Tuesday, December 8, 2009

My COP15 Journal: Day Five

Day 5: Hold onto your seats, this one is a stemwinder.

Once you get here, it isn’t that expensive, because there is so much free stuff. For delegates, all the public transport is free (buses and subways are mostly honor system anyway — a few random conductors roaming to check tickets and keep the system honest). You can eat quite well just by attending receptions. You can sleep overnight in the Free City of Christiania. We withdrew a hundred dollars at the airport ATM last Friday and we still have most of it, although we have to acknowledge the kindness of our hosts has been a grace bestowed.

Today began with two very fiery deliveries from the least expected of sources. We took a full Volvo downtown to a palatial ashram where Hildur Jackson and Hanne Strong had assembled a crop of select clergy from dozens of faiths — lots of beanies, saffron sarongs, beards, beads, and shaved heads. After meditation, the first up was Joan Chittister, a Benedictine sister, who took a hatchet to the athropocentrism of the Judeochristian tradition.

“The major problem facing the modern world is that the Judeochristian ethic has been used to justify domination,” she said. “Our Western religious tradition teaches us this superiority....” From her iPod she quoted Genesis, “... be fruitful and multiply and replenish the Earth and subdue it and have dominion over it.” Judeochristianity thus became the most exploitative of all religions, she said.

Our audio recording of Sr. Chittister is downloadable from The Great Change.

“Our creation is a procession of stages. Humanity outranks the universe. It is considered moral that we put our needs above the needs of all others. We teach that man is the crown of creation. We teach that God planned the world for man. We teach that Man is given nature for his use — a free lunch of enormous proportions. Humans are above nature, beyond nature. Its an incomplete, very partial world view, but tidy and simple. Those that lack the power to dominate the resource become the resource. Other sexes, other races, other cultures. Nature has no purpose except to serve civilized man.”

No sooner had the dust alighted on the mirror polished by Sister Joan, than up popped the master of the Sri Aurobindo ashram in Pondicherry, Sraddhalu Ranade, who, speaking without notes, dissected all the religious traditions of India in much the same way. Speaking without notes, Ranade said that “Each one having his own way to find awakening does not find the manifestation of the divinity in every form and every thing.”

But its okay, he said. “We recognize our limitations. The Eastern religions specialized in an other-worldly spirituality. The Western ones specialized in a real-life mastery. They both contained a grain of truth. We need a realization of divine materialism. Mastery is not to be found in the sense of dominion but of identity.

“We all know of the Mayan Calendar which ends in 2012. The calendar comes to an end, not because it terminates but because it starts a new cycle. The ancient Indian tradition describes yoga similarly, as cyclic. The first phase is a spontaneous expression of good intention. The second phase is not spontaneous, but comes from a recognition of the good, so we force ourselves to live by our better instincts. The third phase comes when we forget we had the intention and we create conventions to bind us, because we don’t feel it from our hearts. The fourth phase is when it breaks down and we don’t even follow our conventions, until finally, we have a spontaneous realization and the cycle repeats.

Our audio recording of Sraddhalu Ranade is downloadable from The Great Change.

“Its exactly like the way we make a New Year’s resolution. The first days its so easy. We feel the commitment when it happens. And after that we have to force it by our will, by tricking ourselves into staying with it. And then we fall off our commitment and don’t even remember we made it. We go through a lapse until the next year, when we re-develop the resolve.

“The whole of humanity is passing through an introspective process. They used to think the world served them. Now they realize they are steward to the world. It is a profound oneness. The means we perform this is an introspective process. It is by inward contemplation, and that is the contribution of religion.

“There are a few more prophecies I will mention. About a thousand years ago there was a great Sufi saint who said 1000 years from now when man first steps on the moon, Islam will rise to its peak and then vanish altogether. And about 500 years ago there was a mystical pope who predicted that the pope after the one we have now will be the last. Within the Tibetian Buddhist tradition it is said that the 14th Dalai Lama will be the last.  When the 14th Dalai Lama was asked if this is true, he said, ‘It is possible.’

“We are at a point of transition at which the formal structure of all religions will break apart. The future religion is one for each human being. We are receiving indications of this from science. We are in a mass extinction. One hundred species going extinct every day. This a part of a million-year-old pattern. The magnetic field of the earth is reversing. All of these coincide with humanity’s consciousness crisis. We are still living in an evolutionarily obsolete consciousness. When the dinosaurs didn’t change they went extinct. We can choose. The meeting here is a collective choice, which is the sum of individual choices. It is a civilization value that must change. That will take a couple generations, but it has to begin right now. This shift of consciousness is what we are all about in this gathering.”

Whew. We had a lunch to go to so we bugged out before Andrew Harvey began a synthesis of  those two talks. There was plenty to chew on as we passed through Kgs. Nytorv, where the street and advertising art, themed to climate change, had exponentially expanded in the previous 24 hours. What if, we wondered, the advertising world and the art world conspired to bomb American cities this same way: New York, San Jose, Des Moines, Hartford, Oakland, Houston, Tampa ....

In the metro there was an animation being projected on the wall behind where the trains run. Black guy gets coffee from a machine. No milk. Another black man offers milk, and proceeds to squeeze his nipple until a stream fills the cup. “Dude, you’re freaking me out — you’re naked!” says the first man (in subtitles). “Well,” says the second, “as the climate has gotten hotter, I started taking off clothes. Eventually I took them all off!”


At the Bella Center we drifted from meeting to meeting to catch a sense of the buzz. Most delegates foresee one of four possible outcomes from COP-15. The Russian NGOs put these most succinctly:

  1. An ideal outcome — a legally binding agreement. Details to follow.
  2.  Two-stage scheme. The COP adopts a resolution on the mandate and sets a date for completion of the legal agreement with a detailed description of its structure and content (without brackets). A package of urgent aid measures is approved for developing countries most at risk.
  3.  Postponement. Work in frames of the AWG KP (ie: updating the Kyoto protocol) continues but the AWG LCA (Kyoto’s successor) becomes a debating club. Anyone not included in Kyoto (China, India and most of the developing countries) would remain outside the system of monitoring and verification. Conditions will force the process back on track after 2010, but much time will have been wasted.
  4.  Imitation of a decision. No legally binding resolutions, just a formal acknowledgement of voluntary efforts. Some pledges are honored, some are not. The world does not move towards legally binding obligations to reduce emissions by 50% by 2050. Revisiting this later will be harder because it will be shrouded with an aura of finality.

Our common goal as NGOs in Copenhagen is not to allow postponement and definitely not imitation. There are realistic possibilities for coming away with a two stage action scheme, and a long shot at the ideal outcome.

The Climate Action Network began giving out its Fossil of the Day awards. Monday’s top prize went to the Annex F (industrialized) countries “for their deficit of ambition.” Second went to Sweden, Finland and Austria for proposing a cook-the-books approach to forest credits. Third went to Canada for Environmental Minister Jim Prentice’s statement that his nation “won’t be swayed” by Copenhagen.

Speaking of sway, after the IPCC science briefing we heard from Stephen Schneider (IPCC lead author) that a lot of the science community was dazzled by the skillful presentation at the EU plenary event from Johannes Lehmann about the power of char. Way to go, Jo! We’ll have more of the same tomorrow with our own side event for delegates and a modest demo of the Beaner stove at Vartov Cafe in City Center. 

Monday, December 7, 2009

My COP15 Journal: Day Four

— UNEP director Achim Steiner
Day Four. The Lord Mayor of Copenhagen warned hotels that prostitutes soliciting UN delegates would not be tolerated. In response, the Sex Workers Interest Group (SIO) announced that anyone showing a UN credential would receive free sex. The line at the Bella Center for credentials extended to two hours.

Climate joke: Man walks into a bar. “I thought I was going to cheat on my wife, but at the last moment I decided not to. I will now sell someone the opportunity to cheat on your wife. What am I bid?”

The UN Environmental Program released a report compiled by British economist Lord Nicholas Stern and the Grantham Research Institute. "For those who claim a deal in Copenhagen is impossible, they are simply wrong," said UNEP director Achim Steiner. The UNEP report tallyed recent pledges from the US, India, China and other rapidly developing countries, many of which assumed rich-country funding to help continued economic growth.

Doing the numbers, emissions today are about 47 billion tons CO2e. Going by IPCC-4, the UN target requires that to avoid unacceptable consequences (>2°C) all countries together should emit no more than 44 billion tons of carbon dioxide by 2020. Computing the high end of all commitments publicly announced so far, UNEP said pledged emissions will total some 46 billion tons annually in 2020.

"We are within a few gigatons of having a deal," Steiner said. "The gap has narrowed significantly." Speculation here is that this slimming of the odds for a favorable outcome were what prompted Obama to switch his dates here from December 8, en route to Oslo, to December 18, the final day of the conference (rather than blogging by George Monbiot and others). While Obama has not confirmed a visit, if he comes at the end, it could be very helpful. Perhaps he can even get in on the free sex deals at the hotel the Secret Service has reserved. 

Today we had a lively chat on the way into town. Feargas Duff, formerly of the UNEP office in Nairobi and now of the Ireland delegation, and who is quite pragmatic, got into it with Rolf Jackson, who feels that we need a paradigm shift and its all about making spiritual choices. “You’re not admitting that this whole global economic model is not working and its all going to collapse soon anyway,” Feargas said.

“There is an important historical parallel in World War II,” Rolf said. On the 1st of January in 1942, Churchill and Roosevelt and the Canadian P.M. met on a ship in Newfoundland Bay and they signed a treaty, it was very brief.

It said, this is about the freedom of humanity. We agree to put all our economic and political resources to one aim. It is to defeat the Germans and there will be no separate peace. Nobody makes a separate peace with Hitler, this war has to be fought to the end. And I would say that was the day that the war was won. Because on that day it was not 80 million Germans against 60 million British, it was 800 million people from all over the world against the Germans. They did not have a chance from that point.

“Now it is that kind of decision on principle that we need to organize. We need world sacrifice like that. And that will only happen if it is based on fundamental principles. Nothing else can inspire the kind of sacrifice that is required.”

At the Bottoms Up meeting they are having a daily funeral. On Saturday we buried Egoism. On Sunday we buried The American Dream. Today we buried Global Free Trade. Tomorrow we bury Economic Growth.

At the Bella Center the NGOs were setting up their booths are we got to see some really first rate exhibits. There were not many meeting rooms. There were rooms set aside for Farmers, Women and Gender, YOUNGO, BINGO, ENGO, IPO, LGMA, RINGO, and TUNGO, but they were about the size of a Finnish sauna, not really meeting rooms.

What was it Lennie Bruce said? “The only justice in the Halls of Justice is in the halls.” Disenfranchised non-profits were having circles on the floors in the hallways.

We were especially impressed with the China Youth Group. They have planted one million trees. Go kids!

We went to the reception at the City Center where they were serving local appetizers and organic fruit juice — the UN has pledged to have 65% of all the food and beverages served be organic and fair trade. It was interesting to see the organic apple juice packaged in a wax paper carton with an image of a stoppered glass bottle. Where does reality leave off and image begin?

Outside the reception was a rock band playing for a virtual concert — it was being simulcast to other sites around the world, attendance at which sites were displayed like the spot on Jupiter on a giant globe, along with various provocative tweet questions, like "Will some parrot species survive Danish winters by 2050?" (No: 28%. Yes: 72%.) It was all being controlled from a small glass sound booth surrounded by flaming torches — more carbon porn. Nice to have a place where everyone could attend for free with no security badges, x-rays, and the Christmas lights of Tivoli in the background. A lovely end to a long day.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

My COP15 Journal: Day Three

"She who is centered in the Tao
can go where she wishes, without danger.
She perceives the universal harmony,
even amid great pain,
because she has found peace in her heart.

Music or the smell of good cooking
may make people stop and enjoy.
But words that point to the Tao
seem monotonous and without flavor.

When you look for it, there is nothing to see.
When you listen for it, there is nothing to hear.
When you use it, it is inexhaustible."

—Lao Tsu, Tao Te Ching, Verse 35
TODAY: Sights and sounds in Copenhagen. Random messaging in the subway, the airport, newspapers, the streets.

Advertisement for Foork mens' underwear.
World Leaders: "The Great Wave!" God: "It ain't mine, you figure it out."

Visualize the climate for your world.

What have YOU done for a climate agreement?

My COP15 Journal: Day Two

Day Two. After muesli and yogurt, we took the morning train with Ross Jackson to Klimabundmode, just off Pusherstrasse in Christiania. Klimabundmode is dansk for “Climate Bottom Meeting” (as opposed to the top-down meeting which will be happening across town beginning Monday). Our program is called “Windows of Hope” and began with a ceremony out around the fire that was kindled at sunrise by a Bolivian shaman. There are 50 or 60 hardy souls who gathered with us for the circle, a small number perhaps, but it represented nearly that many countries and peoples — Laplanders, Hungarians, Nepalese, Venezuelans, Aussies; scores more. Medicine Story, a familiar Wampanoag who used to live at The Farm, gave a sweet invocation and then we shifted to the Big Top for the first day’s circus.

After spending time in the streets and subways of Copenhagen we couldn’t help but notice how most folks’ favorite color is black. Its New York or Chicago without the ear-buds. Something about the cold and city living brings out black, we guess. That’s why it was refreshing to be back in Christiania where the colors are bleach resistant and the indigenous peoples add panache.

The two-story pellet stove for the tent was still under construction, so we huddled together and stamped our feet and cupped our hands behind steamy breath as we listened to Marti Mueller recount the road from Rio trough Kyoto and Bali to this place, and then watched various national delegates and chargé d’affairs parade to the solar and pedal-powered podium to deliver prognosis and benefactions.
The official delegate from Greenland, Tove Sovndahl Pedersen, said that the warming of the climate represents both challenges and opportunities. For them, hydropower, agriculture and forestry are improving. Greenland potatoes are more flavorful and disease resistant. Mineral resources are more exposed and Greenland has lots of valuable ones, especially well suited for high technology.
Sure, as sea ice melts, coastal flooding and loss of hunting areas of marine mammals and halibut are problems of survival for indigenous rural settlements. But new sea routes will open from North America and Europe to Asia, and shipping routes could be greatly reduced. While commerce may improve, it is a concern to Greenlanders because all of that new oil and toxic materials will be carried through their treacherous and vulnerable coastal waters. She wrapped up by paying homage to the God of status quo: Greenlanders know from their own eyes that weather is changing and also becoming more unstable, but we need a COP-15 agreement that allows us economic progress, and allows us to make improvements in food, and health and education of our poor. All the time she is saying this we are thinking, it is so easy to spot the elected officials here.

Ross Jackson delivered a prescriptive talk, asking, what is an ideal climate treaty? He said it would have three essential elements.

  1. It must be a guarantee that we will hit the target;
  2. It must be effective; and
  3. It must be equitable.

The Kyoto process fails on all three of these criteria, he said.

Three proposals have been put forward by NGOs that do meet these criteria: Earth Atmospheric Trust, Kyoto 2, and (Jackson’s own) Carbon Board. There are some common threads that characterize these solutions.

  • A declining cap — a CO2 limit that goes down every year;
  • A tight mechanism to fairly auction the rights to pollute;
  • Those who pollute less should be allowed to prevail, financially, over those who pollute more; and
  • Part of the revenues generated (1-4 trillion dollars/yr by some estimates) must work towards convergence, but be distributed to individuals rather than heads of state. Jackson called this cap and trade and share. He also noted some part will be needed to fund environmental litigation (read: enforcement). Amen.

Sadly, he said, we have a broken system today. The political establishment has the same approach to debt reduction, financial crisis, and WTO negotiations as they do to climate: talk, delay, declarations of success, and then failure to follow through with commitments.

The need, he said, is for a super-national organization. Economic growth is always trotted out to defend political interests, but truth is, economic growth has become uneconomical. We are destroying the global ecosystem with over-consumption, so what economy exists without that? The important business of saving the world has to be taken out of the hands of governments and politicians that compete with each other. National sovereignty has to be sacrificed if we are to survive, he opined.

Tough sell, we thought. Wonder how many delegates at the COP venue will sign on for that.

Over tea in a Christiania coffee shop, Auroville’s pragmatic dreamer, Luigi Zanzi, said we are going through a difficult passage at this time, but it is exactly that difficulty that gives him hope. Of course, moving to a new level of consciousness will not be smooth and easy, he acknowledged. The passage between death and life, and life and death are difficult, but we do them. The passage from matter to mind was even more difficult. And here we are, imperfect human, searching for perfection in a totally integral way, and will that not be difficult?

He says: “This gives me not only hope, but certainty that we are at the job of evolution, and Mother Nature knows very well where she is taking us, through the apparent contradictions, and fear.” We have been used to building our world by external manipulations for centuries, but now we must build a subjective civilization, and that requires inner transformation as a prerequisite to environmental transformation.

Ooops, we thought. Here we go again.

Marti Mueller, across the table, piled on with Luigi, “Fear is one of the reasons we are in the crisis today. Lets throw that out the window and act out of courage. Lets save as many of our co-species as possible. We need to reach a change of consciousness. Andre Malroux said, ‘If the 21st Century is not a spiritual one, we will not survive.’”

Sarvodaya representative Vinya Ariyaratne quipped, “I am a Buddhist. Life is change.”

Finally we’d had enough, the tea was finished, and we decided to burn some bridges. “Asking for perfect enlightenment of humanity as a prerequisite to rescuing us from climate change seems a  pretty high bar,” we blurted. “Why not just settle for getting the dirt right? People have to eat, right? So lets just start there, and if we get the dirt right, the climate will follow.”

Friday, December 4, 2009

My COP15 Journal: Day One

Day One. Landed in Copenhagen after sunrise on the red eye out of Atlanta. The T-shirted COP15 volunteers were already out to guide delegates and attendees at every step, and two of them pulled back the rope let us into the COP15 no-wait express lane for passport control. There were no customs agents so once we had our checked bag with the suit, tie, and laced shoes we went straight to the street and more COP15 volunteers handed us a map, marked the rail lines to where we were staying, and pointed us to the free blue metro bus for COP15ers. It feels like the Olympics, or maybe even the Country Music Awards. That level of hospitality.

We are staying at Ross and Hildur Jackson’s farm outside town, so while making a train change we decided to stop for some strong coffee at a Turkish restaurant and ogle the street scene a little. It was still early for a town with a reknowned night scene, but there were lots of bicyclists in the near freezing temperatures and occasional light drizzle. Transit wall billboards and street posters have a very high proportion of climate-related content, and Hopenhagen is the pre-eminent theme.

The news buzz is about India pledging to cut emissions per GDP percentile by 20-25% by 2020. That seems at first glance to be a huge leapfrog over Obama’s pitiful pledge of 4% of 1990 levels (17% of 2005 levels), until you realize that India has every intention of growing its GDP by 9% per year, so what their pledge actually represents is a net increase. This is a game China invented, and it seemed like it might suck in some easy marks, so India set up a table and started hawking the idea too. We expect to run into more of these three-card Monte games in coming weeks.

Saudi Arabia, always the shill for the climate deniers, has latched onto the purloined email Swiftboating and proclaimed the issue will have a "huge impact" on next week's summit, with countries unwilling to cut emissions if climate change does not have a human cause. Those Saudis. What kidders.

Jim Hansen, on the other hand, was not kidding when he said it would be better if the Copenhagen summit failed. "I would rather it not happen if people accept that as being the right track, because it's a disaster track," he told The Guardian. Hansen’s assessment is bolstered by the most recent research findings from around the world that IPCC underestimated the pace and extent of global warming. A report — titled “The Copenhagen Diagnosis” — finds that in several key areas observed changes are outstripping the most recent projections by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and warns that “there is a very high probability of the warming exceeding 2 °C unless global emissions peak and start to decline rapidly” within the next decade.

“I’ve been to several of these meetings,” Richard Somerville, of Scripps told The New Yorker’s Elizabeth Kolbert. “The delegates and the leaders say very kind things about the IPCC and thank it for its excellent work. But then, from a scientist’s point of view, once the negotiations start they might as well be negotiating, say, steel tariffs. I’ve actually heard politicians say — I won’t name any names — ‘We don’t want to be constrained by the science.’”




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