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Final Days and Snowstorms

On Wednesday, Renee Willoughby and I served as the lead ushers at the REDD+ Gala at the Royal Theatre in Copenhagen, an awards ceremony honoring various environmental and political leaders for their work in the United Nations Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries (REDD) Program (We did not actually get a chance to watch the ceremony, however, so we could better fulfill our volunteering obligations). Among the persons honored at the ceremony included our own University of Michigan Delegation member Gabriel Thoumi, the presidents of Papua New Guinea, Guyana, and Gabon, along with the president of the Natural Resources Defense Council Francis Beinecke, Rainforest Alliance Senior Vice President Richard Donovan, Bonobo Conservation Initative President Sally Coxe, and Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall designer Maya Lin, and many more. It was an honor to be among such people who are working to save millions of acres of forests around the world through various projects.

Before the ceremony and continuing throughout the night and the following day, around three inches of snow fell in Copenhagen with more in some areas by the coast, delaying train schedules. I thought it was metaphoric that as I was walking out of the Royal Theatre at midnight to catch one of the last trains home, the snow was untouched and gave me the feeling that the following day, when more of the world´s important leaders would arrive to the Bella Center, there would be clean slate. However, by the next morning when they would begin to gather, the snow had become blackened by cars, snowplows, road salt and de-icing compounds, making what had looked promising in the beginning turn to a mess.

On a different note, we learned last night the police in the town seem to have been given almost Martial Law-esque orders to arrest anyone who even looks remotely suspicious.  Multiple conversations with people on the bus have supported this, with one teenager saying he was detained and essentially strip searched likely because he was wearing all black outerwear with his hood up due to the cold.

— Adam Ellsworth


Free Environmental Books from the Natural Resources Defense Council, National Wildlife Federation, and Stanford University

I attended a session on Saturday where three rather prominent figures in the climate change discussion were discussing the process of environmental communication and reflecting on how they saw the Copenhagen Conference unfolding. Afterward, they each agreed to distribute a free copy of their books to the students in the room as well as personally autograph each one of them. I do not have time for a comprehensive post, but I can list the authors, books, and a brief write up:

Stephen A. Schneider, member of the 2007 IPCC group that won the Nobel Prize, is the author of Science as a Contact Sport: Inside the Battles to Save Earth’s Climate. Schneider is a professor of Interdisciplinary Environmental Studies at Stanford University, a MacArthur Genious grant award winner, and “has been an adviser to every president since Nixon.” The book discusses Schneider’s experience as a science policy adviser and environmentalist from the political fighting as well as the academic battle’s he has faced. The book is very well done.

The Francis Beinecke and Bob Deans’ book Clean Energy, Common Sense: An American Call to Action on Global Climate Change, is intended to be this generation’s Common Sense by Thomas Paine. Beinecke is the president of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and Deans is the federal communication director for the NRDC. The book is short (only 1o3 pages, 106 if you include acknowledgments and biographies), easy to read, yet very comprehensive.

Finally, Larry J. Schweiger’s book Last Chance: Preserving Life on Earth, makes the case for protecting the environment as a duty every generation has to the next. Schweiger is the president of the National Wildlife Federation.

— Adam

Geoengineering the Climate

There are two types of “geoengineering” that can be done to mitigate climate change, and in turn global warming:

1. Increase the earth’s albedo, which is a way of increasing the reflectivity of the atmosphere and the surface of the earth. Large volcanic eruptions do this, as the sulfur dioxide reflects light, and in turn heat, back into space. Right now, the polar ice caps serve as a massive mirror to solar radiation, but as they shrink, the earth becomes warmer…which starts a feedback loop of increased warming and even more shrinking of the ice caps.

2. Capture the  greenhouse gases, usually in the form of carbon-capture and storage (CCS). Technologies to doing anything referring to carbon sequestration like the “clean coal” power plants are designed to do just this, along with other devices like artificial trees meant to capture CO2 from the atmosphere.

The concept of geoengineering the planet to reduce global warming is a scary thought to me because, while I think we should take every effort to reduce emissions so we don’t have to resort to such extreme measures, it only treats the problem instead of preventing it. It also poses the risk of a country acting on its own (unilaterally) to combat climate change and possibly messing up the climate and atmosphere around their neighboring countries in the area of cloud seeding or pumping other things into the atmosphere. If one country decides it needs more rain, that means the water falling on its country is not falling on another one and thus depriving them of water they would otherwise have. If enough alteration of climate occurs, severe consequences will emerge. Many recent papers on geoengineering take into account mostly the moral/political aspects of the issue.

At dinner, some of the U of M students and myself joked about how geoengineering the planet is the equivalent of taking those pills that used to be sold to “trap the fat” in the food you eat. First of all, the pills do not work, and second, wouldn’t it be better to just exercise and undergo some behavioral changes(provided those are why you need to lose weight in the first place and not from a medical condition or disorder) than risk suffering side effects from pills.

Some articles on geoengineering covering both what it is precisely and what it means for the world if it were used:

Foreign Affairs Magazine

Science Daily

Technology Review by Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)

Time Magazine discussing the book SuperFreakonomics and its discussion of geoengineering

The Guardian (UK) Article

— Adam

Comment on the lack of posts from last 2 days

Both Ben and I have had trouble uploading the footage we took of the temporary jail/detention facility constructed right down the street from our house, where over 800 people were held at one time from the climate protests. There has been a lot of police activity in the area, along with protests outside the facility, and I know Ben and I were among the first Americans on site. Tomorrow is the first real day of negotiations, with increased levels of security causing us to need additional accreditation and passes to enter the conference center. I have notes I would like to share with everyone regarding sessions I attended on geoengineering, environmental communication, and more, but right now we have to attend a dinner with the delegation from Stanford University to receive our additional accreditation badges.

— Adam

Climate Justice

In the light of the current economic crisis, many developed countries are trying to get out of their prior, binding deals to reach upcoming emissions targets. Or, as Naomi Klein put it, “They want to start from zero.” Much to their dismay, Klein says, “The world does not have a restart button.” (I will have a short video from the event on here later)

Naomi Klein, author of No Logo and The Shock Doctrine  spoke at the Climate Justice themed side event I attended this morning, along with environmental lawyer and Eco Equity Director Tom Athanasiou, and three other leaders of regional environmental rights organizations from India, the Phillipines, and Ethiopia. The  “polluter pays principal” is something Klein believes poorer nations should use, and have used, to collect damages from the richer countries whose emissions are many times higher than those of the lesser developed countries. 

Climate change is a type of class warfare, according to Klein, because the “actions of the wealthy disporoportionately affect the poor.”

“20 percent of people live in rich countries and produce 75 percent of greenhouse gas emissions,” said Klein,. “While 75 percent of the effects of climate change affect (everyone else on Earth living in) poor countries.”

“Hurrican Katrina,” Klein says,”was a snapshot of climate aparteid.”

Klein, a Canadian, strongly criticised the Canadian government’s efforts to block a stronger Copenhagen resolution. Due to its exploitation of tar sands in Alberta, Canada’s CO2 emissions have risen 25.3 percent since 1990. 1990 is the benchline year set by the Kyoto Protocol that countries are supposed to strive to have their emissions below 1990 levels. She believes Canada’s actions are a far bigger environmental crime than the rising emissions of the United States because, unlike Canada, “the US at least didn’t sign it.”

 Klein also believes in the light of climate change, all of the once fractured “soft” rights movements of water, food, and environmentalism are now merging to form a much “harder” organization because climate change is the factor underpining everything.

– Adam Ellsworth

Adam Has Been Recruited by the Alliance for Climate Protection

I will be doing some reporting type work for the organization The Alliance for Climate Protection for the duration of my stay at the COP15 Conference, enabling me to use my communication skills before the whole world.

I would like for all of my friends who read this who have a webcam to record their response to one of these questions like these people did:

Why is taking action to address climate change important to you?

Why do our leaders need to take action today?

The Alliance is the organization started by Al Gore following An Inconvenient Truth, go here for more. It is going to be sweet.


Day One

My initial impression of Copenhagen and the conference is overwhelmingly positive and that there will be a well thought out consensus outcome, not a last second deal that will be ignored by the major players.

I talked with two people today I will be following up with:

Ted Maclin, a Doctoral student from University of Georgia composing an ethnographic study of the workings of the World Wildlife Federation at the conference, following up his previous work at another UN meeting. He is doing lots of  research in the field of event ethnography, and how the social networks which are built during meetings like COP15 can create a significant amount of change on the micro-systems level leading to eventual macro-level changes. This is something worth looking into as while the conference outcome may not be the optimal one, the thousands of people who return home with new insight and social ties/networks to be utilized in furthering local environmental goals in so many different places that it can potentially make up the difference.

Kimberly Hill, the deputy director of Detroiters Working for Environmental Justice. She is headed to Spain for a few days while the rest of her group arrives, but wishes to meet up with us at some point to discuss the conference and Michigan.

There were more and would like to let everyone know their names but I cannot recall them and do not want to attribute the wrong names to the wrong people as I am currently working on close to zero sleep since Saturday morning.

I am now headed back to the Bella Center to find the person in charge of media for the Alliance for Climate Protection at the conference. I’ll do another entry about that, and include some pictures if I get any.

Adam E.

For more info on today’s proceedings as things happen, follow The Guardian’s COP15 First Day Live Blog here