Thursday, April 15, 2010

President Obama Wants Your Story!

(click on title for video link)

Where have I been? I've been working on a new project: Citizen Climate Action Stories.

Over the past 12 months, while lobbying for comprehensive climate and energy legislation, I’ve met with dozens of members of Congress. Over and over they’ve said to me: “My constituents don’t care about climate change.”

I’ve also met with many individuals and citizen groups, students and members of faith-based communities, business leaders and municipal employees and I know you do care. To help get this message across to our elected leaders, the Natural Resources Defense Council and I are asking you to tell the story of what you and your group are doing to address the climate crisis and create a green energy economy for America. Once we’ve gathered these stories, a team of citizen lobbyists will deliver them to Congressional and White House Administration offices, to let our government know we do care.

Forty years ago, on the first Earth Day, tens of millions of Americans joined their voices to show they cared, and government responded by creating the Environmental Protection Agency and passing the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts. Once again let’s show our leaders that people from all parts of America want them to complement our local actions by passing an effective climate and energy bill.

Please join us in changing the public conversation in America about energy and climate by sharing your story. And while you’re at it, please feel free to pass this on to others who have their own stories to share.

* * *

Instructions for sharing your story:

Here’s what we need from you to get started:

Basic organization information:


Number of members

Location (city, state)

Focus area (e.g. education, industry, community, faith-based)

A few paragraphs (about 500-600 words) on what your organization is doing to reduce global warming, promote clean energy, and/or help the environment.

Any other stories you would like to tell, such as a best practice for greening your community or a profile of a star worker/volunteer.

Photos! Interesting images will help illustrate your work. Especially compelling will be shots of your team in the field helping to clean up or green your community.

We want your stories by April 21st, when we have a special opportunity to present them to President Obama. But feel free to contribute stories throughout the rest of 2010. We’ll give them a basic copy edit for consistency, send them to a designer to package with the stories of other groups, and distribute them throughout all levels of government. The end result will be information that amplifies all of our voices!

We are excited to share your stories with decision makers all over the country.

Send your information to

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Countdown to the final official day of COP 15 and it is getting intense here in Copenhagen. First, despite what the US media may be reporting, it is not complete chaos and violence. Yes, there have been protests in front of the Bella Center--and I can understand the frustration of those protesting AND the sense of overwhelm of those charged with keeping everyone safe in an atmosphere where 45,000 people are wanting to use a facility designed for 15,000--and many of them were being told they couldn't. And yes, negotiations have broken down repeatedly and there is much posturing and dramatic gestures by "the parties" (those actually conducting the negotiations). But before I head off to sleep, I thought I would just list some of the POSITIVE things that have happened over the past 10 days:

  • 50,000 people from around the world have gathered in one place because of their commitment to address climate change.
  • 117 heads of state will meet tomorrow to negotiate an international treaty to 1) safeguard the future of life on the planet through cutting climate change emissions and 2)concurrently improve the lives of billions of people by supporting the development of green economies, which will also help them leaf frog over the fossil fuel era.
  • there is pervasive acknowledgement by the majority of the power brokers that this treaty must be a righting of social injustice, as well as an act of healing the environment.
  • 2 revolutionary, paradigm shifting provisions have received preliminary approval and funding: one acknowledges that trees, especially in tropical forests, are more valuable alive and providing all the ecosystem services that they do when part of healthy forests, than they are cut down and dead; the other acknowledges that at least in one magical place in Ecuador, oil is more valuable left in the ground (with its intact, biodiverse forest and indigenous communities above it) than it is pumped out of the ground. (A big part of this second one also is the value of all of the CO2 emissions that are avoided by not burning the oil.) These two provisions establish not only the premise that it is desirable, but also the funding mechanism, for humanity to start leaving forests intact and leaving oil, coal and uranium in the Earth. To me, this is a milestone in our growing up as a species, a recognition that even though we can, sometimes we shan't. Bravo to us!
  • the widespread understanding, which I am hearing in many different forums, that the world's desperate problems are interconnected and need to be solved with systems thinking. Over the past 4 days I have participated in meetings and sat in on briefings that link preventing deforestation with climate, healing the oceans with climate, empowering women with climate, addressing poverty and racism with climate, and transitioning agriculture to being sustainable, organic and local with climate. On the one hand, this could seem overwhelming and lead one to ask, "How on Earth are we going to address every problem on the planet with one treaty?!?" Of course, we aren't. But by seeing how all the different facets are part of the whole, I think we are much more likely to craft something that will get to the core and be truly transformational, rather than stove-piped and create a whole new set of problems down the road.
  • the amazing, diverse community that has gathered to work on this challenge. Too often, addressing environmental problems was (or was at least perceived as) the luxury of affluent, white nations. Not so any more. In addition to 117 heads of state negotiating tomorrow, there are official representatives from 192 nations and tens of thousands of regular citizens and members of NGOs and reporters and bloggers from every corner of the globe. And all ages, from babes in front backs to wizened elders. And they aren't just in their own corners, glaring at each other. Especially at the Klima Forum 09~Peoples' Climate Summit, they are participating in workshops together, and networking and interviewing each other, and peacefully marching together, and singing together at candle-lit vigils. To be part of this global community has been one of the most inspiring and moving experiences of my life.
  • perhaps the largest grass roots organization in human history has mobilized around this issue--and all of its ramifications. Regardless of what happens by midnight tomorrow in the Bella Center, this movement, with it billions of members, knows that giving up is not an option and will still keep working every angle--the personal, the cultural, the economic and the governmental--to transform our way of life... so that we get to keep living.

I went to bed last night with the heavy sense that the next two days would determine the fate of the planet, but after a long conversation with a friend from NRDC, Jacob Scherr, who has been attending international environmental conferences for 17 years, I feel that as high stakes as this moment is, it is not so simple as "if we have a deal, we save the planet; if we don't have a deal, it is the end of the world." He shared with me his perspective that change, especially on this scale, involving all the world's nations and cultures and peoples, is almost definitely not going to be neat and turn on a dime. Rather, it will be messy and uneven and happen in starts and fits.

I think many of us who have worked so hard on this would love it if, like a good movie, the hero would fly in on Air Force One and we would have a brilliant international agreement by midnight tomorrow. And certainly it won't be great if we don't. However, there is so much that is positive, hopeful, and revolutionary that has happened already that we can't let ourselves fall into either holding our breath waiting to be saved, or despairing that we are doomed. It's just not that simple.

One insight Jacob shared with me has really shifted my perspective on all this: as important and helpful as a good international treaty will be, ultimately a treaty alone cannot save us--only we, the multitudes of individuals and families and communities and nations that make up this human family can do that. Because what we are really talking about is the most profound cultural and technological transformation we have ever undertaken, and without this shift happening within "we, the people" there is no treaty enforcement agency large enough or powerful enough to make us transform just because we wrote a good document.

So Saturday morning, regardless of what happens in the next 24 hours, we all still need to get up and keep plugging away at the work of individual and community transitioning and transformation. Don't get me wrong--I still want a treaty, and a good one at that--but I now feel lighter, thought at the same time a bit more grounded as well. Lighter in that I no longer feel tomorrow will determine the rest of our future; more grounded in that I have a deeper conviction that this work is really dependent on each of us, not just the heads of state, and that we can do it.

I will sign off with 2 quotes:

"If success or failure of this planet
and of human beings
depended on how I am and
what I do...

How would I be?
What would
I do?"

~R. Buckminster Fuller

Sometimes it falls upon a generation to be great.

You can be that great generation.

~Nelson Mandela, 2005

Let's be that great generation,

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Update from Copenhagen and COP 15

Quick update from Copenhagen: As you may have heard in the media, getting into the conference center where COP 15 is being held turned into a major logistical nightmare yesterday, with thousands of registered attendees being shut out. Long story short, I didn't get in...but this ended up being an opportunity for me to attend other, side events which I found incredibly interesting and valuable:
-a UN Foundation breakfast on women, population and climate. Having been interested in these issues for years, it was refreshing and inspiring to hear powerful world policy crafters talk about how the most effective way to address population issues is to empower women by making sure they have the same rights and opportunities as men. What a new UN study (State of World Population 2009: Facing a changing world: women, population and climate) also points out is that one of the most effective ways to address climate change is also to empower women: women now make up the majority of the developing world's farmers, are the primary care takers of their families, and often make many of a family's purchasing decisions. Empowering women to be positive agents for fixing climate change could be one of the most strategic moves the world's policy crafters could make.

-a UN Foundation dinner on the relationship between meeting the Millennium Development Goals and negotiating the international climate treaty. Like the breakfast, this was attended by some of the true luminaries in the international development world (Gro Brundtland, Mary Robinson, Helen Clark, Tim Wirth...and Jet Li!), and speaker after speaker got up and said that unlike any previous climate conference, this one will have to simultaneously address climate change and meeting the Millennium Development Goals. If it does not, THERE WILL BE NO DEAL. My "everywoman's" understanding of all this, is that the developed world is finally getting it that solving environmental problems is inextricably linked to solving human problems, including huge disparities in consumption and responsibility between the industrialized countries and the rest of the world. On the one hand, this seems so obvious, but given the type of discourse that happened on these issues at COP 13 in Bali, just 2 years ago, this is a huge and positive step in the right direction.

In terms of what is going on in COP 15, I learned from one of my NRDC insiders, Jake Schmidt, that one enormously positive thing has happened and one enormously large challenge still remains:

1.Positive thing: All of the developed nations have agreed that global emissions need to be cut, that each of their nations need to cut their own emissions, have set targets for emissions cuts and have plans for how to achieve these targets (or are at least working on these targets, the US being the most critical in the "we're working on it" camp.) This is a HUGE, game changing, revolutionary, "may just save us yet" accomplishment.

2.Large challenge: Part of the treaty will allocate funding from the industrialized nations to the developing nations to help them
a) cut their emissions (mitigation)

b)cope with the climate change that, at this point, is unavoidable.

Not surprisingly, the industrialized, wealthy countries are offering embarrassingly little and the rest of the world is FURIOUS! It seems like what will make or break the entire treaty is whether both sides can broker this part of the deal. To give you a tiny bit of context: I learned yesterday, ironically from a friend in Vermont, that the US just offered $85 million for developing renewable energy to the ENTIRE group of developing countries. As I hinted at in an earlier post, the US military gets 3 billion A DAY. Other ways of comparing these numbers come from my friend in Vermont (who works as a planner and spends his days crunching numbers for infrastructure projects):

In the fair state of Vermont, $85 million could buy you:

1.One large bridge
2.One large shopping mall
3. Repaving I-89 from Burlington to the NH border

What will probably be one of the most decisive factors is the kind of financial package President Obama arrives with on Friday. I am hoping he comes to town with a sense of vision, good will, realism about the kind of money it is going to take to help the developing countries retool to address climate change, courage and a generous heart.

In my conversations with others, from high ranking governmental officials, to policy staffers at environmental NGOS, to my actor/activist friend, I'm hearing the same message: humanity needs to re-calibrate our sense of self-interest to being linked to global well being. If every nation continues throughout these negotiations primarily focused on how it can best look after Number One, we will, in essence, be joining hands and walking off the cliff together. However, if each nation can realize that survival--and our ability to thrive--is dependent on making it possible for even the least of us to address climate change and thrive, we may just pull this off.

More later,

Sunday, December 13, 2009

"Hej" from Copenhagen!

"Hej" from Copenhagen! After using almost every form of transportation known to man--okay I didn't use a hang glider or camel--I am in the fair and bustling city where COP 15, also know as the UN Climate Change Conference 2009, is happening. During my week of as low carbon emitting traveling that I could manage, I have met so many interesting people:

  • the beautiful young Argentinian waitress in a London cafe, who, when I told her I was off to COP 15, said, "Thank you! Please work very hard because all of us who can't be there are counting on those of you who will be. And we have very little time left."
  • the British climate scientist from Centre for Ecology and Hydrology~Natural Environment Research Council" who has spent the past 30 years immersed in climate change science. He told me that in response to the controversial emails leaked from the British climate center in East Anglia, he and 1,700 other climate science colleagues had just signed a petition that affirms that climate change is real, human induced, and needs urgent action.
  • his partner, Sue, who is a leader of Sustainable Wallingford (a group very similar to a Transition Town groups around the world.). She told me about their Greening Campaign to help households take up a dozen simple climate actions, sustain them for a year, and then post their successes with a special poster in their front windows. After one year they have had an inspiring success rate of 24% of local households sustaining these actions. Who says people won't change?
  • my amazing actor/climate activist friend, Kathy Blume, who has been in Copenhagen to perform her one woman show about climate change, The Boycott. This funny, sobering and poignant play is a retake of Lysistrata, but in this version the First Lady of the US launches a sex strike to stop climate change. She performed it Klimaforum--the civil society counterpart to COP 15--to an enthusiastic international audience of 200. Kathy and I, while sharing delicious Danish seafood and cheese, had long and far ranging conversations about what COP 15 and Klima Forum might accomplish, the effectiveness of government action vs. citizen activism vs. cultural change, and what we are scared of and hopeful about.
  • an earnest young American lawyer at the Natural Resources Defense Council. He is the son of Taiwanese immigrants, grew up in Ohio and now works in NRDC's Beijing office where he advocates for sound Chinese climate policy. We discussed the disparity between the 44% of Americans who currently believe in climate change (down from 78% who believed in it in April, 2009) and the 88% of Chinese who believe in it. One of the differences we explored is that the Chinese government pretty solidly controls the media, and therefore the information the average citizen has access to, including on climate change. Of course, thanks to our first amendment rights (of which I am a staunch supporter) this is not the case in the US. Also, as a monolithic government not dependent on democratic elections to stay in power, the Chinese government can undertake strategic long term planning vis a vis climate change with the confidence it will actually get to implement it. In the US, with our highly diverse, often polarized citizenry, and 2 year election cycles, the process is much more cumbersome and uncertain. And of course, neither of us want to give up our democracy or rights. So the question my new friend and I parted on was, "What will it take for our pluralistic culture to effectively act, in a timely enough manner, without sacrificing that which we cherish about our form of government?"
  • a journalist, Andy Revkin, who covers climate change for the New York Times. One of the most critical--and contentious-- issues being hammered out at COP 15 is the amount of money the rich, industrialized countries (those most responsible for creating climate change) will pledge to give to the Developing Countries (those most vulnerable to its impacts) to help them both adapt to climate change and lower their emissions. Andy and I talked about how what the First World Countries are presenting as a "bold" offer--$10 billion/year--is the equivalent of 3 1/3 days of funding for the US military.

And I haven't even attended any official events yet!

Stay tuned throughout the next 2 weeks for more posts as I report back after full days at COP 15, Klima Forum and other side events.



Monday, December 7, 2009

Off to Copenhagen I Go!

Welcome to a new blog by one obscure housewife from Vermont who is passionate about stopping runaway climate change. Well, not just stopping the awful, scary things associated with climate change, but also being part of a proactive movement to help create a future we can be hopeful and excited about--one which moves away from relying so insanely on finite (and toxic) resources like fossil fuels, but also which strives to build sustainability and resiliency back into our communities, our families and our daily lives.

One year ago I was a 44 year old mom, recovering from major hip surgery and wondering what I could do to make a difference. I had helped campaign for Obama and was grateful beyond words that America had elected someone who was not only willing to say "climate change" out loud, but who seemed to really get the urgency of dealing with it NOW.

Tonight I sit in a Boston hotel room awaiting my early morning flight to Europe where I will be attending the international climate conference in Copenhagen.

And Obama will be the first US president in 3 administrations to attend such a conference as well. I may even get to hear him speak, along with other world leaders from dozens and dozens of countries. But there will also be lots of regular folks attending. All of whom have chosen to travel and leave their families at one of the main times of year for being with loved make a difference, to make a stand, to lend a helping hand, to make a pledge of faith that as a species we are smart enough, caring enough, and willing enough to save not only this beautiful blue gem of a planet, but also ourselves.

Sleep beckons so that is all for now. However, if you are interested in reading regular coverage of (and musings about what it all means) the goings on in Copenhagen, keep checking this site.