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 – §

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)

Reducing Your Carbon Footprint – Water

November 28, 2008

I hope to have established with my prior post, Carbon Costing, that we must collectively start to weigh, assess and value, our personal activities in terms of the fossil fuel it takes to support them, and thus the resulting ‘new’ CO2 emissions.  So to proceed from that point, the natural question is, “How do I reduce my carbon footprint?”  The answer is both simple and complex.

Reducing your carbon footprint, above all, is the decision to start a process in your life of examining old ways of looking at the world and the habits which they produce and which sustain those old paradigms, and then to change the ones that need changing.  Without that commitment, changes to your carbon footprint may remain small.  But then small improvements are better than none at all.

Take for instance you relationship to water.  We all use water daily, hot or cold, but as clean as possible.  We use lots of it, for drinking, cooking, washing, bathing.  Some of us water our lawns, our cars.  Some of us even wash our houses, driveways and sidewalks with it.  Let’s focus on the water we heat and cool for a moment.  It is known that water has about the highest ‘specific heat’ of any familiar, common substance.  That is, it takes more energy to raise a particular amount of water than just about anything else we know.

So, when you heat water for a cup of tea or coffee, do you measure out a cup of water into the poat or pan or do you fill it?  The heating of all that extra water you will not use is a tremendously wasteful thing since the unused water will lose its heat to the surrounding air or whatever else it is in contact with.  Do you boil your pasta in the ‘recommended’ 2 quarts/litres of water?  You don’t need that much water to cook pasta, but the recommendations emerge from a social paradigm where the carbon emissions from the energy used to heat the water was considered to be of no consequence.

The same is true of water you chill or refrigerate.  If you take out a bucket of ice from the freezer and only use a few ice cubes, all of the energy used to freeze the wasted ice adds to the excess CO2 emissions.

But you do not have to heat or cool excess water to waste energy.  The mere use of more water than is needed for a particular use is wasteful of energy.  The water we use in ‘westernized’ societies (and we westernized societies are the chief culprits of the waste and excess CO2) is usually pumped several times, purified, and pressurized to reach us.  Then, often after the briefest contact with out bodies or some object we wish to wash, it often travels down a drain to a wastewater treatment plant, where it is further pumped and processed.  All of this takes energy.  Most of that energy has for recent decades come from increasing use of electricity, generated by the combustion of (you guessed it) fossil fuels.

Get it?  Change your relationship to water.  Use only what you need.  Do not take either the water, or the energy used to deliver, condition, and dispose of it for granted.  Change your behavior, change your choices, then seek to change the behavior and choices of those around you.

With over 6 billion of us on the planet, a change to almost any wasteful habit which then proliferates through societies will result in massive changes to our energy usage, and carbon footprint.

Next, I will try to tackle the most carbon wasteful thing that many of us commonly do.  But it is late tonight so that will have to come tomorrow.

Saving Carbon – A Tough Sell

November 27, 2008

Today I’m struggling to stay warm and still keep my carbon footprint small.  Lots of layers of bedclothes, a sleeping bag, and a comforter on top.  I can see what we comfort-loving, affluent humans are up against.  It is far easier to just turn up the steam heat than to start weather-stripping the windows.  I thought Northern Europe would be miles ahead of America in addressing energy conservation, but the issues seem the same here.  Limited recycling options.  Old, poorly insulated buildings.  Low awareness of the simple ways to reduce your carbon footprint, and largely an ignorance of the concept among even the green-leaning (and lean greening) folks.

Saving carbon is, I suppose, a tough sell here in the frigid northlands.  It will take far too long for education to fill the need to conserve.  The kind of solution we need to set us sustainable need to be imposed from the top.  The paradigm needs to be changed wholesale, and quickly.

I am beginning to see my role here at the conference from the perspective of ideas.  I haven’t the power of a vote.  I don’t advise any delegation.  But I am here in the dual role of an ‘observer’, an objective witness perhaps, and a member of the press.  As such it is my function to ask questions.  But the best questions are ones that stimulate the formation of new ideas.

Since my perspective has recently turned to the flaws in the basic framing of society which is commonly referred to as ‘economics’, I see my role in part to undermine the old idea of ‘economics’ and so contribute to the formation of a new one.  The monetization of reality is the travesty that has largely gotten us into the current problems of sustainability, where only things that can be bought and sold have ‘value’.  This must change or eventually humanity will reach a dead end.  As civilizations have come and gone in the past, so too ours will have come and gone, unless we can learn to institutionalize the recognition of value in a broader context.