While killing time during a long layover in Zurich, I was catching up on some news columns and opinion pieces related to climate change.
My options (the reasonably priced ones) from Newark to Warsaw included either this extended stop in Switzerland or flights with a one-hour layover in Frankfort. Having gone through that large and busy airport last year on the way to COP18, I didn't think a mere hour would be sufficient to go through passport control, customs, and security. Our student Marla was pulled aside on our return to have her backpack and stuffed animal checked for something. Drugs? Trace explosives? We were, after all coming from the desert-state Qatar, after doing work relating to climate change, so I guess traces of sand must have seemed suspicious. Given the clockwork precision in Switzerland and only passport control to go through, an hour would have been sufficient for an international connection, but nonetheless, here I sit.
Back to that backlog of reading...As I skimmed through the articles, I was reminded a) how few voices actually get published in the mainstream media and b) that the views published on this complex global topic of climate change are annoyingly polarized. Either the apocalypse is fast approaching or the writers express complete denial and scoff at climate scientists and activists. This is sufficient to cast doubt into the mix, creating confusion and a lot of shoulder-shrugging apathy. People tune out the messages and important dialog is shut down. End result: little action on U.S. policy on climate change and a poorly informed public.
The truth, of course, is somewhere in between to two polarized views. Climate change coverage in the media, like with any controversial topic, is filled with propaganda and emotionally-charged images and metaphors -- think polar bears, images of starving children in drought-stricken Africa, and pictures of Al Gore with flames coming out of his mouth scorching the planet. (Yes, these do exist.) What we try to do in this blog, is to present the issues being discussed at the international level, mainly from our attendance at the United Nations climate conference. This includes progress on negotiations, information we learn from side events, and conversations with people representing the 195 countries in attendance. Much of this is never covered by the mainstream media that we listen to or read.
Moravian College is a member of the Research and Independent NGOs (RINGO) - one of the officially recognized constituency groups or focal points of U.N. accredited organizations within civil society (1). We advocate for nothing more than having the most up-to-date research data be used for developing climate policy on the international stage -- be it for mitigation, building resilience, adapting to change, or minimizing risk. We also work to get this technical information -- translated into a form that is accessible and relevant -- into the hands of stakeholders ranging from individuals to communities, to educators and students and politicians who should be developing climate policy at the local, state, and national levels.
It is important to recognize the bias in what we read and hear. Even in our attempting to translate information into a comprehensible form, our passion for this issue, and our concern for the future of the planet and humanity, is likely to creep in. But we hope our stories convey truth about what people are discussing and experiencing globally.
Speaking of propaganda...The idyllic images of red-roofed villages and Sound-of-Music like scenery of Switzerland seen in travel magazines and brochures, and on postcards need to be supplemented with the views you get while flying over the country: nuclear power plants, large industrial complexes with retention ponds filled with strange colored sludge, and strip mines in the foothills of the Alps. Yes, the truth can be a bit shocking.
The only Fräulein I saw with long braids surrounded by cows in green fields were images on the tunnel walls where the tram from one terminal to another goes by at just the right speed to make it appear as if the young girl is smiling, waving, and winking at you. (Like the cards or book pages you flip through to see images "move" -- a concept most recently incorporated into a commercial "a body at rest tends to stay at rest; a body in motion... for some arthritis prescription.) And just for added effect, sounds of birds chirping and cows mooing were piped in to the tram cars!
The truth of the week is that one of the largest, strongest typhoons to ever hit land has wreaked havoc on the Philippine Islands. The extent of the damage and death toll as I write are not yet known. Today (Sunday), CNN reports that the casualties could reach 10,000. Yesterday, it reported to be 1200 based on preliminary reports from Red Cross International. Headlines read "Like a disaster movie" and "Apocalyptic aftermath." We don't know if this was a freak storm or one of the extreme weather events that may become the new norm of climate change. No doubt, those organizations lobbying for more rapid and sweeping action on climate change will try to convince us of the latter. I can't help be reminded, however, of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report entitled Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation (2) that was published last year and was a major topic of discussion at COP18 in Qatar.
Stay tuned for more reports when we arrive in Poland.
1. For more about civil society's role in the COP meeting process, see our post from last year: http://www.moraviancollegeatunfccc.blogspot.com/2012/12/on-role-of-civil-society-in-un-process.html.
2. See http://www.ipcc-wg2.gov/SREX/ and the blog post from 2012 referenced above.