Look Ma, That’s Me in the Video

December 2, 2008

December 2nd – I just opened an email press release from the UN FCCC indicating that vidoes of select events will be available as YouTubes.  I opened the link to the first one, the briefing which was the subject of my last post, and low and behold, there I am in the lower right hand corner of the still shot up front before you click on the arrow to launch the video.  Goodness gracious me!  Amazing this Internet stuff.

Here’s the link to the main page of conference videos… http://www.youtube.com/climateconference

And here is the link to the video version of my last post, which is far less subjective… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OMXlYNVlTd0

For the Earth – §


First UN Press Briefing

December 2, 2008

December 1 –  Please forgive me ahead of time for the length of this post, but it is perhaps the most important contribution I can make to the climate crisis ‘debate’.  The idea at its core is a paradigm shift that humanity must make, in my humble opinion, if it is to step back from the brink of initiating a slow extinction of itself and of all Life on Earth.

Immediately after the US press briefing came the first UN press briefing.  This was my second chance to accomplish what I came to do in Poznan.  Let me digress for a moment.

Several weeks ago, when the financial crisis in global stock and credit markets took hold in earnest, when 5 5% to 10% losses became familiar almost daily experiences, I had an epiphany of sorts.  While financial pundits, governments and investors were bemoaning the massive and unprecedented ‘loss of wealth’ experienced in the stock markets of the world and dire forecasts of economies grinding to a halt were scaring the wits out those in positions of wealth and power… it hit me like a cream puff between the eyes, that this may in fact be a blessing in disguise, that the overheated economies of the world which support and sustain their expansion and so called health by bleeding the planet of its precious black blood (petroleum) and sacrificing it on the alter of Profit, to the ‘gods of accumulated wealth’ of the religions of Consumerism and Economism… that this market collapse was in fact a big step back from the brink of slow, painful self-destruction.

Sure there would be pain, both the mental kind from ‘margin calls’ to the wealthy speculators of the world whose job it is to stoke the fires of their religion of Greed and Avarice by ‘leveraging’ (buying securities on borrowed money)… as well as the real suffering of people losing jobs and life savings, students unable to pay for college, and choices between buying food and paying rent.  The latter class of ‘real suffering’ is not to be applauded, but the suffering will either come in a small way now or in a massive way later if those fearsome climate ‘tipping points’ are, in fact, reached and surpassed.  The choice may be some human suffering now (no birds or bees were jeopardized by a stock market meltdown in point of fact), or massive suffering for all of Life on Earth down the road a piece, where the meltdown of the polar ice caps will wreak havoc and devastation on the biodiversity of Earth.

Soon after my epiphany, links started to appear in my inbox to articles by notable climate change personalities, with admonishments that the world should not back away from funding the needed changes for mitigation and adaptation, and that this was an opportunity for ‘green growth’ after the markets were unfrozen.  The first of these to come to my attention was from Yvo de Boer, Executive Secretary of the UN Climate Change Secretariat himself.  I want desperately to him that it was a much bigger opportunity than that.

Back to the present.  Here I am in a room with Yvo de Boer himself giving a briefing to the press.  I am in a position to say anything I want to him, on the record, in front of the cameras.  Pretty heady stuff.  I carefully honed my question, drafting and refining while the briefing went on.  But when time came for questions only three were taken, and two of these went to the Polish press as a courtesy to the host country.  I would not, after all these carbon-miles, get to ask my question.

Not being one to give up so easily, as soon as the press briefing was over, I was standing in front of Mr. de Boer, looking him in the eyes and asking my question.  I had literally come all this way to ask this question, to plant this seed.  “Isn’t the global financial meltdown an opportunity of massive proportions, an opportunity to step back from the brink of those fearsome tipping points, and so a blessing in disguise?  Isn’t it a ‘shock point’, during which we might redefine the very paradigm of ‘economy’ by which the modern world is run, from one where the highest good is the ever accelerating growth, consumption and accumulation of wealth?  Isn’t it this post-modern religion of Economism that is resulting in the fever of our planet?”  My question to him was as brief as I could make it, but intended to set a seed of change in the mind of this man, that Economism and Consumerism were dis-eases of humankind and of all Life on Earth.

His response was thoughtful, as he returned my gaze.  His reply was that, yes, it was an opportunity to reorient financial flows.  That the financial crisis came out of bad lending in the mortgage markets.  That if, after recovery, bad lending of a different sort ensued, lending to project of the old kind, then surely climate tragedy would occur.  But no, it was not a blessing in disguise because it was engendering human suffering… the suffering of African farmers, for example, whose livelihood depends on the cut flowers that they grow, and which would, as a luxury item, be left out of the shopping carts of Europe.

The answer was a good one.  He is a smart, wise, and compassionate man.  I would not mind in the least working under his leadership.  But wasn’t he missing the larger point?  Is it our right to threaten the existence of Life on Earth by our wasteful ways? Was I successful in planting my seed?  How can I make the world awaken to the idea that ‘the emperor has no clothes’, that the pseudo-religions of Consumerism and Economism are the idolatries of our age?  Will you, the reader, help me spread this new paradigm?

The healing of our world will not be done alone by substitution of ‘buying green’ for simple consumerism, but by humankind re-learning and re-membering to value uneconomic, immaterial ‘goods’ over the mundane material sort.

For the Earth – §

US Press Briefing – The Big Question

December 2, 2008

December 1st – This was the first of two press briefings I attended today.  I bluffed my way into the room.  Actually, I walked prepared to bluff if challenged, but was not challenged.  Having had to choose between status as an NGO observer and status as a member of the press, I chose the former (on advice) and so really am not supposed to attend press briefings.  But I won’t tell anyone if you won’t.

This ‘side event’ was a major reason for my attending this conference.  The world knows that the obstructionist Bush administration’s days are numbered (count down to January 20th proceeds apace).  What was not clear, until this briefing, was whether the old guard would yield gracefully to the new, or go out dragging the curtains down with them.  I am afraid the latter may be the case.

There were two representatives of the Bush team.  Dr. Harlan Watson and Depty Assistant Secretary of State for the Environment, Daniel Reisnyder (please don’t take off points for spelling!), a short man with a long title.  They were clearly not comfortable being there.  The tension in the room was palpable.  The skepticism with which anything they would say would be greated was clear.  But then there were those of us who were waiting for that signal.  Would they be spoilers again this year?

At this point my notes from Dr. Harlan’s presentation would be apt to show you…

“Talked about methane markets… a load of b.s.  Blah, blah blah.  Many words, nothing said… came off like reading the telephone book… everyone concentrating on carbon… there are other greenhouse gasses too… look what the US has done on these… ”

I didn’t know whether to revile this man or pity him.  I decided that I would try one of my questions on him.  I quickly composed the following semi-rhetorical question, but shortened it a bit when I asked it.

“You stated that ‘consensus is something that certainly the Bush Administration supported’.  I do not think this position is shared either by involved Americans or people around the world.  You also said that the US delegation would be making positive contributions here in Poznan.  Specifically, what positive contributions will you be making here?  That is, have you been instructed to make any new proposals or facilitation of any existing proposals or is your brief to be obstructionist to progress and consensus as has been your position in the past?”

His response was basically, technology funding and technology transfer activities would be the specific contributions this session.

All the questions might be characterized as incredulity in varying degrees.  Some wanted to know about the transition to the new Obama team and would that significantly alter the US stance.  His obfuscation here amounted to saying that the US congress would probably still impede progress since the individual interests of states was a problem too.  Well sure, if the guys at the top are pushing in that direction, and the Republican base has its way through special interests and lobbyists.

When asked about all the criticism that the US had come under, he acknowledged that criticism with a gesture of his arms and the statement, “You are right, we have come under criticism, and I can show you some of the scars.”  And well deserved scars they are at that.  The greedy self-interest of the outgoing administration deserves more than mere scars.  This is the future of life on earth they are trading for the sake of ‘accumulation of personal wealth’.

Arriving in Poznan

December 1, 2008

November 30th – I have arrived in Poznan.  It was not a long trip, and the scenery was welcome if a bit bleak on a damp, gray winter day.  On the train the woman sitting opposite me was also on her way to the conference, and American, working for the Stockholm Environmental Institute, stationed in Bangkok.  Due to the ‘sit in’ at the Bangkok airport, she was forced to find unconventional means of leaving the country and ended up waiting 12 hours at a small airfield which had been setup by the Americans as an operational base during one of the conflicts of the late 20th century in that region.

She was very talkative and helpful however, giving me some tips on what to expect at the conference, what documents to watch out for, and what social events were not to be missed (like the NGO party on Saturday evening).  She also indicated that if faced with the choice of admission as an NGO observer or a member of the press, she would choose the former.  She also gave me the valuable tip to register the Sunday evening of my arrival, rather than wait for the opening day of the conference when registration is bedlam.  Her advice on the preferable registration status was useful since I was indeed faced with a choice.  And that advice was repeated by another apparent veteran of the process standing at the counter next to me.

I grabbed a booklet at the information desk on the schedule of ‘side events’ for the conference.  There is a dreadful overlap of events that I would like to attend.  Being just one person, I will have to choose.  As my reason for coming is to make the greatest difference I can to the outcome of the conference, my selection will have to be guided by my intellect, instinct and providence.

For the Earth – (S)

En Route to Poznan

December 1, 2008

November 30th – The date of some postings (like this one) will differ from the actual date they were written.  Often one must write offline and upload as access to the Internet permits.

I am everywhere touched by the kindness of strangers. I left my home of one week with Ale Gutierrez, an Argentinian living in Copenhagen.  I will hopefully see her again next year, in Copenhagen, when I hope to attend the COP-15, final session of the UN FCCC Conference on Climate Change.

A short, 1 hour flight to Berlin, and I am whisked away by the famously efficient and timely Bahn train system to my new ‘couch surf’ hosts.  (See http://www.couchsurfing.com/)  Couch surfing was part of what made this adventure possible for me.  As I am completely on personal funds on this trip, I must not only keep my carbon footprint minimal (and buy carbon offsets for my travel), but I must keep my monetary footprint to a minimum as well.  The Couch Surfing ‘movement’ is a God-send. It is a hearkening back to the days when young people were in motion in the US, ‘crashing’ with others of like mind, often calling themselves ‘hippies’.  But today there is no such stygma associated with it.  It is just another community of cohesion between open-hearted, like-minded individuals sharing their homes and lives.

I stayed in Berlin with Andreas, his wife Ulriche and their daugher Marlena last night.  It was a cold night, -3 degrees C I am told.  I slept with 5 layers of clothing on, under a down sleeping bag, with a comforter on top of it.  Still in the night I got up to put on a hat and scarf.  My body is not prepared for this temperature.

I find it curious that the United Nations would select Poznan, Poland, arguably one of the coldest spots they could have selected at the coldest time of year, for a conference to deal with the specter of global warming.  Andreas suggested that it must have been the availability of rooms in Poznan, a medium sized city, but with no great tourist appeal at this time of year.

And indeed, this may be an unusually warm winter for northern Europe.  My hosts in Berlin said that at this point each winter in Berlin there is apt to be a foot or more of snow on the group.  Today there is nothing.

Reducing Your Carbon Footprint – Air Travel

December 1, 2008

The single most -expensive thing that most people will do commonly do it to fly.  The carbon per passenger mile for air travel (or air freight for that matter) is higher than any other means of transport, short of space travel.  Does this mean stop flying?  Not necessarily.  But those serious about ‘walking the walk’ and reducing their carbon footprint significantly would do well to consider this aspect of their lives.

Let’s consider this area as a complex of interlocking discernments and decisions.  First, of course, would be simply stopping to consider is this trip necessary.  There is not formula that can be offered for this determination.  It is an individual matter.  But even to stop a moment before planning a trip to consider, “Is this flight necessary” is a metaparadigm that most of us side step.

The second consideration is “why fly?”  Quite often there are other modes of transport available, such as bus or train, but these have long ago been rejected out of hand (once the ‘preference’ for air travel over ground transport has been made is becomes a seldom challenged paradigm).  The rationale might be that flying is faster.  In the climate of competition between airlines in a changing world, often it is actually cheaper to fly than to take the train.  This is where we must stop!

The cost of air tranport at present does not reflect the REAL cost, it only reflects the monetary costs.  “But isn’t that the ‘real cost’?” you ask.  No!  The real cost includes the cost to the ecosphere of the planet of the massive CO2 emissions per passenger mile for the flight.  For a brief period longer this ‘externalized cost’ will remain an impediment to our addressing the climate crisis full on; brief since even now the world is in the throes of recognizing the the carbon emissions of human activities must be priced into those activities or we are doomed to changing the planet in ways that we may not be able to cope with near term or long term.

Even if confronted with a more expensive, and longer train trip for several hundred kilometers or miles, we need to at least assert our will to question and interrupt our paradigms.  And the decision to choose the more costly or slower means of transport is a conscious decision to preserve the planet for our children, and for all life on Earth.

And when you must choose air travel, until the carbon-expense of flying is integrated into the price of a ticket, we must individually ‘ante up’ toward our personal commitment to ‘make a difference’, and purchase voluntary carbon offsets equal (or exceeding) the carbon impact of our journey.

For the Earth – (S)

Reducing Your Carbon Footprint – ‘MetaParadigms’

November 29, 2008

I struggled for a bit trying to find, or coin, a term for one of the most powerful ways to reduce your carbon footprint of all.  It is not actually a single way, but a class of ways. Let’s add it on to the previous post on this topic, which was about your relationship to water.

I came up with the term ‘metaparadigms’, and sure enough, there are uses elsewhere on the Internet.  Since a paradigm is a pattern which is so common and ubiquitous that it is invisible or imperceptible to most (individual and societal ‘habits’ for instance), a ‘metaparadigm’ is a pattern of patterns, that is, a matter of how paradigms are created, transformed, replaced, superceded, etc.

Let’s get down to earth again with this, or rather, down to water.  Take this new paradigm you have learned about water (previous post) and set it firmly in your awareness.  Practice seeing water differently in you manifold daily uses of the substance.  Practice interrupting your old habits of heating and chilling more than is needed, letting heated or chilled water stand and waste that energy.  Once you have firmly created a new paradigm for youself with these aspects of ‘metaparadigming’, start modeling it for others and explicitly teaching it.  We are often subtly taught from childhood not to preach to others.  It is a find line between being a teacher and being a preacher.  But find your voice and refine your methods of sharing your wisdom with others.

And perhaps most importantly and centrally to the above aspects of the ‘metaparadigm’, is to find that place in your psyche which is able to recognize your own (wasteful) paradigms.  It is close to the place in your neural network where you stored learning to whistle and learning to ride a bicycle.  Just as with whistling and bicycle riding, once you access that place and exercise it by interrupting and reforming your paradigms, you will never forget how to do it. – (S)