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.



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