives was between the two venues for COP15; the Bella Center, the official conference center where 119 heads of states (consisting of the G8 and G77) met in order to draft up a climate change agreement versus the KlimaForum which was more of an alternative viewpoint recognizing the importance of bottom up approach to this crisis. After attending conferences and lectures at many different venues I ended up frustrated by this evident divide that inhibited any real policies to be formed. In my opinion, these divisions are the roots of our failure to form a binding agreement at Copenhagen. Definition of the climate problem differs greatly between these different perspectives. It is imperative that these differing perspectives find some common ground in defining the problem. Without attempting to see eye-to-eye—these different perspectives are unable to work together to define the problem and thus it is impossible to implement a solution for this present climate crisis. Although my optimism for a binding agreement quickly dwindled after the first few days of the conference, my hope for some (perhaps minor) change in how we approached climate change as a global community did not. The discourse both within the Bella center and around Copenhagen during the conference between people from all over the world is what provided me with hope that change is possible.

For me the conference encapsulated many different feelings. At times I was so thrilled to be sitting in a room with leaders from Uganda, Canada, India, and Australia. Other times I was frustrated at the inefficiencies of the system where I felt like little was being accomplished due to the clear disagreements between various groups. As a student, I have little voice in the global policies being drafted but I do have the ability to act sustainably on an individual level and encourage others around me to do the same. The Copenhagen Accord, while not a binding agreement, is a step in the right direction. Hopefully it will cause a snowball affect in mitigation and adaptation policies being implemented to reduce the effects of climate change, globally. I feel so lucky to have been able to witness this worldwide delegation and remain hopeful that if we are environmentally conscious individually and locally, our efforts will have some effect globally.

--Hannah Wright

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Who puts what's on the table?

The protests outside the Bella Center seem to be on the minds of many people, but I generally notice a disconnect between the protests and the criticisms of COP15 we've been exposed to. Why are they protesting? This seems to be a question that few seem to be discusssing. The general slogans are out there: "System Change, not Climate Change," "Climate Justice Now," "There is no Planet B," "Politicians Talk, Leaders Act." Do these strike a tone in the leaders that are trying to save the planet? I tend to think not...

Yesterday we had the pleasure of speaking with a number of individuals from the California Delegation, including members of Cal EPA and a nonprofit called the Climate Registry. I had a conversation with Rachel Tornek, the Senior Policy Manager for the Climate Registry. She spoke about her recent project developing a US methodology consistent with the UNFCCC methodology for coal mine methane reductions.

The basic idea with coal methane reductions is to take methane that normally seeps from coal mines and either capture and burn it for energy, or at least flare it on site in order to turn the methane (a powerful GHG) into CO2, a less powerful greenhouse gas. Essentially, the heating effect of a standard release of the methane is much greater than the flaring/capture, so this practice may count as a "Clean Development Mechanism." That is, the coal industry could "offset" some of its emissions by enacting this practice.

The immediate problem here is that this still releases greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. In response, it's less than what would have been released, so we count the savings as an "offset." Of course, we may easily ask, why not simply require this practice as a regulation on coal mining, rather than rewarding companies to (partially) clean up the mess they're making?

But there's a much more subtle question that needs to be asked: what role is coal supposed to play in a clean energy economy? It's not a big secret that coal itself is ridiculously dirty. Nor has there been a massive cover up of the fact that clean coal will take upwards of 20 years to become viable, and that the technology itself will be expensive once it is viable.

So, while the UNFCCC and COP15 discuss the details of keeping coal on the table and reducing the carbon footprint associated with the dirtiest of dirty technologies, people who challenge the need for coal and argue that we can ween ourselves off of coal are off the agenda.

It seems quite clear that the average American or Westerner would say that "clean coal" is dubious public relations term, and that the average American believes we should invest heavily in (clean) alternative energy. Why is this not reflected in the UN negotiations, in offsets, or in the American political discussion?

It's here that Ms. Tornek offered a realistic and fairly obvious analysis. She suggested that "certain interests" have more of an influence on public policy and international negotiations than public opinion. It's quite clear that she means the coal lobby. Is anyone surprised by this fact?

Certainly not, but people are surprised when protesters challenge these assumptions, parading down the street with bullhorns, cloth signs, and dreadlocks. These people are quite often viewed as "rabble-rousers," or "counterproductive."

If you ask me, the more counterproductive elements during these talks are the presumed legitimacy of coal and its offsets, as well as the moneyed interests that flood the branches of governments and international institutions. To take a line from the protestors, we may face the following dilemma: system change or climate change. What did Americans vote for when they voted for "Change"?

Perhaps more importantly, how will our present youths judge our choice when they're older?

Monday, December 21, 2009

Common Sense -- Indigenous Wisdom

Hello, this is Natasha Joyce Weidner, back from an illuminating week at COP15. The highlight of my week was a lecture I attended at Klimaforum called "The Future of Climate Policy for Indigenous Peoples of North America," given by two Native American women from the Indigenous Environmental Network and the Black Mesa Water Coalition.

From a very young age, I've been enchanted by Native American culture. I idolize and almost envy the Miwok people who used to live in my home region, for their ability to live in harmony on a tiny strip of peninsula for more than 8,000 years. And I often ask myself: "What is the secret to such a sustainable society? What sort of ancient wisdom can our 'modern, Western' society learn from the Miwok and other indigenous people?"

The two Native American women at Klimaforum clarified for me: "Indigenous Wisdom" is simply common sense. Caring for the land you depend on is common sense. Living within the closed-loop cycles of nature, without wastes, is common sense. Working with a community, not every man for himself - that's common sense.

The first speaker was Wahleah Johns, a Navajo woman who lives on the Navajo-Hopi reservation in Black Mesa, Arizona. Since 1965 Peabody Western Coal Company has been operating two strip mines on Black Mesa, which together constitute one of the most extensive strip mining operations in the United States, and which provide power for the entire Southwest. Each year Peabody Coal Company pumps more than 4,500 acre-feet of pristine Navajo and Hopi drinking water from the Black Mesa aquifer, and also dumps chemicals and other byproducts from coal production into the air and groundwater on the reservation. Cancer rates in the region are well above average.

Wahleah and other Navajo and Hopi activists are fighting the coal company in court, but their fight is made difficult by the fact that the Environmental Protection Agency has no jurisdiction over tribal lands. Did you know that? Because I didn't, and I was shocked. Under US law, the coal company may pollute tribal lands, but the EPA does not have the power to protect or regulate tribal lands. You always hear about Native American oppression like it's history, but it's obviously happening today. The indigenous people of Black Mesa are unjustly bearing the devastating effects of coal mining, and few of the benefits - many residents on the reservation do not have power or running water in their homes.

Both Wahleah and the second speaker, a Hidatsa /Arikara / Mandan indian named Kandi Mossett, spoke about the painful reality of carbon offsets and market-based solutions. In Black Mesa, Wahleah said, the coal company has offered to appease the native people by shipping in desalinated ocean water to make up for the depleted aquifer. But of course, that is not a real solution, because shipping and desalinating water takes an enormous amount of energy, and the byproducts of desalinization are environmentally destructive. Not to mention the fact that the Hopi and Navajo people consider the Black Mesa aquifer a sacred entity. Furthermore, to offset its emissions, Peabody has invested millions of dollars to experiment with carbon sequestration on Black Mesa - yet it has refused to invest in renewable energy. This roundabout approach to reducing emissions simply doesn't make sense.

Kandi Mossett spoke about another roundabout approach - REDD, the program to Reduce Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing countries. The basic scheme of REDD is this: developed nations offset their emissions by paying developing nations not to deforest. Besides the fact that offsetting is a short-term solution, this sounds okay, right? I thought so, before I read into the details of the plan. First of all, REDD does not provide money to developing countries - it provides money to the logging companies within those developing countries. In many cases, the logging companies might not even be based in the developing countries in which they operate. Secondly, in order to "preserve" forests, logging companies kick indigenous people off of their lands - indigenous people who have been living sustainably in the forests for thousands of years. Logging companies also get money for planting monocultures in former forests, because these qualify as carbon sinks. Meanwhile, developed countries feel they can continue to emit disproportionally high amounts of greenhouse gases, because they are "offsetting" emissions. Indigenous communities across the globe are calling REDD a false solution.

REDD is part of the new, growing "carbon market" - basically, a system that applies economic value to carbon emissions, and allows such emissions to be bought, sold, and traded. Wahleah said that when her 80-year old Navajo grandmother learned that essentially the air is being bought and sold, she just couldn't understand it. The Navajo believe that nothing in nature can be owned, because every human being is intricately connected to everything in nature. Sounds like common sense to me.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

COP15: Week 2 in Review

With Saturday's arrival of the remaining 21 student delegates from UCSB, our climate team reached full force. Ready to deploy our expertise, represent the voice of American students on the international level, and soak up all that we could from an historic convergence of world leading politicians, business people, scientists, advisors, and activists, we descended upon the conference center. While the line outside was daunting, especially given the heavy snow that blanketed the scene, our fortitude was unwavering.

Those of us able to beat the crowds Monday had the chance to watch Steven Chu, Nobel laureate in physics and Secretary of the US Department of Energy, unveil a plan in conjunction with Japan, Sweden, Australia, Italy, Korea, Germany, and Norway to finance the development and deployment of renewable energy and efficiency technologies across the globe. This endeavor, termed Climate REDI (Renewable Energy Deployment Initiative), seems to be a step in the right direction for reshaping our collective energy future. Chu's speech, while somewhat thick with rhetoric, nonetheless inspired in me a confidence that though the US has not ratified the Kyoto Protocol, we are still engaging leaders from all over the world to work together for innovative and cost-effective solutions. Only time will tell the extent of this commitment.

After Monday's delays, a quota system was enforced on NGO delegates to limit capacity overflow. While somewhat discouraging at first, this proved to be an opportunity in disguise for our group, as our limited access motivated us to find alternative ways to engage the climate movement. Klima Forum, the people's response to the bureaucratic impasse between governments of the developed global north and those in the developing and least developed south that impedes the acceptance of an ambitious treaty, was an excellent avenue for such engagement. This conference explored alternatives to reform within the capitalist system, instead suggesting the need for deeper, paradigmatic and behavioral change to effectively address global climate change. The stark contrast of opinion, worldview, and approach between the COP and the Klima Forum provided a unique opportunity for personal value assessment, and will be an integral focus during UCSB's Climate Conference this spring.

I find myself more aligned with the systematic procedures defined by parties to the United Nations in the Framework Convention on Climate Change introduced at Earth Summit in 1992. While I realize that the task of developing an effective solution by utilizing market forces within existing political frameworks is daunting, especially given that it is these very models and frameworks that are largely responsible for the crisis at hand, I too understand how deeply these norms are ingrained within the human psyche. I am deeply intrigued by the arguments for an overhaul of global society and a reversion to egalitarianism and localized ways of life, but at the same time have trouble foreseeing a revolutionary break from the current systems and institutions that govern civilization. Call me cynical, but I truly believe widespread systemic change must start at the top, through government policy and business innovation.

This is not to discount the power of the grassroots. On the contrary, I believe organized activism will play an integral role in motivating the systemic shift discussed above, for it is the voice of the public, the global constituency, that shapes the political dialogue. In a functioning democratic society, it is the aggregated voice of the masses that appoints decision-makers and directs the discourse. The key is establishing the public political will to further mainstream the climate issue and effectively drive solution-based thinking from our leaders. This is where we, the youth, are empowered to effect change.

Thus, it will be the convergence of interests from the institutions at the top and the mobilized public, a product of grass root organization, at the bottom, that will generate an effective and- importantly- politically and economically realistic solution to the climate crisis. Unilateral action by any single group or societal rung simply won't do.

While the outcome of the negotiations was not the binding outcome many hoped for, the resolve demonstrated by President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in the final days of negotiation to engage major developing countries like China, India, and Brazil in order to at last begin to bridge the North-South chasm that has until now precluded an effective international agreement was very promising. While I would have liked to see more substance from the Copenhagen Accord, I cautiously see the outcome of COP15 as a success, and believe we as a global community have taken at least a small step toward an ambitious solution. Post-Copenhagen negotiations in preparation for COP16 in Mexico City next year will make or break the outcome. Time is truly running out.

-Nick Allen

Klima Forum

The city of Copenhagen was truly alive with the spirit of resolutions to global climate change and related issues and solutions. Within walking distance of downtown Copenhagen, a "People's Climate Summit" known as KlimaForum was taking place. (Their website: The conference featured speakers from around the world, from Green politicians like Marina Silva (former Environment Minister of Brazil) and Elizabeth May (Canadian Green Party leader and former Director of the Canadian Sierra Club) to Cradle to Cradle entrepreneur Michael Braungart to community leaders who have started organizations to combat particular aspects of climate change. In addition to the speakers, Klimaforum also hosted exhibits, film screenings, and briefings from the COP.

On Wednesday, I began in a talk by Selina Juul who, upon learning about the damage of food waste on a global scale and how it contributes to the climate crisis, began a group called "Stop Wasting Food" ( According to her information, an appreciable amount of green house gasses (GHGs) are emitted by the production of food that gets wasted. She also said that if everyone were to reduce food waste to zero, it would have the CO2 impact of removing one of four cars from the road! Selina suggested that the reasons why people waste food are because of a lack of knowledge around things like left overs and portion size, a normalized "use and throw away" culture, and a lack of planning, responsibility and respect. A couple of thought provoking issues her presentation led me to think about were with regards to food packaging and trips to the grocery store. Selina suggested that food waste could be reduced by reducing food package size -- i.e. single people living alone (buying food for one) would waste less food by purchasing food in a size they can consume before it goes bad. However this begs the question, wouldn't that raise the plastic to food ratio, making it more packaging intensive? It's better for plastic packaging to buy in big bags, but if that leads to food waste because you can't consume all of the product before it goes bad -- what's the solution?! Selina would point towards the food packing industry to develop a more sustainable packaging system. As for transportation, Selina and her Stop Wasting Food group promotes limiting what you purchase per trip to the store based on how much you can eat before it goes bad. This would lead to making more trips to the market, which may not be so bad in societies where walking/biking/busing to the store is normative, but in America where most people drive, wouldn't this lead to more car trips and thereby more pollution related to transportation? Food for thought.

My next event at Klimaforum was a brief talk and film screening by meteorologist, Jesper Theilgaard. He stressed the importance of H2O, specifically as a green house gas and as an ingredient for disaster when crossed with heat. With his background in understanding weather, he was able to explain the energy transfer in calories of water as it changes from a gas to a liquid (approx 600cal/g) and how this, in combination with extra heat leads to hurricanes. When solar heat meets the ocean, the result is water vapor, as more solar heat is added to the equation, the pressure builds. He also spoke to vaporous water leading to drought. Following his talk, Jesper screened a film called "Age of Stupid." The film was set in 2050, an age of drought and devastation. The viewer has the perspective of inside a computer used by the narrator to research "causes of climate change" and "symptoms that climate change was happening." As he picks particular items from the lists, short clips are shown of melting ice caps, flooding islands, etc. I was not able to watch the whole film, but it definitely seems worth looking into.

I left the film early to attend a talk on transportation systems by Initiative Transport Europe. The presentation focused on the relative differences and impacts between different modes of transportation. The talk turned into a discussion as we explored what a minimal impact (transportation-wise) town would be like. First came the issue of reducing need/demand by centralized living and accessibility of non-emitting transportation like bikes and walking. Then how traveling patterns can be adjusted through relative location and how to mitigate or reduce emission impacts.

More on Emma's Wednesday at Klimaforum to follow in a later post.

Emma Fujii