What happened at the end of COP-15?
I wish we could tell you.
The conference ended on Saturday, so you should rightly expect a wrap-up post. However, this conference went in a direction that none of us expected. We're split in our interpretations. Progress? Farce? Failure? The end of the UNFCCC?
Governments, pundits, and NGOs are selling their stories already, but we're still trying to gather all the facts. We'll post our own analyses once we get home and recollect our thoughts.
Today began horribly. After stepping off of the metro platform Taylor and I entered into a sea of accredited COP15ers determined to squirm, kick, and push with all their might to the Bella Center entrance. A claustrophobic’s worst nightmare. We finally arrived in the center, only to be shut out of every meeting for the next three hours. Informal discussions? No NGOs allowed. Steven Chu speech? Limited to one member from each NGO. Meeting you’ve been waiting an hour and a half for? Canceled after ten minutes of discussion. Worst part of all? The banana I packed as a snack got in a fight with my backpack and made a banana split all over my laptop and papers.
However, later I was given the chance to hear a great leader of the climate change movement, Bill McKibben. McKibben has been a leader on environmental issues for a long time. In fact, his talk at DePauw two years ago was what motivated me to get involved in climate change policy.
He is now the founder of “350,” a worldwide campaign aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions. “350″ stands for 350 parts per million (ppm) of CO2 in the atmosphere, the level NASA climatologist James Hansen and others say is the ceiling for avoiding catastrophic climate change (read more explanation here). The bad news? We’re at 390, and rapidly moving higher. The good news? McKibben’s group is fantastic, and working feverishly to keep the international negotiatiors’ ambitions at 350 ppm.
Most of McKibben’s speech was focused on October 24th, 350’s “International Day of Climate Action.” Less than two months ago, 350’s Day of Climate Action included 5,200 events in 181 countries, an incredible accomplishment. A paradim shift was made. Any misguided views that white, college kids from suburbia are the only ones concerned about climate change was shattered by the women carrying “350″ pots in Bangladesh, by the school children lined up to form 350 in Brazil, by the men in India carrying banners. It was shattered by students from Lebanon, Tuvalu, India, China, Israel, Palestine, Jordan, South Africa, Mexico, and dozens more. Check out the YouTube video here, and more pictures here.
There may be fair criticisms of 350. Simply getting a picture taken with a sign is not the same as having to implement a national greenhouse gas reduction policy in a country. People from 181 countries may agree they want 350 ppm, but how to get to it, who has to pay, and many more basic questions remain contentious. Still, McKibben’s talk and “350″ make me hopeful. Maybe, just maybe, world wide actions like that on October 24th will contribute to robust national and international policies to combat climate change. That would be a good end to a day.
Don’t be surprised if, in a few years time, you start seeing mysterious red circles rolling around cities across the U.S. A new device called the Copenhagen Wheel has the potential to make bicycle commutes easier, and build a database of major urban pollutants for city planners.
An 11-person team from MIT is revolutionizing the electric bicycle, packing a motor and bank of climate-monitoring sensors into a red disk that fits inside a normal-sized rear rim. There are no wires. Everything is controlled through the rider’s smart phone, which can be mounted on the handlebars.
Project leader Christine Outram and Andrea Cassi traveled from MIT to show off their latest prototype as part of the Hopenhagen campaign, an effort by the city of Copenhagen to push for carbon neutrality.
Suited delegates and fresh-faced activists wandered by the display all day, spinning the back tire and staring at the mysterious red disk that looks a lot like an oversized M&M.
Nearly every other person that stopped by asked, “Have you ridden it?”
“I have,” Outram would reply. “You turn on the electric motor and it feels like you’re taking off.”
The self-contained motor builds up charge pedaling, or when the rider applies pressure to the fixed gear pedal break. Outram said she wants to make the so-called Copenhagen Wheel available for almost any standard-sized bike.
Certainly an electrically powered boost up hills and through long commutes is a kick in the sustainable behind. But built-in sensors have the most to offer for broad-based sustainability.
The wheel, in different configurations, monitors road conditions, carbon monoxide, NOx, noise, temperature and even humidity. It can recognize friends’ wheels and tell you how close they are. The data’s updated live through a wireless connection, and constantly visible on the smart phone’s screen. No alternative control display exists yet, Outram said. They’re working on it.
By collaborating with city planners, wheel developers have added an optional data sharing mechanism. Bike riders can forward sensor readings to cities, anonymity available. A steadily building, real-time data bank of all those urban pollutants could steadily fill out city databases.
If I have $500 to spare when and if these go into production, I’ll be seriously tempted. They look great. The novelty and physical relief are great selling points.
But, more importantly, this creates a chance for cities to look at the most polluted districts and respond accordingly, while promoting something sustainable the Danes take as second nature — cycle commuting.
It’s late evening at the Bella Centre, about the time COP15ers head out for the night. The sky is pitch black above the glass ceiling. Workers collect random bits of trash from abandoned tables.
But on this night, a crowd gathered around a TV. Footage of the climate march was on. Police estimates pegged 100,000 people at the start of the march in Parliament Square at 2 p.m. The massive crowd spent the next four hours shuffling towards the Bella Center in the biggest climate change demonstration ever.
A later New York Times news report said 60,000-100,000 turned out.
The lines of bobbing candles and waving signs on screen reminded me of TV news and historical documentary footage from social movements we studied in high school.
But this footage wasn’t from a city hundreds of miles away in decades past. These people were about 500 feet away.
So Taylor and I took off outside, showed our passes and crossed the police line to the demonstration finale.
It capped off an incredible afternoon that started at 1 p.m. when I joined the gathering masses in Parliament Square.
Drums pounded around the massive square, chants bubbled out of the masses, a model pirate ship pumped out techno music and thousands wielded signs with messages like “There’s no Planet B.” Dozens of groups and movements in different colors and costumes — from socialist youth to a small klezmer band — united around global warming.
Copenhagen was the epicenter of global action day. Thousands of similar marches were dotted across almost every country in the world. And we were right here. Allow me an evening of awe and incredulity, it was just that impressive and novel.
Only a helicopter-mounted camera could capture the scale of the event: City blocks filled with candles, signs, people crammed shoulder to shoulder walking, singing and chanting for hours to push for a treaty in Copenhagen.
One particular block was book ended by flashing blue lights and lined with people sitting in tight rows, arrested for violent demonstrations. The Times called them radical protesters. Whoever they were, the hundreds of deviants were the vast minority.
Those few hours proved to me you can still generate global social inertia in the face of deep bitterness and resistance. People care enough to turn out en masse.
I was in awe, awkward, thoroughly excited, shocked, freezing cold, humbled. And at the end of the day, inspired.
No matter what happens this week, I’ll still be talking about my first major protest decades from now. How wonderful.
We are alive! Even though we have not updated for a day and a half, we would like to let everyone know we are doing well. Here are five other updates to clue you in for the rest of the week.
5. The rest of the DePauw students (13 total now) safely arrived in Copenhagen yesterday. They are regularly blogging here. The group came straight from a full night of flying to the Bella Center, waited in line for an hour or so, and was immediately were whisked away to a meeting with one of Senator Lugar’s staff members. Needless to say, they acted like narcoleptics.
4. Along with regular blog posts, we are planning to take more video footage. For anyone who wants to see every video we upload, go to http://www.youtube.com/user/deppmedia . For those with YouTube accounts, you can “subscribe” so you get an e-mail notice for every video we upload.
3. Our host family’s dog, Hercules, has a comical obsession with a tennis ball. Andrew has fun taking the ball and watching him chase it. Sometimes Hercules sleeps with it in his mouth.
1. We did not get arrested! Approximately 100,000 people marched in the streets of Copenhagen yesterday. Most were peaceful, but some were detained. We are happy to see we did not have the unpleasant experience of having our hands ziptied behind our back and then forced to sit cross-legged on the ground. For most of the marches, we were trying to make sure the other DePauw students got accredited inside the Bella Center. Boring, but true. Rest assured mom!
Yesterday it was cloudy with a chance of demonstrations.
It’s easy to tell when an “action” is about to start. Look for a concentrated, stationary group of people, clapping or cheering, and camera crews running and fumbling with their gear like firemen on a midnight emergency call.
In the morning youth organizers from 350.org — Bill McKibben’s activist group — gathered in the Bella Center’s main hallway. Each held up green balloons in one hand and a pin in the other. At 3:50 p.m., the leader gave the signal and the action began. See the first half of the video below.
Later in the day a delegate from the Cook Islands noticed her country wasn’t even painted on the cow-colored black and white globe in the very same Bella Center hallways.
Youth delegates spontaneously made their feelings known and joined the cause of AOSIS, the organization of small island states.
Their chant: “Keep the islands on the map!” It’s powerful symbolism. If climate change continues at the current rate, science predicts with relative certainty that the most vulnerable of their islands will literally drop off the map.
Yesterday, I wrote about Todd Stern’s first press briefing at the COP-15. Stern rejected the notion of a “climate debt” owed by rich countries with the highest historical emissions to poor countries most damaged by climate disruption. Today, Bolivian Ambassador Pablo Solon published a press release intended as a rebuttal to Stern:
Admitting responsibility for the climate crisis without taking necessary actions to address it is like someone burning your house and then refusing to pay for it. Even if the fire was not started on purpose, the industrialised countries, through their inaction, have continued to add fuel to the fire. As a result they have used up two thirds of the atmospheric space, depriving us of the necessary space for our development and provoking a climate crisis of huge proportions.
It is entirely unjustifiable that countries like Bolivia are now forced to pay for the crisis. This creates a huge draw on our limited resources to protect our people from a crisis created by the rich and their over-consumption.
In Bolivia we are facing a crisis we had no role in causing. Our glaciers dwindle, droughts become ever more common, and water supplies are drying up. Who should address this? To us it seems only right that the polluter should pay, and not the poor.
We are not assigning guilt, merely responsibility. As they say in the US, if you break it, you buy it.
The debate over historical responsibility is not new. It is coming to the forefront of the negotiations now because countries are expected to commit to mid-term emissions reduction targets and short-term financial contributions next week.
John Broder (NYT) wrote an interesting analysis yesterday of Stern’s negotiating style and political circumstances, but this personal context does not affect the arguments about principles of environmental justice and moral responsibility. Also, David Corn (MoJo) reports on the Chinese reaction to Stern’s comments. Both articles reveal the confounding overlaps of personal and political in the climate negotiations, which now have such a scope that any agreement will shape global development for decades.
While developed countries have attempted to avoid explicitly moral discussions, many here at the talks–NGO members, religious leaders, delegates of vulnerable countries, and youth in particular–continue to argue that concepts of moral responsibility and justice are inherent to any discussion of solving climate disruption.
Today I might have seen the sun for the first time in a week. Maybe. While we were getting ready to leave from our host home, Taylor and I heard Andrew yelling from the shower about sunlight. When I looked outside, I saw a collection of really bright clouds, behind which I believe Americans refer to as “the sun.”
At the conference, I’ve continued my role as pretend journalist and cameraman. It’s not that convincing, but everyone seems happy to talk. One of today’s main actions was on tar sands development, an expensive and polluting process to get oil (see wikipedia entry). A young woman was surrounded by a large crowd of US and Candian youth and yelling loudly about the cancerous impacts of tar sands development, and how indigenous people were being exploited for energy they never used. She said indigenous people have “traditional knowledge” called common sense, which informs them to tar sands development out of a climate treaty. I took footage of the march and interviewed one of the main organizers.
Also, wondering what the Bella Center looks like inside? Here’s my tour of the lobby.