Thursday, January 21, 2010
It was quite a farcical scene outside Copenhagen’s Bella Center during the final days of negotiations at COP-15 (the United Nations Convention on Climate Change). While the rest of Europe was hit with pre-Christmas blizzards and deep-freeze temperatures, civil society groups, students and radicals locked outside of the Bella Center protested on the snow-laden streets. Behind closed doors, heads of state negotiated their future.
Eager to see the climate change negotiations firsthand, Big Sur photographer Kodiak Greenwood, Santa Barbara journalist Ethan Stewart and I departed sunny California for Denmark. Frustrated by the stance the U.S. press maintains in its climate change reporting, we traveled with the hopes of unearthing a different story, marked by a new level of social consciousness and responsibility. What we saw and experienced was a culmination of passion, political gridlock and green gumption.
In Don Quixote-like fashion, heads of state, diplomats and the like blindly galloped forth on their fuel-guzzling private jets to lance one of Denmark’s windmills in the name of Gaia, mother earth.
Arriving on the second-to-last day of final negotiations, President Obama stepped up to the plate. Homage must be paid to Obama’s influential role in crafting the Copenhagen Accord, penned by 28 countries and accepted by 188. (Only Bolivia, Cuba, Nicaragua, Venezuela and Sudan refused.)
At the Bella Center, Kodiak captured images of hunger protesters who hadn’t eaten for 40 days, activists with international anti-poverty group Action-Aid, and radicals dressed as flaming pandas.
Meanwhile, I explored COP-15’s grassroots cousin, Klimaforum, the self-proclaimed “people’s climate summit,” where I saw a constellation of nascent climate stars charting a new path for our earth, green entrepreneurs and international civil society groups.
A few encouraging examples: A Brazilian couple who started a water reclamation and sanitization project; a sustainable ashram in India with enough solar panels to power a nearby hospital; Paradise Farm, which produces organic teas in Sri Lanka, hiring and empowering Tamil and Sinhalese women. It is the cross-pollination of ideas, with the backing of our government, which will endure from the Copenhagen conference.
Even Governor Schwarzenegger participated, highlighting citizen engagement. “We cannot wait for national governments to fight climate change on their own,” he said. “It is wrong to think of this as a top-down decision… All good things start on a grassroots level, so hopefully this meeting in Copenhagen will inspire citizens, mayors and state leaders and help turn the fight against climate change into a hip movement.”
Here on the Central Coast, if you want to make climate change hip, join a local organization, or urge Sen. Dianne Feinstein to pass the current climate bill.
Obama sees this new green movement as a vehicle to offer economic opportunity and build new clean-energy companies. He urges the U.S. to ratify a treaty in 2010 while riding a green wave which would create millions of jobs, secure energy independence from foreign oil and boost the economy.
Looking back, Kodiak, Ethan and I feel lucky we were not among the 900-plus protesters arrested by Denmark’s Politi.
Back home on the Central Coast, steeped in natural beauty, it is easy to draw inspiration and conviction from the green movement. It is our hope that the political and social framework laid out at COP-15 is the seed for new beginnings on our planet.