Monday, December 14, 2009

My COP15 Journal: Day Eleven

— Vandana Shiva

The issue of reparations (or adaptation assistance for the squeamish) keeps coming up like a bad stomach flu.   The G77 has been framing it like a big parking lot in the sky. To hear them tell it, there are 350 spaces and 390 cars already there. Almost none of the cars are owned by Africans, Latinos, Greenlanders, Maldivians, Tuvaluians or the majority of the world. One hunded of the cars are Humvees and Escalades driven by US soccer moms and another two hundred are Volvos, Rovers and Renaults driven by Europeans and upper classes in Brazil, Russia, Canada, Dubai and other posh places. The remaining 190 are smaller Japanese cars, Filipino Jitneys, Mexican buses and used cars in places like Kenya, Indonesia and China.

So, argue the G77, equity demands that if you are 5% of the population but taking up a quarter of the parking lot, you should at least be paying for that privilege. But actually, we would just like to park now, so kindly remove your excess vehicles.

The Europeans, center of the Christian culture and quicker to don a hair suit and wear their guilt than many of their former colonies — Canada, Australia and the USA, for instance — say, golly, I guess you are right. We’ll get some bicycles and light rail.

The US delegation is not buying it. Cleverly, it has tried to reframe the language. Negotiator Jonathan Pershing said, “The donor countries have only so much largesse.” That paints the developing world as beggars, towards whom charity lies at the discretion of the donor world.

US lead negotiator Todd Stern was more blunt, saying the “U.S. will pay into climate fund, but not reparations” because “I actually completely reject the notion of a debt or reparations or anything of the like. For most of the 200 years since the industrial revolution, people were blissfully ignorant of the fact that emissions caused a greenhouse effect. It’s a relatively recent phenomenon.”

Okay, we wondered. When was it then that the USA became less ignorant, or perhaps less blissfully so? Was it in 1824, when Joseph Fourier described the greenhouse effect for the first time? How about when Irish physicist John Tyndall said of Earth’s greenhouse shield, “This aqueous vapour is a blanket more necessary to the vegetable life of England than clothing is to man”?

Or maybe it was in 1894 when Swedish chemist Svante Arrhenius warned that industrial-age coal burning would magnify the natural greenhouse effect. He even provided a number — five degrees Celsius — corresponding with a doubling of atmospheric carbon dioxide. Arrhenius knew the size of the parking lot!

Perhaps by the 1950s, when the measuring equipment had improved to the point where Gilbert Plass could detail the infrared absorption of various gases, Roger Revelle and Hans Suess could show that seawater was incapable of absorbing all the man-made CO2 entering the atmosphere, and Charles David Keeling would produce annual records of rising atmospheric carbon levels from observatory instruments in Hawaii and Antarctica — issuing tickets to the cars as they parked.  Surely by 1960 the USA could no longer claim to be “blissfully ignorant of the fact that emissions caused a greenhouse effect.” You know, those were US scientists, after all.

Perhaps by 1965, when the President’s Scientific Advisory Committee warned Lyndon B. Johnson that the greenhouse effect was a matter of “real concern.” Or by 1975, when Columbia University climatologist Wallace Broecker coined the term “global warming” and began warning that sudden climate shifts were not historically unprecedented.

The decade that followed brought a spate of in-depth inquiries by scientific bodies, government committees, and the United Nations, and in 1988, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was formed to report the collected findings in a non-partisan way.

Following the release of the first IPCC report, the governments of the world convened the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. There they agreed to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, with a key objective of  “stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.”

And thence through Kyoto, the Bali roadmap, Poznan, Barcelona, etc. we find ourselves in Copenhagen, and the USA still has the same 100 occupied spaces in that parking lot. Todd seems to think they only just discovered that they had been parking in someone else’s space. But he is not offering to move. He thinks we should get to keep it. Maybe by adverse possession or finders keepers or first-come, first serve. But the owners of those spaces are queueing up now, and they are using terms like occupying countries, which is never a good sign.

The USA, and especially the Congress, seems to be in its own delusional world about all this — caught up in the reverie and smog of consumer culture — and thinks it should not have more pain than any other when the books are rebalanced. Wrong.

Why should a farmer in the Tibetian plateau, whose ecological footprint is one tenth of a USAnian’s and who doesn’t have any idea what electricity or gasoline is, have to suffer the results of glacial melt?

Vandana Shiva told Democracy Now!, “I think it is time for the US to stop seeing itself as a donor and recognizing itself as a polluter, a polluter who must pay, a polluter who must pay for its pollution and its ecological debt. This is not about charity. This is about justice.”

The G77 (which actually counts 130 developing countries among its members) and the Alliance of Small Island States walked out today because it seemed increasingly clear rich countries would not commit to steeper reductions of greenhouse gases (sufficient, say, to hold Africa to 1.5°C of warming) and higher levels of financing for adaptation in the majority world. Poor nations want pledges on the order of $100 billion annually and they signaled last week that short-term pledges would not do.

While up at the Bella Center the NGOs were being rationed access and the G77 was walking out, Energy Secretary Steven Chu held a press conference to speak about the Obama administration’s use of stimulus money for green projects like the electrical grid and investing in renewable energy sources.

We went to a great talk today at Windows of Hope by Preben Maegaard of the Nordic Folkecenter for Renewable Energy. We and Preben go back about 20 years now, but while we have piddled around with biochar stoves and solar golf carts, this man has almost single-handedly been responsible for a Danish energy miracle.

Here is his first slide:

Those little dots in the slide to the left are the power stations that provided electricity to Denmark in 1984. They represented large coal, gas and nuclear stations. The many small dots to the right are wind farms, combined heat and power from biomass, tidal and wave energy, and solar thermal and other novel installations. Not shown are vast numbers of solar heaters and small electric systems, efficiency retrofits, and a transportation revolution. Many of Denmark’s islands are now powered 100% by renewables. Peak oil? What peak oil? Even private cars have been converted to home-grown, locally sourced biofuels and wind-powered electicity. The bottleneck, Preben said, was the car companies, that can’t sell Denmark electric cars fast enough to meet demand.

Someone in the audience asked about the embodied energy in windmills and electric cars (not to mention the d.t.’s of industrial civilization — after the collapse it may not be able to produce them) but Preben said it now takes only months to pay off a windmill, and 3 years to produce more energy than goes into an electric car. If they can make it from organic soybeans, we’ll even buy one.

So after the fall of the West, when the United States FINALLY gets out of North America, leaving it to remnant tribes of pastoralists, Denmark may still be living in Plan B. As Richard Heinberg says, Peak Everything is already here, its just not evenly distributed.

Yesterday Desmond Tutu said, “We have only one world. If we mess it up, there is no other world. And for those who think that the rich are going to escape. Ha ha ha. We either sink or swim together. We have one world and we want to leave a beautiful world for all these beautiful young generation. We the oldies want to leave a beautiful world to you. And it is a matter of morality. It is a matter of justice. If you are responsible for most of the mess, then you are responsible for getting rid of that mess....

Tutu said the only thing the poor world wants is this: “If you were able to pay the banks trillions and trillions and trillions and trillions, just give us a few billions.”

My COP15 Journal: Day Ten

Day Ten: After a day of sun came a day of very cold, but events continue here in Copenhagen, even on Sunday. Six organizations, 2 located in Copenhagen’s Free City of Christiania, 2 Agenda-21 NGOs in Copenhagen, plus LØS, the Danish Ecovillage Network and GEN, the Global Ecovillage Network, worked together to produce the Climate Bottom (as opposed to Climate Summit) event in Christiania. There have been great speakers from all over the world, with powerpoints and movies, dancing and singing. On Saturday Heikki from Finland built a sauna, which is working now.

On Saturday evening we participated in a sacred ceremony of the two Ashaninca shamans from Peru, who, while out birdhunting in the jungle, had a vision that told them the world was dying. They educated themselves on climate change and decided to come to Copenhagen to see if they could help save her. The Ashaninca traditionally occupied the Sacred Urubamba Valley, in the Peruvian highlands, but when Pizarro took Ollantaytambo and the Inca fled Machu Picchu, these people resettled into the upper Amazon. There they resisted explorers and missionaries for 400 years. To say that a little bird told these men to come to Copenhagen and join with others to save the Earth would not be a metaphor.

One of the most powerful features of the Climate Bottom has been the morning ceremony, greeting each day with Medicine Story’s invocations and often highlighted with a guest from the Global Peace Initiative Of Women (GPIOW) who has brought 30-40 religious leaders from all over the world. Yesterday they had their last gathering in Christiania, and there was a large audience.

Ecovillagers from ZEGG, The Farm, Damanhur, Sieben Linden and La Kabe have come and contributed workshops.Trees-for-Life, a wonderfull treeplanting project initiated by a frenchman has the intention to plant 15 billion trees every year the next 10 years, to overcome all the losses in the rainforest regions. Already they have planted 350,000 in Senegal. On Sunday the ecovillagers from Africa gathered to meet and plan for the future. The Senegalese government wants to assist with the formation of some 12,000 ecovillages and sent a representative. After the African meeting, we had a brief GEN reunion, attended by 30 ecovillagers from all over the world.

There has been between 10-200 people coming to the Climate Bottom gatherings, talks and ceremonies, and every day it is a growing number. With Ianto Evans and Linda Smiley as the guides, on Sunday morning 250 people attended a Natural Building session, interspersed with circus performance and street dancing.

In contrast, when we traveled across town to the Klimaforum in a large hall there were also fantastic speakers — Naomi Klein, Amy Goodman, and many more — and rooms of several hundred people, but it was difficult to get close or to speak with them, to say nothing of dancing, singing and slinging cob with them, or asking probing questions about what can we do to save the planet. It was a quite a different experience.

Vandana Shiva spoke there about Soil Not Oil, and while we could agree with her enthusiastically about the central thrust of her theme, we found it dismaying that her facts on soil chemistry, especially concerning carbon farming and biochar, were severely warped and distinctly negative. As James Lovelock has said, biochar is perhaps our last best chance, and certainly our safest gambit, to save the climate from moving up 5 degrees. If 350 is the goal, biochar and carbon farming will deliver that, and quickly. When Vandana Shiva urges a standing-room-only hall at the Klimaforum to rally against biochar and carbon farming, we can only sigh and shake our heads.

We have posted a 7-minute audio clip from Vandana’s talk to our website. People can judge for themselves whether she has the science right or whether she is parroting Biofuelwatch in a version of the childrens’ game of telephone, where each transmission distorts the message a little more until at the end, it is lost completely.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

My COP15 Journal: Day Nine

Day Nine: A day when the sound of helicopters constantly reverberated through every meeting venue, when security lines grew long and tedious, and when delegates and observers were compelled to acknowledge that what was going on outdoors was perhaps more significant that what was going on in the Bella Center.

What was going on outdoors was sunshine. It was the first full sun in the past week, and was glorious.The smiles embraced the painted faces, gay displays, and imaginative performances as the people of Copenhagen and the world took to the streets. This was the day of the big climate demonstration, to let the delegates know, as if they didn't already, that the whole world is watching. Smiling faces from 100 or more countries; old people in wheelchairs, babies in strollers, singing, dancing, chanting, hollering. There were no angry faces, no signs of hatred or violence, no chaos and no crime.

This was not as it was portrayed in the press, with 900 arrests and cordons of police with batons and gas grenades; this was a line of happy people, in a celebratory mood, that stretched six kilometers from city center to COP-15. At the back of the line, separating the demonstrators from the police, were three rodeo clowns, putting their own bodies between the bulls and the bullriders, whistling and ushering away protesters from potential harmful contact.

The signs may have varied (and we have posted many more to our Facebook album) but the message was this: "DO YOUR JOB! THE WORLD IS RELYING UPON YOU TO SAVE THE PLANET! WE HAVE NO OTHER!"

Friday, December 11, 2009

My COP15 Journal: Day Eight

"When it rains, it pours.  We have long been asking for solid texts that would allow for real negotiations and now we’re getting them in droves.  This momentum is critical and puts us on a path to make serious progress on the issue we’re all here to solve—dangerous climate change."
—Kim Carstensen, Leader of WWF Global Climate Initiative

Day 8: When Kyoto was teetering on failure, the knight on the white horse was Al Gore, who shifted the US delegation’s stance, tugged at elbows, and got a deal. That Bill Clinton never submitted it for ratification (and that the Republican-controlled Senate never would have ratified) is a continuing shame, if for no other reason that as a non-signatory, the US is not a party to talks as to the future course of the Kyoto protocol after it expires in 2012.

Today, the Chair of the Ad Hoc Working Group on Further Commitments for Annex 1 Parties under the Kyoto Protocol (AWG-KP) released a new draft text outlining progress to date. This joins two other texts released today, including from the Ad Hoc Working Group on Long-Term Cooperative Action (AWG-LCA) and the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS). The release of all three texts today breathes new life into the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol.

There is also a new white knight, and she could once more be a USAnian, this one a bit more of a surprise. At the start of this week Lisa Jackson, the administrator of the US Environmental Protection Agency said that irrespective of the outcome in Copenhagen, and irrespective of what the US Senate does or does not pass, the greenhouse gas emissions of the USA will be capped and will be going down.

In May 2006, in Massachusetts v EPA, the Commonwealth argued that the Clean Air Act provides that the head of the EPA ‘shall’ regulate new vehicles ‘which in his/her judgement cause or contribute to air pollution which may be reasonably anticipated to endanger public health or welfare’. Historically the EPA had decided not to regulate greenhouse gases and the Bush Administration’s position on climate change was that there wasn't any.

Massachusetts and 11 other states fought the Bush lawyers through the courts. In 2007, in a spectacular victory, the Supreme Court ruled that greenhouse gases should be included in the Clean Air Act.

In March 2009, EPA proposed a new rule, and 400,000 public comments were received.  This week, that rule went into effect. Jackson said, “The Clean Air Act allows us to do what it does best, make reasonable cost effective regulations.” She let it be known to other Copenhagen delegates that the US would lead, not follow when it came to enforcement.

With her new tools, Lisa Jackson is now doing what others, including the chief US negotiator for Copenhagen, Todd Stern, are just pledging. She is bringing down emissions, backed by fines — and even imprisonment — of carbon polluters.

When Barack Obama said in Norway, “the world must come together to confront climate change. There is little scientific dispute that if we do nothing, we will face more drought, famine and mass displacement that will fuel more conflict for decades” he was at the same moment, through his EPA Administrator,  backing those words with action.

Completing the role reversal was the failure of the EU today to advance its pledge for an emissions cut that would keep temperature checked at 2 degrees. At the European Council meeting, held today in Brussels, the EU failed to move beyond its offer to reduce emissions by 20 per cent - even though 40 per cent by 2020 can be achieved without any greater domestic effort. The EU also failed to make any progress in tackling so-called "hot air" — the surplus emission allowances held by several Eastern EU Member States— and the accounting tricks associated with land use and forestry emissions. One NGO observer said,  “As they can set the bar as high as they want to, it could allow a handful of Member States to predict doom, only deliver disaster, and then claim credit for the difference.”

Assuming we are not arrested, tomorrow we’ll have coverage of the big demonstration here. You can follow the action live starting around noon.

My COP15 Journal: Day Seven

Day 7: In Denmark the public transport system is enviable by anyone living in a country whose mass transit is, to quote Jim Kunstler, something Bulgaria would be ashamed of. I am staying at a farm an hour out in the country from Copenhagen, but it is a short walk to the nearest bus shelter and even an hour before sunrise the buses run every 10 minutes.  Stepping off the bus and onto the Copenhagen train is a mere 12 strides, and, like the bus, the trains run constantly, about 20 minutes apart at this hour.

Changing to the Bella Center metro train at Norreport, another 6 minute wait, then five stops down the line we come to the metro stop for COP-15, and the gauntlet of conference security, along with the protestors who form up outside, install daily art, leaflet delegates and perform street theater.

Moving briskly to the anti-biochar side event hosted by EcoNexus, we politely sat through an hour of presentations against various bad practices in agriculture (including the mistaken lumping of organic no-till with chemical no-till) until the microphone arrived in front of Deepak Rughani of Biofuelwatch.

Rughani’s 16 minute talk is now available as an audio download (22 Mb) on our website.

Pointing out that 14 governments and the UN Convention to Combat Desertification have endorsed biochar, Rughani said that biochar was being fast-tracked through the Clean Development Mechanism without adequate vetting. He said it was like releasing a new pharmaceutical product without clinical testing. He enumerated several “false claims”  that he said were going unexamined.

First, carbon negative cooking and heating. Rughani said that with any fire, you only get the energy out that you put in, so if you get a third to half out as biochar, that means you have to find a third to half more fuel, which in many parts of the world is already unsustainable and leading to deforestation.

We all know the bad health effects of inhaling soot, endemic in Africa and Asia, and when you add the handling of biochar from stoves, this problem will only worsen, he said.

Second, carbon negative agriculture. We are seeing large clouds of black soot when biochar is broadcast to the fields, Rughani complained, showing dramatic photos. This is only adding to the climate problem, not to say global dimming, and of course some of that carbon is swept up by the wind and carried aloft.

When you spread these large swaths of biochar across the ground you turn the field black. Fine for Japan, where they want to warm the earth, but in Africa the last thing you want is hotter soils, Rughani said.

Third, long retention, a la terra preta. Rughani asserted that microbial breakdown is what will determine whether the biochar will stay in the soil or not. He claimed up to 72 percent will oxidize and go back to the atmosphere as CO2 within 20 years. He based this on the misconception, and some isolated and unreviewed case studies, that microbes metabolize biochar and turn it into CO2, which is now well established to be untrue. The only place that biochar works to improve crops is in the tropics, Rughani said, and turning the Amazon soils into inorganic carbon is disastrous. The premise that biochar only works in the tropics is patently false, and the latter statement is belied by history.

The nutrient loss, much of which will be vaporized, Rughani argued, means that people will become more dependent on industrial fertilizers, and the more you strip away the topsoil in the tropics, the more vulnerable these soils are to erosion, and since you have been applying fertilizer, this means you need to apply more fertilizer, and it also means eutrophication of rivers and lakes.

Rughani concluded that 156 NGOs have come out against biochar and the precautionary principle would suggest that when you undertake geoengineering schemes of this type that more study and vetting of the claims should precede widespread adoption of the practice.

All of that sounds quite reasonable until you realize that this has been studied for decades now, and, while studies are still needed and are ongoing, we know enough to conclude that biochar, properly characterized, manufactured and applied, is ready for prime time now. It is the safest solution available to get us back south of 350, on decadal timeframes, safer by far than the no-action option dictated by the precautionary principle.

Biofuelwatch’s talk displayed much more global dimming than biochar will. While there were some legitimate concerns — all ones that are being addressed by the biochar policy community in a considered and deliberate fashion — there were a huge number of false or misleading statements sprinkled through Rughani’s talk. Raising spectres of giant tree plantations that displace indigenous societies, an industry that crushes local initiatives, enhanced addictions to fertilizer, and destruction of soil humus on a massive scale, Rughani employed virtually every faulty syllogism in the propagandist’s handbook.

We were reminded of the admonition we’d received from the late David Comey, formerly of the London OSS office in World War II, whose job it was to deceive the Wehrmach of the location and timing of the Normandy landings.

Comey advised, at a time when we were just embarking on our anti-nuclear work, that in good propaganda, it is always truth that establishes credibility. A single falsehood can set you back for a lifetime. Biofuelwatch would do well to learn this lesson.

Had biochar not been more than adequately defended by real scientists, permaculturists, African stove-makers and Danish organic farmers at the Bella Center the day before, addressing each and every one of Rughani’s spurious arguments, one might have some greater concern. Truth will out.

If there is a legitimate concern, it is that biochar will be excluded from the UNFCCC process, and excluded from any cap and share or clean development mechanism. In that event, Biofuelwatch’s worst nightmares could be realized. In a Wild West scenario, where there are no certification standards, no requirements for life cycle analysis, no feedstock and product characterization, and no need for continued research on soil biology and plant results, precisely the monocropping, toxicity, displacement of the poor and all the rest become possible, even probable.

From Bella Center we hopped the metro back to Christianshavn and strolled over to the Bottom Up meeting where we were given 20 minutes to speak on the 40-year experience of The Farm. One of the speakers after us was worth sticking around for, and his running theme knocked our socks off.

The Venerable Bhikkhu Bodhi, Theravidin Buddhist monk and scholar, and co-author of A Buddhist Declaration on Climate Change began with asking the audience what would they do if the Big Top tent we were sitting in suddenly caught fire.

He paused to let us think, and then answered for us. “We would go outside and start finding buckets and water. We would form a line and pass the buckets to throw onto the flames, in order to extinguish the fire before it burns the tent.

“We wouldn’t start bargaining with each other, saying, you carry four buckets of water but I’m just going to carry one bucket. We wouldn’t respond, if I carry four buckets then you should pay me, because I am carrying four more times than you are.
“We wouldn’t put out just 25% of the flames or 40% of the flames; we wouldn’t stop until we had extinguished the entire fire. Yet our planet, the world that we live in, is literally on fire. The oceans are rising, threatening to inundate the continents with water. The centers of the continents are drying out. Large sections of woodland are burning up, setting off terrible wildfires which are killing hundreds of people. Just in the past year, 150,000 people died just from the effects of global warming. The land which is fertile enough to grow our food is growing sterile....

“So what are the people at Bella Center going to be doing over the next week? You say you will carry four buckets, I say I’ll carry one bucket, but we won’t start carrying them until 2020? So why is this happening? What is lying behind this delay, procrastination, wiggling out of commitments, trying to get by with the minimum that is possible? This is a question that has plagued me since I started to learn about global warming. The overwhelming majority of people who know about this are saying, ‘Do something, don’t delay, hurry up, we are losing islands already.’ Even the cities along the coast will be gone. What is the obstacle?

“I say there are three big obstacles in place. One is corporations that profit from selling fossil fuels — coal, oil and gas. These companies sponsor projects and organizations with names like Institute for Environmental Studies and the Institute for a Sane Environmental Policy, but who works there? — not reputable scientists but pawns, matchbook Ph.Ds. or scientists outside their discipline.

“The second is the bed-partner of the corporations, the politicians. To run for elections you need what? Brain? Intelligence? Wisdom? Compassion? No. You need money. You can’t beat a competitor with powerful corporate backing by sending out fundraising letters in the mail. And this whole process makes economic prosperity the goal in and of itself. Not social welfare but how much money we make, what is our profit margin, how large is our dividend. Everything is transformed into the abstraction of numbers, which one can’t eat, can’t drink, can’t swim in, can’t grow food in. This is greed working with ignorance, and underlying it is fear.

“We need to create a hierarchy of priorities. It needs to be based on harmonious families, harmonious communities, and harmonious social order. This is grounded in commitment — to satisfaction of our basic needs, moderation, frugality, compassion, care for those in need, non-violence, honesty, truthfulness. We need a human way of living that satisfies our cultural, aesthetic and intellectual needs to grow. This, then, gives primacy to the pursuit of spiritual development.”

Back at the Bella Center, we had a brief talk on the record with IPCC lead scientist, Stephen Schneider. That is now available as an audio download from our website.

Making it over to the Klimaforum for the first time, we saw Naomi Klein’s panel and spend an hour with some of our permaculture buddies from Palestine, Malawi, El Salvador, Cuba, Slovakia, and France circling around Tony Anderson’s 10000 trees proposal.  Tony has reckoned we could put out the fire if we used these buckets:
  • Cut human emissions down by 1 ton CO2 per person by 2025. This will be harder in the consuming world than in the producing world.
  • Save all existing forests and wetlands from destruction.
  • Plant 6000 to 10000 trees per person.

We think this is a good start, but anyone who has been planting trees (as we have to offset our travel and other emissions, beginning in 1985) knows, 6000 to 10000 is not so many. It seems like many when you begin, but you have plenty of time in your life, and you can get into the habit of starting trees on a daily or weekly basis without much inconvenience.

Remember the China Youth pictured on Day 2 of our journal? Their 21st Century Greater Beijing Reforestation Model project is aimed at preventing desertification in China, which is now encroaching on Beijing. Those kids have planted trees on approximately 2,800 hectares over the past eight years, and it is steadily gathering speed. Recently the China Youth travelled to Japan to start the China/Japan Greenerization Fund. Cool name. 350 Chinese volunteers and 50 Japanese students successfully planted about 250 hectares with some 300,000 camphor, mangnolia and evergreens. And they are having a great time, enjoying cultural exchange, travel and camaraderie, and saving the planet.

The kids of China have formed a bucket brigade and are putting out the fire.

My COP15 Journal: Day Six

—Yvo deBoer

Day 6: Another long day; too long to post right away, but we have it now.

This is the face of where the fate of the planet is being decided. These square pre-fab buildings that look like warehouses from the outside and Empire Battle Cruiser corridors within are the skull that holds humanity’s single most consequential cogitation.

When we were young, our mom and dad used to take us window shopping in New York City at Christmastime. The skaters in Rockefeller Center, the steam from the horses near Central Park, the Santa at Macy’s, the electric trains at Abercrombie and Fitch, the thick snowflakes falling onto the sidewalks ... all these things fill the pores of our memory with happy dopamine molecules.

In Copenhagen the place to go at Christmastime is Strøget (literally "the stroke"), a car-free zone and the longest pedestrian shopping area in Europe. Strøget was created in November 1962 when cars were beginning to dominate Copenhagen's old central streets. Jan Gehl was the master planner, and described the process in Life Between Buildings in Danish in 1971, in English in 1987. During the 1950s the street had closed to traffic for a couple of days at Christmas. In 1962 the closure was disguised as an extended holiday closure, but kept on. 

Building on public success, the network expanded piecemeal – another street and a few more squares emptied of cars in 1968, and again in 1973 and 1980 and 1992. From those first 15,800 square meters of the Strøget, Copenhagen’s pedestrian network has expanded to about 100,000 square meters (10 hectare) today. The idea has become a model now emulated elsewhere. Gehl's book Public Spaces, Public Life describes how such incremental improvements have gradually transformed Copenhagen from a car-dominated city to a pedestrian-oriented city over 40 years. Gehl coined the phrase "copenhagenize" to describe how urban centers can embrace bicycle culture and urban cycling.

We went for a walk at night on the Strøget and after pausing to peer into store windows we began to feel the chill air off the Atlantic creeping into out Tennessee jeans, so we stopped into Mama Rosa’s pizza parlour and enjoyed a tira misu and a glass of house red while we watched an artist apply oil to canvas in a store window across the way.

There is something of the pedestrian pattern in the Bella Center layout, although it tends to be linear rather than radial, making for a 20-minute walk between venues. All participants, the mighty and the weak, enter the same portal, although the mighty have a VIP line and the weak pass through x-rays and magnetic scanners and have to drink from their water bottles to prove they are not toting sulfuric acid or liquid thermite.

Several COPs back, probably COP 9 or 10, there was a kafuffle when the NGOs were marginalized by design and so complained to the chair. Over ensuing COPs, the chair inquired of the States-Parties, and determined that, contrary to COPs involving, say, rights of women and minorities or sustainable development, where NGOs tend to be vocally dominated by anti-abortion and Christian groups, the NGOs at UNFCCC are second only to the science sector in what they contribute. Groups like Environmental Defense, Climate Action Network, and World Wildlife Fund have played a valuable role in driving policy.

NGOs are now given greater access. Consequently, it is not possible to get from the cloakroom to the Tycho Brahe or Karen Blixen rooms where the plenaries are held without traversing a carpeted maze of NGO stands. The stands themselves are not sterile tables and chairs fronting a plastic Kinkos banner, but rather lively, open, interactive and gadgety. This is trade-show high art — snatching the simian brain as it scans for the next branch to swing to, with quick peripheral motions, shiny objects, and free swag. Its gratifying to see McKibben’s 350 at the head of the maze, but none of the NGO stands are shabby, really, perhaps because the deniers have no UN NGOs. Hang on. We take that back. The Schiller Institute is here, dissembling about purloined emails and carbon-trading corporate cabals.

Neither would it be accurate to leave the impression that religious nuts do not muddy the waters of COP-15. Every now and then we run into the large format, hardcover, full color plate books of her Supreme Master Ching Hai (born Au Lac in Vietnam) with titles like The Birds in My Life, The Dogs in My Life, and The Noble Wilds. Dogs is a collection of snapshots of her Supreme Master’s poodles at play, at sleep, indoors, outdoors, etc. Heck, with enough money even YOU can buy a seat at the table of history’s most important meeting, and a chance to divert the attention of heads of state to your poodles and birdbath. Jonathan Dawson, who is also daily blogging now, notes that the weight of free literature anyone can pick up in a single day is more than you can read in several weeks, which perhaps is why there are so many copies of The Birds in My Life finding their way to rubbish bins.

Today was a biochar day. We gave a demo of the World Stove and a talk on carbon-negative ecovillages in Hans Christian Anderson’s beloved Vartorv Square that was attended by some of the city’s fine urban designers. We then rushed across town to catch Nathaniel Mulcahy, Debbie Reed, Thomas Hartung, and Johannes Lehmann fielding questions from a SRO audience of NGO observers, UN agencies, working press and national delegates.

With so much firepower on stage, even the more hostile questions were deftly and humbly met. Nonetheless, Biofuelwatch circulated broadsides claiming that the dark side of black carbon would be exposed the following day, stay tuned.

In the plenary meeting, Tuvalu made a bold proposal to convene a working group — with open access and transparency — to discuss the legal outcome of COP-15, or how the outcomes can be legally binding and enforceable, including the “P” word, penalties. This approach stood in contrast to revelations that the Danish president had been circulating a draft resolution to the G8 (now chaired by Barack Obama) proposing an outcome along the lines of Option 2 (see our journal Day 5). This revelation angered all the delegates and observers who were not privy to G8 discussions.

We think having a minimal agreement like this, despite how it was crafted and circulated, is not a bad thing, and proof of the potency of public opinion (the world’s, not the USA’s). The Danes were trying not to look bad by having a failed summit, and so put together the low-common-denominator formula as a face-saving deal. This indicates that a deal is possible, and also shows that public pressure is having an effect.

The denier countries — USA, Canada, Russia, China, India and Australia (the ones with the most to lose) — are feeling enough heat to have the urge to sign something (except for Canada). It is up to the majority world and NGOs to make sure the only thing that can be signed is a serious and effective commitment — zero emission by date certain — and the Tuvaluian-led effort to create the enforcement mechanism. Outing the back room deals on COP Day 3 was a positive development.

Tuvalu won the rare “Ray of the Day” award from CAN, and justly deserved. Wednesday’s fossil awards went to Canada, Croatia and Russia, nudging out Ukraine, which took home two awards on Tuesday, one for the weakest position on GHG pledges among all delegations, and one for refusing to disclose how it spends the money it makes from sale of GHG quotas, reckoned to be at least 300 million euro from Japan alone last year.




The Great Change is published whenever the spirit moves me. Writings on this site are purely the opinion of Albert Bates and are subject to a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Share-Alike 3.0 "unported" copyright. People are free to share (i.e, to copy, distribute and transmit this work) and to build upon and adapt this work – under the following conditions of attribution, n on-commercial use, and share alike: Attribution (BY): You must attribute the work in the manner specified by the author or licensor (but not in any way that suggests that they endorse you or your use of the work). Non-Commercial (NC): You may not use this work for commercial purposes. Share Alike (SA): If you alter, transform, or build upon this work, you may distribute the resulting work only under the same or similar license to this one. Nothing in this license is intended to reduce, limit, or restrict any rights arising from fair use or other limitations on the exclusive rights of the copyright owner under copyright law or other applicable laws. Therefore, the content of
this publication may be quoted or cited as per fair use rights. Any of the conditions of this license can be waived if you get permission from the copyright holder (i.e., the Author). Where the work or any of its elements is in the public domain under applicable law, that status is in no way affected by the license. For the complete Creative Commons legal code affecting this publication, see here. Writings on this site do not constitute legal or financial advice, and do not reflect the views of any other firm, employer, or organization. Information on this site is not classified and is not otherwise subject to confidentiality or non-disclosure.