Saturday, September 20, 2014

The best argument can’t always win the fight.

But does arguing at least get us somewhere? To test this a group of students at Lehigh University staged an information stake-out in the center of the campus on Friday night with an objective: invite their peers to the Largest Climate March in History: The Peoples Climate March.  Via a couple of projectors, a sound system and two huge walls at the University Center, they were able to make people pause for a moment and think about the Climate March and the Climate Summit.  

Finding yourself in need to catch-up on the debate?  You can learn more about the summit itself and why it matters by checking out this special brief The People’s Climate March: Everything you need to know to change everything.

But ask yourself why you aren’t aware of the Call to Action for the Climate March? Light projections using the viral Disruption video and the People’s Climate March Graphics attempted to encourage a response from students on Lehigh’s Campus. But the argument in support of Climate Change moved no one. The real question had been inadvertently raised: How are students at Lehigh living the spirit of the Climate March?  Are they invested?

The answer is, the students at Lehigh University aren’t aware of it at all.  Everyone stopped because they were attracted to the Light from the videos.  Yet, no one knew what the videos were about. Instead of an information exchange and debate the organizers expected, they received confused expressions and low-interest in an event that will shape everyone’s future. 

What became obvious in the outreach session was the disconnect plaguing climate change action.  When buses will be traveling to the Climate Summit this Sunday in droves from all places across America, what could possibly be missing from student opinion in a small town that is only 2 hours outside of NYC? What are Lehigh Students missing?

Emotional response.   

“This non-reaction from students is a larger warning to Universities that they aren’t doing enough to engage youth on Climate Change.”  --

Gerardo Calderon, a Lehigh Student and community organizer.

The evening was a harsh reality-check of what their peers knew about the Climate Summit this week at the UN. It was clear that engagement on the campus about climate change was staggeringly low.  And that individual connection to climate change was even lower.  What gives? Can factual Statistics prove and help us understand apathy?

A poll conducted by Gallup this year found that while 69 percent of Americans believe climate change is caused by human activity, only half are personally worried about it. “We’ve won the argument but we haven’t done anything on it,” Bill McKibben of is noted for saying. “We haven’t been able to overcome the power of the status quo enough to make real change, so that we’re losing the fight.”  McKibben is completely on-point.

Its not a fight of factual evidence, its an emotional one.

Those words are echoed by a study from Yale University which supports the idea that emotions act as drivers to connect people to Climate Change Action. "The Role of Emotion in Global Warming Policy Support and Opposition" speaks to what we already know. Looking at how research points to the “affect (feelings of good or bad) and affective imagery (associations) strongly influence public support for global warming.”  What happens to the style of argument when we voice the issue of climate change as if specific emotions, like fear, anger, worry, guilt that are programmed into our discourse and communication?

Through this graphic the paper further shows how specific emotions were stronger predictors of global warming policy than supported cultural world-views. 

Egalitarianism, individualism, negative affects, top of mind associations, or socio-demographic variables, including political party and ideology DIDN’T MATTER. The findings go further to say that,

“50% of the variance in public support for global warming policies was explained by the emotion measures alone. In particular, worry, interest, and hope were strongly associated with increased policy support.”

What does that mean for people communicating climate change? The results contribute to how human beings process information and suggest that emotions play a significant role in public support for climate change policy.  So what are the implications for climate change communication then if we are only hardwired to act when we feel guilty or worried?

Enter a local climate change advocate in the Lehigh Valley, Dan Poresky, has spoken about the role of human emotion in the efforts to reach a larger audience to discuss engagement with Climate Change.  His proposal for Climate Action provides a step-by-step action guide for organizers to place more emphasis on people than the planet. Put simply, it’s his call, a local citizen’s call, to action.

By emphasizing, “How is climate change going to affect me?” Poresky argues that only when people feel secure in the vision of their future will they push governments to act.  That security needs to be based in emotional response like entitlement, fear, anger, and a sense of loss of what you cannot regain. This type of proposal is what is needed from citizen groups.  At the junction of climate change communication efforts from Light Shows to step-by-step guides is the answer to the lack of emotional engagement.

“People will more readily accept the adaptations necessitated by climate change when they can envision living comfortably in a society with reduced carbon emissions is the norm. Its all about public attitude” said Poresky.

One thing is for certain the People’s Climate March will be an emotional tour through Manhattan on September 21. Over 400,000 are expected to show up and walk together. This preempts the week leaders are coming to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s Climate Summit to discuss ambitious goals to reduce global warming pollution. That bit is incredibly important.

The People’s Climate March will take place BEFORE a UN meeting on climate change attended by delegates from 168 countries from all over the world on the path to COP20 in Lima, Peru this year. The message is clear: the pressure is on.  
Who could argue with that?

If this People’s Climate March doesn’t make people feel something?  What will?

Hope to see you all there in a few hours, physically and emotionally invested.


--Sarabeth Brockley @sara_brockley

Monday, September 1, 2014

Post-15 Agenda and UNFCCC Draft Agreements: Can They Be Friends?

After a marathon session at the UN in New York last week for the 65th Annual United Nations Department of Public Information (DPI) Session, the world is now one step closer to a to-do list to end poverty that includes one of its main drivers: climate change. 
In the case of the Post-15 Agenda and the UNFCCC, the chances for their goals to compliment the other could easily dismantle and confuse global negotiations for the issues surrounding climate change, sustainable water, energy, and food scarcity.  Can these two Draft Agreements work together to integrate and not desaturate the necessary components each brings to the table?

The Post-15 Agenda is an answer to the Millennium Development Goals...and should guide the UNFCCC roadmap to Paris 2015.  

From August 27th to the 29th at the #UNNGO2014 65th DPI NGO conference invited over 920 NGOS to comment on the final version of the Post-15 Agenda. In 2015, the UNFCCC COP 21 in Paris and the launch of the Post-2015 Agenda will culminate within months of each other. This Roundtable discussed the interlinkages between both processes and the benefits as well as the of drawbacks of having two separate tracks in the medium and long terms. Terms like Low-carbon development, adaptation, disaster risk reduction and finance were thrown around. 

The Post-2015 process is to create a transformative agenda that is meant to usher us into a new era of sustainable development and in harmony with nature, that is rights based and ensures no-one is left behind. 
Cross-synthesis was a theme hammered by the panelists, but the articulation of that word failed to show the audience examples of how the policies could co-exist and not cancel the other out. 
Moderating the panel, Lina Dabbagh, Post-2015 Officer, CAN International immediately stated that climate change affects every sector from sustainable water, energy.  This is an important step. Citing Climate Change for the first time after the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) failed to include it as the driver of social poverty, the Final Draft of the Post-15 Agenda gave Climate Change a number: Goal 13  The panel suggested that its inclusion is the key issue to ensuring sustainability in the future. While there could have been a fierce debate about one developmental agenda against the other, overall the panelists stayed on the fence about the conflicting status of the declarations.  

H.E. Gustavo Meza-Cuadra Velásquez, Permanent Representative of Peru to the United Nations, kicked off the panel discussion citing how Peru has already accomplished their MDG's for targeting poverty levels and other targets in his own country.  Stating that the "Issue of inequality is important, we want to address social exclusion and inequalities" he set the tone of the discussion. Peru is the next host country for the final UNFCCC meetings before Paris in 2015.  Velásquez believes that the efforts need to be more aggressive and drafting resolutions that use technology transfers first and financing second will be the successful components of each plan. He emphasized building social capital before financial capital. 
No one argued. 
It seems that reversing individualistic approaches to resource security by identifying opportunities for integration and identifying existing trade-offs will result in better policy recommendations for both draft agreements. 

Velásquez made the link between poverty and climate change.  What are these linkages exactly?

Dork Sahagian, an IPCC Nobel Prize winner and professor of Earth Sciences at Lehigh University suggested we think alongside the fabled words of John F. Kennedy "Ask not what climate change will do to the poorer populations but ask what the economic development will do to 7 billion people. Moving away from fossil fuel development in the post-15 agenda is not a current development goal and is necessary, said Dr. Sahagian,
"otherwise the sustainability goals are in direct conflict with our Climate Change goals."
Additionally, Nicholas Nuttall, Creative writer for UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, and Director of Communications & Outreach, UNFCCC suggested that much of the development targets and discussion that are central to Sustainable Development Goals in the Post-15 Agenda and the UNFCCC should be to act as opportunity multipliers.  The division between the private and civil society sector is a huge obstacle. He articulated the issue between the policies well. Consider what the RIO+20 was asking for: a new indicator for process for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) that was not just limited to Gross Domestic Product (GDP) valuation. He asked the only worthwhile question in a panel circulating in a maelstrom around the possibilities for collaboration How can the SDG's support a legally binding process?  

Which process will be codified 
into international law first,
if any?  

Elenita “Neth” Dano, Asia Director of the Action Group on Erosion, Technology and Concentration (ETC Group) remarked, that we must first raise awareness about the issues we wish to combat, this is key to a more sustainable global development agenda. SDGs should act as enablers. Post-2015 draft agreements should be a development agenda. UNFCCC is the driver. Dano argued that we have to look beyond SDGs 2013, because they talk only about food, water and health. However, the success of solving those conflicts builds upon the capacity on countries to adapt/mitigate to climate change in relation to those SDGs.

François Gave, Counsellor for Development and Sustainable Development, Permanent Mission of France to the United Nations debated that Climate Change is still politically charged and polarized. It tends to be a left-winged and right-winged debate.  He called for a broad-based world consensus on climate change and action. He outlined those ideas below:
  1. Incentives (Carbon pricing) Is on the road map to Lima and Paris.  The September 21st, Climate Summit will offer a global schematic that will be addressed in Peru this December at COP 20.
  2. Building confidence and addressing the free-rider problem through rules, transparency and monitoring at the private and civilian level.
  3. Perceptions. The language barrier between science and public information is not being addressed.
If we are to illustrate how awareness is the key to driving dialogue, development draft agreements like the Post-15 Agenda and the UNFCCC as well as others across the globe are mirroring much of the dialogue from this roundtable, and we are slowly learning that integration is a must.
The main takeaways from this roundtable is that only through collaboration, adaptation, and dissemination will sustainability be ensured in our development goals.  It is only a matter of time before further integrated dialogue on each sectors’ development needs eliminates the separation of climate change from sustainability goals and unites them as dependent on the success of the other.

I know what you are all thinking... we know this already?

There can be no Social Justice without Environmental Justice.