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,

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for this post, Barbarina. I got a little weepy at the end.

    Sending XO,