Sunday, December 21, 2014

A Letter to the Editor

Climate denial opinion pieces  are commonly found in our local news papers.  I am often asked to write rebuttals, but the letter-to-the-editor word limits don't allow for a sufficient response to address even the errors of fact, much less to craft a well-reasoned commentary.  One recent opinion  from December 19th dealt with COP20, so it seemed appropriate to post the response I would have sent to the editor on this blog.  The author, Mr. Policelli, serves on the board for the Green Knight Economic Development Corporation (a group working to create a landfill gas-to-energy plant).  His opinion pieces are routinely found in the paper.

So here is my response – written from the perspective of someone who actually attended the conference he writes about:

Mr. Policelli, There is much disagreement as to how to create an ambitious, effective, and equitable international agreement to deal with the global climate change problem.  But in order to have a constructive dialog about this, one must first get the facts straight.  The meeting that wrapped up earlier this month was the "Conference of the Parties" or COP - that is, the signatories to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (a treaty) that goes back to the 1992 Rio Earth Summit. You can learn more here.  The U.S. is one of the signatories to this agreement.  The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is not, as you say, a "corrupt blob of unelected bureaucrats that demands endless power and money."  From the official definition of the IPCC:
 The IPCC is a scientific body. It reviews and assesses, at regular intervals, the most recent scientific, technical and socioeconomic information produced worldwide, relevant to the understanding of climate change. It does not conduct any research nor does it monitor climate-related data or parameters. The COP receives the outputs of the IPCC and uses IPCC data and information as a baseline on the state of knowledge on climate change in making science based decisions.
These are scientific experts from around the world who -- as volunteers -- review the peer-reviewed, published data and create reports that are meant to serve as resources to the policy makers on the various working groups within the COP and the negotiators from nations around the world.

Are there activists at these meetings?  Yes.  Are there world leaders like Bolivian President Morales in attendance who give lengthy, fiery speeches out of frustration?  Yes. John Kerry came in at the end of week 2 representing the U.S.  His remarks were pretty fiery too, and they were pretty harsh on climate deniers.  Are there developing countries who are suffering the consequences of climate change demanding financial and technical assistance for adaptation and risk reduction?  Yes, and many of these countries have not significantly contributed to the problem, or at least not until recent years, as opposed to countries like the U.S. who have used fossil fuels for around 2 centuries.  This concept of "polluter pays" is a common theme discussed at COP meetings.  And instead of this payment be in the form of fines, these countries are asking for help to allow them to develop to a decent standard of living without going down the same polluting paths that we have.

As a scientist and a delegate to the past 6 COP meetings, I am happy to engage in constructive dialog as to how to deal with climate change -- a problem that science has clearly documented.  Let's find a good forum to have our own regional conversations and conferences to sort out facts from fiction, and to determine how our local governments should set policies of mitigation, adaptation, and risk reduction.  But let's leave the science denial and insults at the door step.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Kaitlyn Teppert: Let's "ReCOP"

If you’ve ever flown and gotten the chance to look out the window as you ascend, the view often leaves us with a sense of awe—especially the first time. If you haven’t flown before, I can try to describe it to you. When you’re stuck on the ground, it’s easy to only see what’s in front of you. But from above, your viewpoint both literally and metaphorically will change.

It’s kind of like zooming out. You see individual lights become less distinct; you see how all the roads connect and how exactly you get from point A to B. Your city becomes indistinguishable amongst the lights, you see the trees that separate towns; you see your individual home become something so much bigger than what it is. It becomes part of a system. It becomes part of a whole.

As we bid farewell to Lima, Peru and the 20th Conference of Parties (COP 20) on Sunday, an annual United Nations climate change negotiation, it’s these thoughts that were running through my head.

Did they run through the negotiators’?

No matter if they flew in a helicopter, jet, or stuck on a plane like the rest of us—did they watch as their bubble melts away into the surface of the Earth? Did they think about what they discussed this past week? Did they fight hard enough to save the fate of this delicate system?

The official outcomes of the countless hours of negotiations have been released in the Lima Call for Climate Action, as it’s being called. I think the name is extremely significant, no matter what the content is: no longer can we sit and talk about climate change. We need to mobilize and start fighting against it.

It’s easy to get this feeling from the COP as an observer. As an observer, our days were often filled with interesting talks and side-events presented by the people who are doing something. These are people from all kinds of organizations, mostly different kinds of Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs). Each side-event, usually an hour and a half to two hours long, is basically a panel of experts giving presentations or engaging in conversation about a specific topic (agriculture, technology, energy, water, et cetera).

When we’re bouncing around to each different side-event, trying to decide which to spend our time at, furiously taking notes and trying to soak up all the knowledge we can, it’s easy to feel empowered about climate change. With or without governmental help, these are people who are making massive changes in their communities and beyond.

It makes me wish more people in America, especially students my age, were like them.

In addition to the official side-events, there’s also the opportunity to meet countless individuals, who are wonderful sources of information as well.

Sure, some of the more higher level stuff might be exciting to talk about (getting to hear Al Gore, or sneak into John Kerry’s press conference, or getting to go to the Presidential Plenary), but it is these individuals who really matter in the battle against climate change.

However, there is always a slight lull in the air that fills the non-existent silence; the slight itch that everyone has in the back of their mind. So of course, it all boils down to that one, single question:

What will come out of COP 20’s negotiations?

For all of the work that the NGOs are doing, will their governments hear their cry? Will they follow in their people’s example and do what’s right?

So we hang onto every word of the negotiations that we can: what country is saying what, who is being difficult and refusing to be flexible and is in the way of progress? A good recap that happened at 6 pm every day was an event called the Fossil of the Day, which highlighted a country (or a couple of more) that was “the best at being the worst – doing the most to do the least – who is trying to their hardest to keep us from a fair, just, and binding climate agreement.”

It has been outlined that at COP 20 in Lima, the idea was to establish a signed, legally-binding draft of a document akin to a treaty that would bind all of the world’s nations together against climate change. This draft would be finalized in Paris, France at COP 21.

On Friday, the last day at the COP, the energy was thick in the air. Everyone buzzed around the two Plenary sessions, listening to countries talk about what they needed changed in the document, trying to bide their time until an agreement could be reached. As the hours ticked by, our group decided that there was no way anything was getting done tonight – and so, we took the shuttle bus home, our hearts and minds still back at the COP, wondering when we’d get news.

However, despite having an original deadline of Friday, we did not receive news until Sunday morning. Some of the last meetings were held early into Sunday morning; an emergency press conference had been called at 1 am.

And so, the outcome of the Lima Call for Climate Action has been released. At to the dismay of many, many people, nothing has been signed.

Sure, officials like COP 20’s president have released statements that they are optimistic about the outcome of Lima – that we’ve made forward on a lot of ground and they are left with high hopes for COP 21 – but other people are not as excited. NGO’s are quick to take a more critical eye to the Lima Call for Climate Action.

In all reality, the negotiators have done nothing but kick the can to Paris in 2015, despite the name of the Lima Call for Climate Action. Many people from the NGO’s are frustrated and upset that such a thing has happened. It’s obvious that because the fossil fuel industry still has such a hold on our economy and society that our governments will not willingly make moves in the right direction. Which means that this call for climate action was a call to the people. It was a call to you, me, and every other individual in the world.

We need to show our governments that change is not just what we want – it’s what we need. If we want to curb the effects of climate change, we need to act, and act now. Because right now, it just seems like we’re rejecting the call for climate action. 

Monday, December 15, 2014

Student voices - continued

While in Lima, I received messages via social media from several people – some former students, some relatives, and some strangers from as far away as Uganda – who applauded my “taking on the world”.  I am not so sure that I am taking on the world, but simply trying to do my small part in education, advocacy, and awareness building about what I believe to be one of the greatest challenges of the 21st century. One of the most important things I can do (I think) with students is to nurture an awareness of (and perhaps  even a love for) the natural world.  Fostering such a connection makes it easier to show people how that natural world is being altered by our choices and actions, and, in some cases, by our inaction.  From there, we ponder options and actions.  And sometimes, the responses of the students make me take notice.

In the previous post, I included an essay response to a question on the final from a student in my Introduction to Environmental Studies course.  This time, I include a response from another student (again with permission) to a different question.  Colton Krial is a senior majoring in political science.  He wrote this before we had the outcome from COP20.  
The question:

What is the UNFCCC and what is its purpose?  Based on what you have learned in class, from my blog posts, and/or from other investigations that you have made, do you think that we can achieve a fair, multilateral, and legally binding agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in a timeframe that can prevent runaway climate change?

Colton's response:

             The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change is a UN policy initiative aimed at halting the excessive greenhouse gasses being poured into the atmosphere. They work to negotiate settlements like carbon emissions limits, while remaining sensitive to issues like economic growth.
            I personally do not see much hope in turning back the tide of climate change through legislation or multilateral agreements, although I do not dismiss their value in helping to bring about the consciousness necessary to do so. The world seems entirely beholden to the logic of neoliberalism: deregulation of markets, liberalization of trade, and privatization of government services. In this political economic context, predicated on the importance of profit as the driver of the world economy, it is hard to imagine a radical shift in the world development model that is meaningfully sensitive to environmental concerns.
            Additionally, there is evidence that world powers such as the United States are not negotiating in good faith when working out development goals in relation to climate change. Documents provided by whistleblower Edward Snowden show that the U.S., in order to strengthen their position in negotiations, used the National Security Agency (NSA) to spy on the 2009 climate meetings in Copenhagen that, unsurprisingly, failed to end positively. (Poitras, Information)
            Perhaps the biggest problems occur when confronting the role of the nations of the Global South. After years of exploitation via colonialism and imperialism, these nations are for the most part emulating American development, and in many parts of the world the goal is to have the comforts of the United States (although this is by no means a universal attitude). It seems ethically unjustifiable to continue to hold these nations down for the sake on the environment after our exploitative development model seems to have caused these issues in the first place. Similarly, it seems ethically unjustifiable to allow these nations to overwhelm the climate with their newfound consumption habits. Personally, it seems that the only ethically justifiable action is to curb our own consumption habits and find an egalitarian balance.


Student voices

I am so glad that the students have been actively posting on this blog. Since I had to return to the states to give a final exam and finish my semester grading, I am behind in my writing.  Week 2 brought the 3rd annual Gender Day, a day focused on Human Rights, and visits from Al Gore and John Kerry (see note at the end of this post). U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, several high-level ministers, and even a few presidents and prime ministers showed up as well -- all imploring the negotiators to commit to ambitious agreements to reduce the threats of climate change (For example, see Kaitlyn Teppert's post on the blog entitled "Ticket for One, Please".

While I was away, I had assigned some final essay questions for my Introduction to Environmental Science course -- a 100-level course for non-science majors, many of whom are interested in going into K-12 teaching.  One of the questions was as follows:

a) Why is "Do you believe in evolution?" an inappropriate question?
b) Is “Do you believe in climate change?” an inappropriate question?  Explain. 
c) What factors determine whether a species will either adapt to environmental change or end up in decline or extinct?  Many believe that we are facing the 6th mass extinction and climate change may be a major contributor to this.  Why can’t species simply adapt to the new climate conditions?

Below, I share (with permission) the response by Ms. Kayla Marinelli (a first year student) because a) I like what she had to say, b) it is relevant to the theme of this blog, and c) I want to keep the momentum up on this blog while I have time to collect my thoughts and analyze the outcomes of COP20.

            “Do you believe in evolution?” is a simple, common question asked so often, yet extremely inappropriate.  Evolution is not something that can be believed in; evolution is a fact.  Asking if someone believes in evolution is the equivalent of asking if someone believes in gravity.  Everyone believes in gravity; gravity is a concept that everyone understands and knows is relative.  Gravity is taught in sixth grade science classes across the country because it is a fact, yet evolution is still in question after all of the proof that has been stated and all the information found.  Asking if someone believes in evolution is putting evolution on the same level as religion.  Religion is a touchy subject for some people and means different things to different individuals.  Religion is something that cannot be tested nor proven; God cannot be proven to exist.  There is solid, concrete proof of evolution.  So why is it put on the same playing field as something that has nothing more than spiritual proof?  “Do you believe in evolution” is an inappropriate question because of the countless pieces of evidence found to prove it.  Evolution is a widely accepted theory in the scientific community but not commonly accepted by the general public.  Evolution is not about how life began but how life evolved after it began, which not much of the public understands.  The public believes that evolution means that God does not exist and that it is how the world was created.  In America today, 78.4% of Americans identify themselves as Christians, 4.7% as other religions, and 16.1% as unaffiliated (Pew Forum, 2007).  These statistics explain a lot about why evolution is not accepted.  83.1% of America believes in a God, which most of the public thinks evolution says cannot exist.  That is false though since evolution, as previously stated, does not describe how life began but instead how it changed since evolution means ‘change.’  Many people in the public do not understand this distinction hence why they do not believe in evolution.  Therefore, asking whether someone believes in evolution or not is not an appropriate question since evolution is not a belief, but a fact.

            Talk about climate change is all the rage at this moment.  Climate change is another proven fact, same as evolution, that people simply do not believe in.  Studies have shown the steady increase in temperatures for years.  Studies have also shown the rise in sea level, which is due to the increase in temperatures.  Global warming, a cause of climate change, is carbon dioxide and other pollutants gathering in the atmosphere like a thick blanket that traps the sun’s heat, causing the planet’s temperature to rise (NRDC, 2011).  Temperatures in an area may not seem like they are any different than previous years, but the average global temperature has increased the fastest ever recorded.  The levels of emissions being produced need to be decreased in order to save the world.  Just this past November, President Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping signed an agreement to reduce greenhouse gases down to 2005 levels by the year 2020 (CBS News, 2014).  The agreement is exciting news to see considering the fact that it may get more countries involved in helping to lower emissions.  The only problem is that the agreement is only a promise until some actions are made to move the project forward.  Climate change is like evolution in the way that people do not believe in it without any proof against it.  Climate change is a big problem to biodiversity, which is the diversity among and within plant and animal species in an environment.

            There are many factors that determine whether or not a species will adapt to a situation and survive or die off to the point of extinction.  Climate change is a cause of the decrease of biodiversity, the increase in the extinction or decline of species all over the world.  Natural selection is a determinant of a species being in decline.  Some species can survive certain variations of weather and if one variation is too extreme, the other variation of species may have more survivors.  The robin is a perfect example.  The robin, a very common bird in Pennsylvania, has two migrating patterns.  Some robins migrate to the South while others stay north for the winter.  The robins that stay north stay down at the creeks and eat berries all winter while the Southern robins have plenty to eat since they are in a warmer climate.  The North robins could have problems by running out of food, such as berries, and the South robins could have problems with their journey down south.  Depending on if either group had any problems, one group of robins may come out on top of the others.  If there is an especially difficult winter, the robins that stayed home will have died, then getting selected out of the population.  This happens with a lot of species and can cause variation within a species. Variations also occur naturally, such as DNA mutations.  The organisms can also share their genes when they migrate, causing even more variations.  In general, variation in genes is truly the main factor on whether a species will survive; there are just many types of variations that can occur.  Species cannot simply adapt to every climate though.

Many scientists believe that the 6th mass extinction is coming upon us and it is all at fault of humans, essentially.  Studies have shown that the rate of extinction used to be one species per ten million species annually while today the rate is between one hundred to one thousand species per a million species (Pappas, 2014).  That is quite a leap, especially considering the fact that only 0.05 to 0.2 new species per a million begin their existence each year (Pappas, 2014).  The rate of extinction is much higher than the rate of production of new species, which means that biodiversity is becoming smaller and smaller every single year.  The climate change is a large factor contributing to the extinction of so many species.  As previously stated, species cannot just adapt to every climate condition thrown their way.  It takes generations and generations of a species to have adapted to a certain climate, but the climate is changing far to quickly for these species to keep up, causing them to become extinct instead of adapting.  Humans are ultimately at blame, though, since the human species is the cause of so of the much pollution that is causing the climate change.  The human population needs to make serious changes in order to slow down extinction rates of species.

An Introduction to Climate Change. (2011, November 8). Retrieved December 5, 2014, from

Kunkle, D. (Director) (2014, December 2). Evolution. Lecture conducted from Moravian College, Bethlehem, PA.

Obama: U.S.-China climate change accord "historic" (2014, November 12). Retrieved December 5, 2014, from

Pappas, S. (2014, September 8). 6th Mass Extinction? Humans Kill Species Faster Than They're Created. Retrieved December 5, 2014, from

Report 1: Religious Findings. (2007, May 8). Retrieved December 5, 2014, from

Note: See the accountings of these visits from the students representing the American Chemical Society: and

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Kaitlyn Teppert: Ticket for One, Please

There’s a lot of potential on a bus.

Choosing to sit alone when you first board the shuttle bus that takes those accredited can be a little scary. At first, you’re sitting, still kind of asleep, half-hoping that no one will sit next to you because really, the best thing would be to get to shut your eyes and ride out the bumper-to-bumper traffic in a dreamy haze.

But then, opportunities would fall to the wayside.

On the morning of December 10th, a lovely woman named Verona sat next to me. She works with UN Women, located in New York. The 10th was the day after Gender Day at the COP, so sitting next to her and getting to talk to her was a wonderful opportunity in and of itself. However, as we inched closer and closer to the bus during our stop-and-sometimes-go bus ride, she turned to me and asked, “what will you do when you get there this morning?”

Thinking about it for a moment, I said, “probably try to get into the overflow room so we can watch the Presidential Plenary.”

The Plenary, for those that don’t know, is a general “opening ceremonies” that is held at the COP every morning. The President of the COP always hosts it, and different guests and officials speak every day. At the Presidential Plenary, the president of Peru, Chile, and Columbia would be speaking. Because of this, it was considered a high-level event, and the only way to get in to the actual room would be with a ticket. However, with our ‘observer pass’ status, none of us could get tickets the day we had tried.

But Verona smiled at me. “I’ve got an extra ticket, if you’d like to go.” She paused, considering the time. “We’ll probably arrive just in time.”

Sure enough, with a bit of hurrying through security, we were just in time for the Plenary to begin.
The President of Peru as he addresses the Plenary.

The first to speak, after being properly introduced by the COP 20 President, was Ollanta Humala, the president of Peru. He touched on some of the many actions being taken here in Peru to fight climate change now. For example, he announced proudly that Peru would be donating $6 million dollars to the Green Climate Fund this was an announcement that was met with an uproarious applause from the audience. After passing the $10 billion mark already in the Green Climate Fund, the fact that we are surpassing that check point is beyond inspirational.

After him, president of Chile, Michelle Bachelet, spoke. Chile has commited to reducing their emissions by 20% by 2020 (based off of 2007 emissions). They have also enacted a National Adaptation Plan, which not only includes 100+ actions to improve sustainability in their country, but also builds new avenues for generating information about environmental studies.

The third president to speak was the president of Columbia, Juan Manuel Santos. One of the biggest actions currently happening in Columbia is that they have committed to a zero net deforestation rate by 2020. Considering that most of the deforestation that currently happens in Columbia is illegal, this is an extremely complex issue beyond simply stopping deforestation. He also made a remark about how he was going to announce Columbia’s commitment of $4 million to the Green Climate Fund… but since Peru had already set the bar, he decided right then to up the ante to match the $6 million that Peru would be donating.

Once again, the crowd went wild.

Following the presidents, the ever-inspirational Secretary-General of the United Nations Ban Ki-Moon took the floor. If you ever have the chance to hear this man speak, you must. He, and the three presidents, all had very inspirational and moving speeches – all four of these high-level officials saying many of the same thing about COP 20 and about where we must go if we hope to save our planet; if we hope to save lives.
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon as he addresses the Plenary.

All of these officials proclaimed that the negotiations (ending today) must have strong, decisive language that outlines clear goals. These goals must be legally-binding, and must align not just every nation, but everyone. It must align academia, the private sector, governments, working class and the rural poor; it must work towards every single person’s best interest, and it must work to save lives. It must set a solid foundation of a signed draft, so when COP 21 in Paris, France comes along, we will have something that is legally-binding, something that will make countries lower their greenhouse gas emissions, invest in the low-carbon economy, promote green innovation, and improve public health.

This legally-binding negotiation must create a world-wide alliance, the biggest in all of human history. Every single person can be brought together in our fight against the common enemy: climate change. This is imperative.

These three presidents and Mr. Secretary-General made it very clear. We must commit to action. We know one thing; time is not on our side. We cannot afford to put off a decision like this farther than Paris; in fact, all of them made it very clear that it is up to us—the people—to take action now. To urge our countries to act globally, to change the way we live in order to do what we can.

Think about it. It may seem like as individuals, we are powerless – but climate change is directly affecting individuals. Which is why every single individual action against climate change, from now to 2015 and beyond, is important.

Kaitlyn Teppert: A Woman's Touch

As many people know, gender balance in the science and political world is nonexistent. While women have absolutely become more represented in these fields, the disparity and difference between the genders is still there, and still strong. Due to the nature of science and politics, the COP becomes a melting pot for both of those worlds to come together as the climate science is applied and considered in policy making.

Along with more distinct and definitive wording needing to be utilized in the official policies, we also need to reconsider our entire approach to climate change.

Think about it – when we hear about things like renewable energy, or new infrastructure, or more efficient appliances, or electric cars, what pops into everyone’s mind? Money. And why? Because politicians have made it that way. They’ve presented climate change not as the disaster it is, but as a component of the economy; of course, it influences and is influenced by the economy, but by no means does that mean can we put a price on human lives.

So where does this tie into gender?

On December 9th at the COP’s gender day, I had the wonderful experience of getting to listen to, amongst others, Wandee Khunchornyakong speak about how her company began. Ms. Khunchornyakong began some of the first solar farms in Thailand. Currently, she runs 36 of them; simply because when the government opened applications for solar farms, no one else applied—so when she was expecting one, she was handed 36.
Ms. Khunchornyakong examining meters in one of her many solar farms.

Upon approval, she went to the banks in her city, trying to convince the banks that green investments were smart investments. After almost every bank turned her down, Ms. Khunchornyakong was able to find a bank to cover 60% of the costs. Which meant she’d have to find 40%.

At the talks on December 9th, Ms. Khunchornyakong smiled out into the audience, reminiscing about these days, with her husband in the row directly behind mine. She looked out at us and said:
“I told him, ‘if we lose, we only lose money. But if we win…’”

The implications are there. If their solar farms were successful (which they are), they wouldn’t just earn money; but lower carbon dioxide emissions, and end up offering thousands of local jobs and opportunities for people.

Ms. Khunchornyakong’s words, I think, embodied the difference between how women lead and how men lead. So far, the discussion has revolved around money, because as the saying goes, “money talks.”

Well, I think money might talk too much.

When we consider climate change, we always ask ourselves what we can do to change. What can we make more efficient? What habits are bad and make large, negative impacts? What alternatives do we have?

Maybe we should begin to consider to change the leadership. Allowing women to rise up to higher positions, allowing them into the discussion for policy making and help design the roadmaps to a livable, sustainable future could completely change the discussion. Ms. Khunchornyakong’s statement is the perfect embodiment of how women choose to lead. We recognize that climate change is a people issue, not just an environmental one.

Ms. Khunchornyakong’s business is a lighthouse; it is a beacon of hope for climate, for change, and for women.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

From Facebook to Tuvalu - a Very Wide Gap Indeed

Earlier this week, our public relations office sent out a press release and posted information on the college Facebook page about our participation here at COP20 in Lima.  Based on prior experience, if this was the local paper, I would (sadly) expect the trolls to make snide remarks.  You know -- how sending students to our college is a waste of money, something about climate denial, and the liberal “crap” we teach in higher education.  (It's true.)  I wasn’t, however, expecting negative comments from our own alumni.

ID-10-T error.  I'm so ashamed that my Alma mater is sending people to this farcical conference.

I should know better than to respond to Facebook comments like this, but nevertheless, I replied:

I would like to hear more about why you feel this way. The process is by no means perfect, but do you have a better solution as to how we address the major global issue?

The response:

The people at these conferences are all "watermelons." They pretend to care about the environment, but they're really just communists looking to redistribute the world's wealth. If the United States agrees to meet certain targets, we risk ruining our own economy. Remember, the people at the conference can't commit the US to do anything. Only the Senate can ratify international treaties. Nothing will be accomplished at this conference.

Well, if this individual had heard the fiery speech from Evo Morales, President of Bolivia, at the Opening Plenary of the High Level Segment, he would be further convinced of his claim.  Personally, I interpreted the comments from Morales as a call to rethink our unsustainable economic systems and consumptive lifestyles, and to allow others the opportunity for a fair, safe, and healthy standard of living.  I suppose that would mean a redistribution of wealth.  Because this speech was from Bolivia, – the first country to include Rights of Nature in its national constitution – there was also a call to protect Mother Earth.

Evo Morales at the Opening Plenary of the High Level Segment, COP20
It was another tactical error, this time on my part, to continue the conversation with a lengthy response:

I am well aware of the inability of the US to ratify agreements here and with the political environment in Congress, chances are slim that anything environmental will get ratified back home. Sadly, much talk here is to find a way to come up with an international agreement that bypasses the U.S. -- a country that is still one of the largest greenhouse gas emitters, especially if you express this per capita.

Are there some here who are interested in redistribution of wealth? Perhaps, but they typically don't express it so blatantly. Rather, there are discussions of "Polluter pays" - e.g. for the alleged damage that has been caused by greenhouse gas emissions leading to climate change.  There are calls for help with the development and transfer of new clean renewable technologies so that developing nations don't make the same mistakes that the US, EU, China, etc. have.

I will disagree, however, that an agreement/compromise/treaty will ruin our economy. There will be some adjustments in the short term, but as a scientist who has carefully studied the data, if we don't rethink our fossil fuel use and adapt, the longer-term impacts will be much, much worse for the economy.

But I would also add that there is no better way to hear all of the perspectives and be educated about the complexities of the issues than to be here with students and to bring these perspectives back to the broader community at home in an unbiased a way as possible.

End of that conversation.

The second alum to comment played off the first:

I agree a liberal arts college and professors that think liberal and teach liberalism - if only they would research and get their facts correct.

Hmmm.  Being curious, I had to inquire what facts/research were incorrect, but received no response to that question.

Since I was on a roll, I continued:

I also suggest that you look up the original meaning of the term "liberal education" and then ask you how participating in international deliberations about a globally recognized challenge is not something we should be doing as educators and researchers?

To that, he replied:

Goggle the true facts and stop agreeing with another liberal Huffington Post - Your telling us if Goggle the true facts and stop agreeing with another liberal Huffington Post - Your telling us if we stopped exhaling carbon dioxide the planet would be better off?

There is no response for a statement like that.  But for the record, as a scientist and academic, I prefer peer-reviewed scientific literature over things that someone might find on Google.  And I won't repeat some of the other comments he made.

Thank goodness for the response of a third alumnus – albeit one that the first two would likely feel had been brainwashed.  You see, this person attended COP15 with the Moravian delegation in Copenhagen in 2009.

I'm ashamed to share the same alma mater with someone who thinks that it is laughable that world leaders are discussing something as serious as anthropogenic climate change (which nearly all scientists studying the data agree exists)... Moreover believes it is a conspiracy theory brought about by world leaders to redistribute the world’s wealth (That is laughable. If that was the case, policy would have been implemented long ago, but it isn't and hasn't due to the many interest groups involved). Discussion must come before policy.

The impact of attending a COP meeting on that student, and the others who have attended, has been profound.  I distinctly remember this particular student sitting on the floor in a circle with youth representatives from small island nations, learning about their fears of having to move their entire country, leaving behind their homes, their culture, their history, their sense of place.  And I remember the passionate description in a post-COP essay about how that experience had changed his perspective on his own life.

I was thinking of that student today as I listed to opening remarks by Enele Sopoaga, Prime Minister of Tuvalu.  This is a small island nation midway between Australia and Hawaii.  It is only 4.6 meters above sea level at highest point, and thus, it is one of most vulnerable nations to climate change impacts, especially sea level rise.

Enele Sopoaga, Prime Minister of Tuvalu 
The prime minister first told of the tragic and historic connection between his country and Peru as there are Tuvaluans buried in this land, those brought over to work in the mines.  But he went on to note that no other leader has had to face question of whether their nation will survive or disappear under the sea.  He added, Think of what it is like to be in my shoes? He then asked the audience if they were faced with this situation, what would they do?

The passionate part of speech that came next was not expected.  My notes captured his words close to verbatim and I include them here because they are worth sharing.

After a reference to Dante (“The darkest places in hell are reserved for those who maintain their neutrality in times of moral crisis”), Sopoaga said that this is a time of crisis and asked if [the other leaders] want this [the consequences of climate change] on their conscience.  The prime minister was in New York during the Climate March in September, and said that he was moved when he saw signs for the support of Tuvalu in midst of people – all 400,000 of them.  “I heard their moans, their calls, and share their concerns.  It is time to ignore the voices of the climate change deniers driven by big fossil fuel industries, to ignore the national leaders who don’t believe.  These are shallow creatures who only see face of dollars.  In Tuvalu, we see faces of children, and it is these children to whom they must answer.

...The fossil fuels we use today are from extinct animals and plants,  they signify extinction, we must not condemn ourselves to extinction.

… Ask everyone who leaves this room to look into eyes of first child they see and imagine what those eyes will see in 10 or 20 years.  Will they see hell or a sustainable planet?  Let us try to build a firm foundation here so that we can stand proud in Paris.  ‘Yes we have a future for you’ is what we can tell our children.  Let us make 2015 the year we save the world, save Tuvalu.  Because if we save Tuvalu, we will save the world.

These are the speeches we hear at the COP meetings.  These are the tough questions we wrangle with.  If this is “liberal crap,” then so be it.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Post COP Thoughts from Raleigh, NC

Unfortunately for me I am back in the United States surrounded by final exams, papers, and lab practicals. I would much rather be in Lima experiencing week two of COP, but there is that whole undergraduate thing that I have to do.

I wanted to write a post about what it was like coming back to Raleigh after being at COP. I think my biggest realization was earlier today when I went to talk to one of my professors. I had to get permission from all of my professors to leave for my trip, so she knew I was gone. My professor asked me about my trip, and of course I raved about the incredible experience and that I only hope to go back next year. She replied, "Oh, it's an annual conference?" I was disappointed, and frankly, shocked that she didn't know. Which made me think, who does? Who actually cares about climate change, but more importantly WHY don't more people care about climate change?

Another thing happened today that made me wonder about the way people view climate change. One of my roommates walked back into our apartment after taking a final exam. I asked her how it went, and she said it went well but she was almost late. We live on a narrow road full of college apartment complexes, and apparently it was full of traffic today. Normally the drive to campus usually takes about 8 minutes, but my roommate said she was stuck on that road alone for 20 minutes. I told her she should jump on the biking bandwagon (I usually bike to campus and it takes me a little under 25 minutes). This made me wonder, why did hundreds of college students who all live along the same road individually get in their cars to all leave at the same time to go to the same place? The system doesn't make sense. Climate change has been called, "The greatest problem our generation faces." But why doesn't my generation care? Why do we value convenience and the easy fix over everything else? Why isn't my generation a leader in climate change action?

Being at COP made me realize even more that things have to change. Of course, COP is on an international level. But COP is made up of countries, which are made of states or governing bodies, which are made up of cities/towns/counties, which are made up of people. Just individual people. My best friend always says, "No one snowflake feels responsible for the avalanche," which I think is very wise. No individual college student driving to their exam felt responsible for the traffic jam my roommate experienced this morning. No individual citizen feels responsible for climate change, like my professor this morning. But if we have any hope of combating it, we all need to acknowledge the responsibility we owe our planet, our society, and our future. The responsibility to be informed about climate change news, and to live our lives in a way that is as sustainable as possible. Being in Raleigh has made me think about my own life and the fact that the American way of life desperately needs to change. The way we value our resources needs to change. It's not a question of if, but when. For the sake of our planet, I can only hope it happens sooner rather than later.

Momentum and Purpose for the second week of the COP20

"We cannot repeat Copenhagen".  Those words echo in the Plenary tents. 

"The darkest places in Hell are reserved for those who in times of great moral crisis do not act. --Dante

Extinct Plants and animals created the fossil fuels we use.  Fossil Fuels represent and embody extinction. We must not condemn ourselves to extinction by riding on the backs of the extinct" 
"we cannot ignore the voices of the youth and women in climate action.  Scientists tells us that urgent action is needed, civil society says urgent action is needed" 
"If we save Tuvalu, we save the world". -Prime Minister of Tuvalu

Indeed it is All of us or none of us. 
The opening remarks are heady with the words of how to meaningfully participate as a high-party delegate or as a civil society observer. What will this final week bring? 

Having a roadmap for the final COP20 can shape your perceptions of how you participate here as an observer to the negotiations.  In the past, our badges have said: non-governmental.  Denoting a specific type of hierarchy to the meetings, some say the badge is intentional to separate who really matters and who doesn't. This year that perception was challenged. 

In an effort to increase transparency and to encourage participation, the badges underwent a name change.  We are now observers. 
I think that it is a purposeful movement on behalf of the Secretary General to include civil society's role as Observers transforms their role as a stakeholder. It encourages them while letting parties know we are watching and reporting. 
Brilliant move.  

Here please find the road map for the current week, and what the negotiations hope to accomplish.  
In the 2nd week of the UNFCCC there were important documents distributed right before the joint high-level segment of Lima COP20/CMP10 opens on Tuesday.  The Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP), (this is the body tasked with reaching a new climate change agreement and raising immediate global climate action), the Co-Chairs have already issued the newest COP decision draft text on item 3 and the elements for a draft negotiating text , which they had compiled over the weekend at the request of Parties.

The first documents benefited from a useful week of negotiations during the opening week of the COP20.
-The Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI) and the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and
-Technological Advice (SBSTA)

Loss and DamageResponse Measures,  Reporting and Review by Annex 1 Parties under the Kyoto Protocol, and Annex 1 Review Guidelines now have more concrete documents. (1)

-Multilateral Assessment
This process is new to the UNFCCC that allows all countries to assess how developed countries are implementing actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It was one of continued debate over how to best quantify and collect data in a reasonable way.

In the second session, the countries coming forward for assessment are: Luxembourg, Netherlands, New Zealand, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United States of America.

Monday was also Lima REDD+ Day, where the topic of reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation in developing countries was a specific tone of the conference.

Tuesday: (HOY DIA!)
Today, Tuesday, there is a joint high-level segment of the COP and CMP opens, with a high-level ministerial dialogue on climate finance  in the afternoon.

Currently, as I sit and type at the plenary.  The calls for engagement are the same as every year from Copenhagen to Warsaw and now Lima.  From Ban Ki-Moon, he references the People's Climate Summit in NYC this past September, to Figures who "calls for action in the urgent present", and COP 20 President Manuel Pulgar-Vidal asking for urgency.  ALL LEAD. the race is on.... the language is always the same. All the speakers continue to highlight similar sentiments. The President of Nauru, of the Pacific Island Countries: "Seize the opportunity before it slips into the abyss." Tuesday is a day to encourage action. 
Also, many days here at COP20 are designated under a particular theme. 

Today is Gender day, with a high-level event on gender and climate change scheduled for the afternoon, followed a by Momentum for Change: Women for Results event showcasing women’s leadership on climate action. Last year this segment was incredibly powerful, and was lead by Deputy Secretary General Christina Figures. This session acknowledges that men and women taking action on gender equality and climate change and now asks: How far have we come? The moderator this year is: Ms. Mary Robinson.

For those of you who are interested you can see the schedule for today below.  
H.E. Minister Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, COP20/CMP10 President 
Ms. Nadine Heredia, First Lady of Peru (tbc) 
Stage-setting on global gender gaps 
Ms. Mary Robinson, United Nations Special Envoy for Climate Change (tbc) 
H.E. Ms. Amber Rudd, Climate Minister, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland 
· H.E. Ms. MarĂ­a del Carmen Omonte Durand, Minister of Women and Vulnerable 
Populations, Peru 
· H.E. Mr. Pa Ousman Jarju, Minister of Environment, Climate Change, Water Resources, 
Parks and Wildlife, The Gambia 
· H.E. Mr. Juan Jose Guerra Abud, Minister of Environment and Natural Resources, Mexico 
· Ms. Lakshmi Puri, UN Women Deputy Executive Director 
· Ms. Susan McDade, UNDP Deputy Assistant Administrator 
· Ms. Alina Saba, Mugal Indigenous Women's Upliftment Institute/Asia Pacific Forum on 
Women, Law and Development, UNFCCC Women and Gender constituency 
· Mr. Klever Descarpontriez, College of the Atlantic/Earth in Brackets, UNFCCC constituency 
of youth NGOs 

Closing Remarks 
· Ms. Elena Manaenkova, WMO Assistant Secretary-General 

Wednesday: Momentum for Change. 

A special Presidential session will take place on Wednesday morning, in which several Presidents of Latin American countries will speak, as well as UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, followed by a Ministerial Dialogue on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action in the afternoon.
On Wednesday evening, the Secretariat's Momentum for Change Showcase Event will be held to celebrate the 2014 Lighthouse Activities. Click here for links to actions happening near you. (2)

Thursday: is Climate Action Day.

As part of a series of activities, Peru will convene an innovative climate action high-level dialogue between parties, UNFCCC bodies and non-state actors. (like me!)

The dialogue seeks to promote engagement and support by global leaders to strengthen pre-2020 climate action as a strong foundation for the post-2020 Climate Agreement, as well as to encourage implementation of existing climate commitments by Parties and other commitments by non-state actors. The meeting will be webcast live.

Friday: un dia loco.
The ADP is scheduled to have its closing plenary on Thursday afternoon, with the COP and CMP both scheduled to close on Friday. 

Envio Suerte!!!

The overarching theme for the week is: ASK yourself.  If not now, when?

2: ibid