Saturday, December 19, 2009

The final hours

On Friday, as all sorts of political wrangling was occurring at the Bella Center, I attended 2 panel sessions discussing reactions to what had occurred over the past two weeks. The first was a panel at the Klimaforum Panelists included Bill Becker, Presidential Climate Action Plan; Bill McKibben, Middlebury College, author, activist with; Mike Eckhart, American Council on Renewable Energy; Polly Higgins, International Environmental Lawyer and advocate for planetary rights (from the U.K.); David Orr, Professor of Environmental Studies at Oberlin; and Chip Comins who moderated the session from American Renewable Energy Day.

The panel discussed their thoughts on President Obama's speech from earlier in the day. They seemed to think it fell far short in what was needed especially with respect to acknowledging specific duties (in the ethical sense) of countries like the U.S. in paying for and admitting responsibility for the past 150+ years of dumping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. They were adamant that the U.S. and others should end the policy of giving subsidies to industries that are the polluters. Several references were made to past examples where emergency legislation was enacted (WWII, the Bush administration coming to the rescue of the banks in crisis, etc.), and the panelists felt that such urgency was needed now to deal with climate change and climate debt.
In general, the attitude was very negative and, amongst the audience, quite anti-American. I have always thought that Bill McKibben's writings were pretty negative (e.g. just consider the title The End of Nature). His comments in person confirmed my impression.

The rather disappointing panel session ended with Polly Higgins reading the draft of "the Peoples' Declaration: Planet Earth Trust" (you can read and even sign on to this declaration at ). There was also positive support (finally, a positive thought about something) from the panel members for the Klimaforum Declaration that was signed earlier in the day and delivered in a 2 minute talk to the UNFCCC.
I read this alternative declaration carefully and found it to be against a lot of things (many not related to climate change) but quite lacking in creative and substantial alternatives and solutions. The document calls for a "complete abandonment of fossil fuels within the next 30 years; recognition, payment and compensation of climate debt; a rejection of purely market-oriented and technology-centred false and dangerous solutions". The document is very anti-large corporation and pretty anti-technology as well. Riding bikes, growing food locally and sustainably, and the promotion of community-based actions are great things, but are not going to go very far in addressing a global problem as large and as complex as climate change.

HB and I then went to the Fresh Air Center ( ) to gain a different perspective amongst the "top global bloggers and digital campaigners" at the rapid response media center. A big thanks to this group for their support and wonderful programming throughout the time in Copenhagen. HB and I were lucky to have been accepted into this forum.
A panel consisting of Ben Winkler (AVAAZ), Phil Gluver (Oxfam, Great Britain), and Tara Row (WWF) all expressed disappointment over the draft texts that have emerged saying that they consisted of "hollow text with hollow promises". However, there was much positive acknowledgement of the global campaigning efforts that arose over the past few months, the energy of the grassroots movements involved with the causes of climate change and climate justice, and the recognition that new leaders were emerging in the climate change battle. Almost 15 million people have now signed on to the global petition for a "real deal now" (; ) and there are now 3.8 million members of AVAAZ (

In discussing where to go next, the panelists referred to climate change as the "apartheid of our time" and called for nonviolent conflict. There seemed to be a message of hope rather than the depressing cloud of negativism at the other session. The final talking points was centered on the question of "What will human resilience look like" and a plea to those in the audience and readers of the blogs to choose a cause and stick with it "to be transformed and to transform the world".
Rumors of an unscheduled press conference by President Obama were circulating so we waited a bit but only saw this:
Exhausted, we headed back on the train to our little cottage exhausted. By coincidence, we ran into Laura on the train platform, and enjoyed a final chat about the experience of the past two weeks.
Our humble abode for the past two weeks:

After a long night of last minute negotiations and rumors of all sorts, the COP15 process produced a non-legally binding accord. There are many spins on what this all means, especially since many countries did not sign on to it. If you are interested, you can read the document:
To get a sense of the non-U.S. spin on all this, you can go to sites like or or even the BBC.

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