This is a series of special reports for CMD from guest contributor Alex Carlin about his observations reporting for us from the international climate conference. Please bookmark this page and check it for regular dispatches from the field about what’s happening on the ground at these negotiations, which are starting as America votes for its next president. –Editors
Teaching The Teachers
This year’s UN conference on Climate Ruin has now concluded. What can we conclude from it all?
Nov. 22, 2016 — The world converged in Morocco just as the US was electing Donald Trump. The worldwide consensus is that Trump’s election will make avoiding climate catastrophe hugely more difficult.
But there is another perspective. Before Trump was elected, we were already facing a quasi quixotic challenge to avoid climate disaster. A swift global decarbonization will require a massive mobilization of ordinary citizens, and we are not close to getting that yet.
Here is where the election of Trump fits in. Trump The Terrible is the wake up call that we all needed to kick us into a higher level of action. And the specter of Trump gave virtually everybody at COP22 a common enemy that brought the group together like never before.
But while the feeling of a stronger unity was palpable, important COP goals were still unfulfilled.
For example, the richer countries are still not paying anywhere near their fair share for the solutions. Nonetheless, the improved unity made all the challenges seem less impossible. And this solidarity produced a defiant signal that the Climate Movement is so strong now that it can even survive a trumpian apocalypse.
COP 22 became known as the “action COP,” and the collective mindset was indeed shifted from the diplomacy of the Paris effort to the nuts and bolts of getting the work done.
But to get the USA back to work, the Trump Denial Doctrine must be totally discredited.
The fact that not one question about climate was asked during the US presidential debates should end any debate about the glaring need to teach Americans what they will actually suffer under the Trump Doctrine: Miami underwater, a permanent dust bowl in the American Southwest, millions of refugees from a ruined Latin America, and so on.
Who will teach us? Climate scientists are often not skilled in teaching the public. And other than climatologists, as the esteemed climate expert Dr. Joseph Romm explains, “the overwhelming majority of the so-called intelligentsia, aka the climate ‘ignorati’, simply don’t get it,” and they don’t realize that “the future of humanity is on a knife’s edge.”
As my local Marrakech “lectural guide” Amine Nmira so eloquently put it, those of us who do get it must “teach the teachers.”
We need to ramp up our rhetoric.
For example, the Trump Denier Doctrine is equivalent to saying that the earth is flat. Will we let them get away with that? Forcing them to defend a position that is as ridiculous as two plus two is five is one way to defang them. Everybody who is up to speed on climate should be writing letters to the editor, writing to their congresspeople, calling talk radio, telling their friends, making speeches, lecturing at colleges, “teaching” every way they can, using the most effective rhetorical techniques, about how we can paint them into a dunce corner, and get America back to work on Climate Ruin. And then continue to seek out the most influential people so you can “teach the teachers.”
For technique, Romm’s book, “Language Intelligence,” is a good place to start.
The “knife’s edge” of humanity’s last chance to avoid ruin is thin because of the time factor. To beat the clock, to quickly force policies to conform to science, to topple denialism in time, we will need general strikes, tax strikes, and massive demonstrations.
Trump is the poster boy for mobilizing that kind of action. Check your recent emails from progressive campaigns, you already can see examples of Trump’s mobilizing effect. The Vietnam War was stopped when the mobilization passed a certain threshold. We can thank the Donald for speeding us towards that line.
But enough thanking Trump. Instead, lets thank the UN COP process for providing a way for the world to grapple with Climate Ruin in a way that brings concerned and influential people together from every corner of the globe, face to face, year after year, until we get the job done.
P.S. Here at the airport leaving Morocco, I have been pondering a prediction that The Denier in Chief will face the facts, become the Climate Champion in Chief, and start pushing fossil fuels towards the ash heap of history.
CNN reported today that “Trump has conceded some ‘connectivity’ between human activity and climate change and wavered on whether he would pull the United States out of international accords aimed at combating the phenomenon, which scientists overwhelmingly agree is caused by human activity.”
Is it naive to predict that a president will stop denying something that scientists overwhelmingly agree is true and will cause biblical destruction if denied?
From Russia With Low Carbon Love
Nov. 18, 2016 — I attended an event put on by the Russian delegation about how Russia will pursue a low carbon future. The moderator was Oleg Pluzhnikov, a delegate who chairs a Division for Climate and Ecology.
The event featured speakers extolling the low carbon virtues and carbon lowering progress of various industries, including wind, solar, and nuclear energy, plus aluminum, and nanotechnology.
There was no ambiguity about Russia’s acceptance of the reality of Climate Ruin, there were no climate deniers on this panel. Russia’s massive economic dependence on, and domination by, the fossil fuel industries does not seem to spawn the same scourge of science denialism that has infected the USA to its highest levels.
After the presentation, I asked Oleg a few questions.
Russia is now installing new wind and solar. Russia has a huge land mass, there is so much potential for Russia to become a leader in wind and solar. But what about the timing for ending fossil fuel development? In the planning sessions at the highest levels, are they concerned that the current science says, to avoid catastrophe, we already should not take any more fossil fuels out of the ground?
“What you are saying is true. But the problem in Russia is that those people in Russia who are dealing with the problem of climate change do not agree with this. They are dependent on oil and gas and coal. Those who are owners, managers, those who are working to produce this oil and gas, they have their own problems and perspectives. They are thinking about tomorrow and not about what will happen in 40 years. In the USA it is the same.”
Yes, but Russia can be the country that leads the way to break through this conundrum, that short term issues are important but science states facts that are not subject to negotiation. This means, to avoid disaster, we must change the policy now, yes?
“I don’t believe this will happen in the very near future. Things are moving slowly.”
But at what level are they aware of the science imperative? At the policy level of deciding what to invest in, are they aware?
“At the policy level in Russia right now they think about a lot of things regarding the Russian budget. About employment. About social problems.”
Are they aware that the carbon budget is already reaching its limit?
“Most of them understand that some day we will have to channel our forces to the green development.”
At the end of the panel event, some drama unfolded, related to the issues of nuclear energy. Two Russians in the audience were opposed to nuclear energy. The first was a woman explaining that she represented a colleague in Russia who was critical of nuclear power, and for that reason was being subjected to problems including being listed as a “foreign agent,” all of which was making her life untenable in Russia.
The panel was not sympathetic to this, they offered no words of amelioration. And the panel member representing the nuclear industry rubbed it in with some gratuitous condescending smirks, along with a comment that implied that the question was beneath answering.
At that point the meeting had indeed reached its scheduled ending, but a second anti-nuclear speaker, Vladimir Slivyak from the NGO Ecodefense, nevertheless tried, in vain, to ask his question. So, I approached him and told him that he could say anything he wanted to the readers of PR WATCH.
Vladimir told me that the last time that nuclear energy was prominently discussed in the climate negotiations was 15 years ago, because the countries doing the negotiations at the COP understand that nuclear power is too slow.
“When we talk about quick action to reduce emissions, nuclear is not suitable. It will take just too much time. When you invest money into renewables you get a finished plant in one year. And it can deliver more jobs than nuclear.
Also it is very well known here that nuclear power technology is very expensive. There are many studies that show clearly, that if you take the same amount of money and invest it in nuclear energy or in renewables, you get much better results, and more jobs, in renewable energy. So, countries here, they do not want nuclear.
And here we witness the Russian nuclear industry finally again coming to the United Nations negotiations and trying to sell their technology, because they are desperate for money. Russia is in a deep economic crisis, they need new customers, so they just came up with this great idea, they will come to the climate negotiating process and say they have a great technology, and try to sell it.
Several Russian NGOs, Ecodefence, the Russian Social Ecological Union, and Climate Action Network including colleagues from Ukraine, we have been trying to raise questions about the feasibility of nuclear energy. We went to two events today, we went to a press conference of the Russian nuclear industry and we went to this event, and in both events we have been trying to ask just one single question, and we have not succeeded.
We all know each other, they know who we are, and they know what we are going to ask. They just don’t want us to speak publicly.”
The fact that Oleg, the official delegate, could be so engaging and frank with me was a good sign for the future effectiveness of Russia’s involvement as a key player to avoid Climate Ruin, especially with the USA severely handicapped by its Trumpian straight jacket.
And Vladimir and his NGO colleagues are demonstrating a great force for improving Russia’s path, despite the frustrations here, and the jeopardies he and his colleagues are facing back home.
This situation has a very Russian flavor. The ironies, the threats, the comedy and the tragedy of the never dying Russian bureaucracy reminds me of scenes in Dostoyevsky and Gogol, and of my own personal experiences in Russia over the years since my first time there in 1989. Its amazing to see it playing out amidst the sands, castles and intriguing alleyways of Morocco.
Facts Are Optional but Opinions Become Reality
Nov. 16, 2016 — Right next to where I was sitting in the Media Room, a film crew started interviewing the Special Science Envoy Professor Daniel Kammen, a lead author of the IPCC 2007 report that was central to their winning the Nobel Peace Prize. I didn’t recognize him, but he clearly knew what he was talking about, so when the crew finished I asked the professor a few questions.
Can you talk about the Trump transition team coming in?
Kammen told me about Eliot Cohen, a neo-con former Counselor to the US State Department under George W. Bush, and a prominent “Never Trump” Republican, who met with the Trump transition team in his office. Cohen commented that he had wanted to give the Trump team a chance, and even urged like-minded Republicans to consider taking positions in the new administration, but later tweeted, “After exchange w Trump transition team, changed my recommendation: stay away. They’re angry, arrogant, screaming ‘you LOST!’ Will be ugly.”
Cohen on Wednesday told the Washington Post that the Trump team members are “triumphalist rabble-rousers and demagogues, abetted by people out of their depth and unfit for the jobs they will hold, gripped by grievance, resentment and lurking insecurity. Their mistakes—because there will be mistakes—will be exceptional.”
Kammen continued that “in the energy and climate area I think the question is this: if the Donald Trump candidate for president rhetoric extends into the White House, and the climate denialism, the ‘chinese hoax’, the ‘clean energy doesn’t make sense so we want to just burn coal’, if that story is what he says in office, then we are really in a disaster. However, so far, we are only one week into a President elect period, he has been much more thoughtful and conciliatory, and he has said on a number of occasions ‘that’s what got me elected, that’s not how I’m gonna rule’. That’s the very optimistic read, but if that holds, there is room for conversation. It would certainly involve not having people like Myron Ebell at the EPA.”
Is it conceivable that somebody can explain to them the folly of Climate Denial?
“The answer I hope is yes. I have been part of the IPCC for 15 years, we did share the Nobel Peace Prize, and part of that is about negotiation, not just the science. I would like to think that in a quieter session with Chatham House rules, where they don’t have to admit anything, that we can find common ground over the economic benefits of clean energy, and the job story, and leave our differences outside.”
But what about the basic facts of the climate problem? Such as that the warming is man made?
“The first thing you have to do is have a dialogue. Just looking at economic facts should get you to the table. Can we deal with these more ideological things? I would like to think so.”
But its not ideology, that’s the point. 2+2=4 has nothing to do with ideology, so they can’t hide behind ideology here. They have to defend 2+2=5.
“There is a statement in many capitols of the world that ‘facts are optional but opinions become reality.’ I’d like to hope that that won’t be the case here because Climate really is the legacy issue for any president.”
Can you imagine the day that Trump announces that he was wrong about Climate?
“Donald Trump went from saying that President Obama was not born in the United States, he didn’t say I apologize, he simply moved on. In my opinion, a good business leader knows when to move on. So I think its possible. And I’m going to hope it happens because so much of what we do depends on it. We haven’t heard it yet, and we have heard a lot of scary things about candidates for EPA and Energy, but I’m going to stick with the fact that it had better happen. So I am going to believe that anyone, a climate denier, a creationist, whatever, can get there. Unfortunately we don’t have a lot of time because we wasted so much time, so that’s going to be the challenge.”
My final question was, “If you were sitting at a table with Donald Trump for the purpose of teaching him that his Climate Denial position is equivalent to his giving a speech to the American people saying that the earth is flat, and you could only speak briefly, what would you say?”
“Simply that we need only look at the arctic ice record to see 50% drop in sea ice in 30 years. Only human pollution has changed. Story over.”
There is one more variation to this theme. There is some evidence that Trump already agrees with the settled climate science. The Guardian reported that Trump owns a golf course on the coastline in Scotland where his managers are applying for permission to build a seawall, explicitly citing global warming and its consequences, including rising sea levels, as a chief justification for building the wall.
Within Trump World, facts are indeed optional. But as The Rest Of The World unites around the common goal of getting the USA to rejoin the war to avoid Climate Ruin, there will be quite a battle royal to decide whose opinion becomes reality.
Win the War but Don’t Lose the Battle
Nov. 16, 2016 — To avoid Climate Ruin, all the ducks will have to be lined up. The movement will need superior strategy, terrific tactics, and a huge push from the unseen hand of market forces.
Leaving the unseen hand to Adam Smith, I discussed strategy and tactics with one of the best in the movement, Nicolas Haeringer. The organization he works in, 350.org, has been a shining leader of strategy and tactics, including their highly successful campaign to divest from carbon energy companies.
Nicolas was discussing the limits to the effectiveness of relying on logic, science and rationality to solve the climate problem. Its natural to think that if we could just sufficiently communicate the information about Climate Ruin, that everybody would see the light and do the right things to solve the problem.
But, in today’s unreal real world, Trump has shown that facts are no longer the coin of the realm.
So where should the movement put their efforts? Nicolas stressed that while at some point governments must commit to zero carbon energy systems and abolish the greenhouse gas emitting systems, they will never do it without enormous pressure from the movements below. And the source of that pressure would ideally come from masses of ordinary citizens who see this transition as palpably in their self interest immediately.
For example, coal miners can understand that their industry is being phased out anyway, and that its good to exchange coal mining health problems such as black lung disease for the much healthier conditions and possibly better pay working in solar and wind installations. These can be stronger motivators than dry facts about greenhouse gases and wonky science.
The movement also needs interconnected masses of people to succeed. 350 supports and connects various frontline groups emerging all across the globe pushing for the transition to renewable energy. In Tunisia and Algeria they are advising locals fighting fracking, spreading their messages, and, in France, 350 is involved with groups opposing the French attempts to build the undersea pipelines to import this North African fracked gas. Other examples include supporting and networking with the Standing Rock Dakota water protectors, and the hundreds of activists who occupied an open-pit coal mine in eastern Germany this year.
Of course, spreading the word that business as usual will cause mass death and misery is still important, but to be successful, Nicolas said that more momentum must be generated from things that are closer to peoples’ everyday current lives. A potent combination of these two approaches can not only motivate people, but can also help to inoculate people from talk radio denialist chatter and simplistic barstool nonsense such as “the weather always changes, there is no big problem.”
We also discussed a big picture scenario where, by some miracle, we win the Climate War but tragically lose the battle for freedom and democracy.
Several years ago, I was involved in a campaign involving Solar Thermal power, which uses mirrors to reflect the sun in a way that heats fluids to run steam generators creating electric power. Called “100 Miles of Mirrors,” it was based on the fact that an area of such mirrors 100 miles by 100 miles creates all the electricity needed in the USA. The same size matrix of mirrors in Morocco could provide the same service to Europe via cables under the Mediterranean. India and China could do the same as well. The reduction in greenhouse gases would be on the scale of what we need to avoid catastrophic climate change.
But if this path were followed, it is very possible that these mirror installations would be firmly controlled by large corporations like Siemens or Exxon, or by governments, in a way that would threaten our freedom and democracy. Nicolas stressed the importance of the maxim, “whoever controls the energy power systems also controls the political power systems.”
Therefore, to avoid this dystopia, the more progressive factions of the climate movement are committed to decentralizing the new renewable energy systems of the future. This is certainly possible with solar power, since in the years since “100 Miles of Mirrors” was launched, there has been a dramatic drop in the price of the other main solar power system, “photo-voltaic”, such as the panels you see on roofs of houses, a technology ideally suited for decentralization.
But what about when an entire developing nation, say Namibia, decides it wants to leap frog their development over the dirty forms of energy, and jump right into clean systems? How can they make such a massive investment more feasible? Will the banks cooperate with big loans? Will the result be a dystopian system of monopoly control?
Apropos of this, I was invited, again by Marco de Comunicación (see a previous blog), to interview a German group called Kaiserwetter that has created a service called “Aristoteles” that makes such investments more manageable. Hanno and Martin explained that they have developed a computerized system, utilizing space satellites and the “internet of things”, to achieve huge gains in efficiency from their “smart tech”. For example, Aristoteles’ knowledge of wind speeds and cloud covers is factored into a plant’s operational decisions. Aristoteles also provides a marvelous monitoring capability right on your smart phone that can track performances and anticipate problems in all of these plants.
But would Aristoteles help or hinder in the struggle to decentralize the system in this hypothetical example of Namibia? This would depend on how the Namibian government would set it up, but from my understanding, it is possible that a villager far from the capitol could maintain ownership and control of his local energy system while benefiting from the efficiencies of this “smart tech.” And he could monitor it all on his phone.
But, as the price of freedom is eternal vigilance, this cutting-edge villager would also be wise to keep looking over his shoulder to see if Siemens or Exxon or Big Brother is on the way.
The Transition to a Flat Earth
Nov. 15, 2016 — There was a press briefing Monday given by U.S. Special Envoy for Climate Change Dr. Jonathan Pershing. He is the leader of the US delegation here at COP22. In his brief opening statement he stated that “in the coming weeks we expect personnel from the (Trump) transition team to arrive at the State Department and begin planning the shape and thrust of American diplomacy for the next four years.” In other words, Pershing’s outgoing team and Trump’s incoming team will be meeting to plan this transition, which includes passing the baton on this ongoing COP process.
Then he fielded a dozen questions, including a number from me.
Alex Carlin, PR WATCH. Addressing the transition, when the new team comes in, and you are in a meeting with those people, we have a new situation that is unprecedented. Their policy is not based on math or science. Can you appeal to them on a basic rational level, educate them? Can you appeal to them given your unique access? Can you explain to them that denial of settled climate science, when mass death and misery will probably result from that denial, will make America a pariah state, a rogue nation?
Pershing gave this answer: “We look forward to talking with the transition community. They haven’t been named yet, we don’t know who they are, we don’t know their backgrounds, we will certainly work to convey the importance that we find in this issue to them, as we move forward.”
I would like to be a fly on the wall of that meeting when the incoming Trump team defends their position that man made greenhouse gases pose no threat at all to our society.
Joseph Romm, the highly respected editor of Climate Progress, points out that, regarding the effects of four years of Trump’s declared policies, “the damage and delay that even a one-term President Trump could do will make the already difficult task of keeping total warming well below 2°C essentially impossible.”
Amazingly, the stated policies of just one man, Trump, if implemented for just four years, would probably lead to billions of people needlessly suffering, a Miami swallowing scale of sea level rise, ocean acidification decimating the food chain causing mass starvations, and Dust-Bowlification creating hundreds of millions of refugees and immigrants, all irreversible on a timescale of a thousand years.
The new Trump team will be arriving at the State Department armed with their new policies which guarantee this catastrophic rise in global temperature, based on a position that there will be no catastrophic rise in global temperature because human activity is not heating the planet. But, human activity is heating the planet, and to deny that is on the same intellectual scientific level as saying that the earth is flat.
This would be a funny comedy if it weren’t so tragic.
It is akin to the parable of The Emperor Who Wears No Clothes. The question that can make or break our human race will be who among us, which journalists, which politicians, will accept the Flat Earth Trump Doctrine as a legitimate position, and who will denounce it as absurd, completely ridiculous, and shockingly suicidal for humanity.
And when will we all go on a general strike and stop paying taxes, with the demand that this hell causing abomination, posing as legitimate politics, be rescinded, and that we once again accept that the earth is round?
Nov. 14, 2016 — Sunday was a day for many groups in Marrakech to march through the city from a central stadium to a plaza in the Medina, the old market center area. Arriving there, each group would assemble, make speeches, and perform various actions to make their points.
Several marching groups were directly related to COP22, but many others were only tangentially related, or not related at all. From my point of view, without having much background context, it seemed like Marrakech was exploding with democracy and free expression.
I asked a local resident about this apparent freedom, and he told me that it was not an everyday occurrence. This date had been designated as a day for marches and demonstrations, but without such special permission it was not allowed.
Another observer, Habib, a local blogger, explained that in Marrakech on many Sundays marches by Moroccan protesters are allowed, but that on this day the police were separating the COP related contingents from the non-COP Moroccan groups, and even were causing them to take separate march routes.
I searched in vain for the groups “REDACOP Marrakech” and “MOR96”, Moroccan groups exposing greenwashing here at COP22 by the Moroccan regime. They were demonstrating specifically against the Royal Holding Mining Group “Managem” for crimes against peasants in Southern Morocco.
Instead, I jumped into a large high spirited march formation representing 10,000 Moroccan teachers who, after a massive training program, were ready to work, only to find there were no jobs after the schools were privatized, and after some other policy changes. Some of these teachers are even on hunger strikes.
At the plaza in the Medina there was a big group of Amazigh Berber indigenous Moroccans, waving many of their impressively logo-like iconic flags, forming a large chanting circle. They were protesting the “Arabic colonization” of their culture. I asked about their position on climate issues, and they said that while they wanted to act on climate, they needed to first secure their cultural and political rights before they can get involved in the climate fight. The “Defender Chief” Robert Marques from Brazil (see previous blog) was there amongst the Amazighs, exhorting and conversing, so there is a good chance that the Amazigh will be ready to more fully engage in the climate coalitions when the time comes.
Greenpeace is certainly involved in the climate fight. They are prominent at every COP, and they have a great track record for strong theory and effective actions to move the movement in the right direction.
There were many Greenpeace members there at the demonstration, all wearing black t-shirts with a large sun logo over Arabic script. I asked one of them, Faiza, about the strategy that Greenpeace is developing to meet the challenge of a world where the government of the richest country is apparently not going to play ball on solving the climate problem. Will there be banners hung on skyscrapers proclaiming the absurdity and moral criminality of climate denial in 2016? Are they planning outrageous provocations to humiliate and ostracize the new American administration for daring to deny the basic math and science of Climate Ruin? Will they draw a giant line in the sand on some famous beach to show that we must leave all undeveloped oil, gas and coal in the ground or else we doom ourselves to a horrendously miserable future of dust bowls, starvations, and tidal waves of refugees?
Faiza clearly understood the ability and responsibility of Greenpeace to take the appropriate actions that are demanded by the current miasma. She agreed that the Trump Doctrine, while daunting, also presented an opening for more energetic and exciting Greenpeace actions. She stressed that while the current Greenpeace modus operandi is working well, she promised to be in touch about new ideas, and this blog will be the place to read about it first.
The Denier in Chief and the Defender Chief
Nov. 13, 2016 — Now that the initial shock of the election of the Denier in Chief has settled a bit, the mood in Marrakech is evolving into a more somber pragmatic resolve that, rather than bemoan the madness of America’s denial of the problem, the world must do as Mandela said, “lets not wait, lets do what we should to survive”.
This quote was spoken at a very powerful event organized by Amnesty International and 350.org. Since avoiding Climate Ruin means keeping virtually all the remaining undeveloped fossil fuels in the ground, and since governments are failing to make this their policy, this task falls to local people and groups that are referred to now as “environmental defenders”.
The panelists were thrilling because, in their voices, you could feel the drama, danger and dedication of their everyday struggles on the frontlines of the Climate War. And these front lines can be a lot more dangerous than passing out leaflets in an American shopping mall.
The panel moderator, from Amnesty International, Savio Carvalho, told us that in 2015 more than three environmental defenders were killed every week, and hundreds face intimidation, arrest and death threats. Savio, and Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous People, both spoke to this appalling repression and murder. But in addition it is also appallingly ironic that governments cast indigenous people as criminals in their environmental work to save everyone’s future well being, while it is the governments who are dropping the ball. Both Savio and Victoria, and their organizations, are working to free indigenous people from these egregious travesties.
In America, the treatment of the Standing Rock Dakota water protectors is another example of this farce.
Another syndrome the panel discussed is how nomadic indigenous people have their rights to protest and defend stripped away. As they are nomadically traveling, when they come back to a certain base they consider to be a home, in their absence other people can arrive and be considered by the government to have acquired the land based rights of the nomads. The nomads are then further marginalized and even criminalized, making their environmental defense efforts even more difficult.
Sitting next to me in the audience was Fredrick, a defender from Kenya. He described for me how his local people, already suffering from Climate Ruin related drought, and needing water, were trying to save their Lake Turkana, which is on the northern edge of Kenya, bordering with Ethiopia. Climate Ruin has already brought the level of the lake down precipitously, but the main tributary to the lake is on the Ethiopian side, and the Ethiopians are building a dam, which will decimate the lake. The Kenyan government, rather than standing up to Ethiopia for Fredrick’s people, partly because they are marginalized nomads, is tragically in league with the Ethiopian government on the dam project. So, Frederick and his local band of defenders are reaching out here at COP22, sharing their story and experiences, and warning all of us that “it will happen to you next”.
Roberto Marques is an indigenous chief, a Defender Chief, from the ethnic group Anace in Brazil. He is very active in the fight against coal power plants and fracking in the northeast of Brazil. He spoke on the panel dressed in head to toe fern regalia, and a fully tattooed face. With a relaxed and humorous smile, he counseled us that activism can not be effective if you stay in your home. He exhorted us to leave our homes, and, to be a really successful activist, as a rule, you should “stay ten moons with me!”
For more information use the hashtag #EnviDefenders
Failing the Giggle Test
Nov. 12, 2016 — The debate about Climate Ruin being real or a hoax is over and settled for virtually all of the world’s scientists. Somehow the Republican Party can say it’s a hoax without failing the giggle test. But to Youns, the Moroccan man from the Atlas Mountains not far from Marrakech, the reality is absolutely no joke.
For all of recorded history, he told me, the mountains rising above his village had consistent snowfall from October to February. But from the year 2000 to now things have changed.
In these last 16 years there has been almost no snow, and instead a lot of rain. But this rain is a brutal horror of a downpour that races down the mountains at high speeds and violent force, carrying with it so much debris and mud that it acts as a battering ram, causing extreme havoc and destroying houses.
And another bizarre change is that the worst rainy month is now August, which used to be dry.
Youns came to COP22 for two reasons: to tell about this devastating climate change, and to share their adaptation techniques.
He and his fellow villagers have devised a way to slow down this rampaging deluge by placing rocks strategically in the path of the torrents, while also installing groves of a certain plant that also slows the flow, and that can grow heartily in this spare environment where most trees can not even take root.
So far, they have built 5 kilometres of these systems, but to protect all 22 villages at risk they need to build another 35 kilometres. If you are interested in helping them financially or otherwise you can call Youns at +212 670681858.
Regarding COP 22 and Trump’s role, Youns hopes that the “USA will apply themselves to doing everything they agreed to do,” and he added that “there is no space for racism.”
Morocco is an exotic country. Walking through the main market square in Marrakech I was delighted to see many cobra snakes with very wide lapels being charmed into proud vertical poses. The narrow curvy alleys also snake around so that you will for sure get lost in the labyrinth.
But have the youth of Morocco lost their way? I spoke to one 19 year old pre-business student from Casablanca, Mohamed Ibenrissoul, about his opinions on Climate Ruin and the election of Trump.
Mohamed says that he and all his friends understand that Climate Ruin is real and man made. He does not know any deniers. However, while he himself is involved with trying to solve the climate problem, his friends do not get involved. He says that for his friends, “climate is not sexy, my friends are not that interested in that subject . When I talk about it, they are like ‘stop with your boring speeches about the planet earth, we can’t do anything about it.’ They think there is a problem but they think we are powerless to do anything about it.”
But he does know at least one person who believes we can solve the problem, and that is his father, who works in an NGO which helps companies to be socially responsible.
I asked Mohamed to make one statement to the American people, and one to Trump.
To America he says, “protest for your brothers, protest for your children, protest for your earth.”
To Trump he says, “the climate has changed but you did not, and the world will hate you for that.”
Water We Gonna Do?
Nov. 11, 2016 — The Special Envoy for Climate Change at the U.S Department of State is Dr. Jonathan Pershing, and he is leading the US delegation here at COP 22. Last week at a State Department briefing, he was flush with optimism, echoing his colleague John Morton, Obama’s top climate advisor, who said “we’re coming into this year’s COP with a tremendous amount of positive momentum…the rapid entry into force of the Paris Agreement, much, much faster, years faster, than most people expected. And with that entry into force, that puts us on a much accelerated path toward implementation of the goals that we laid out in Paris a year ago.”
Pershing added, “This is now increasingly getting into an implementation agenda. The Moroccans themselves are calling this a COP of action.”
Well, we all know what happened since last week.
Incoming President Trump has stated that on the first day of his reign he will “cancel billions in payments to UN climate change programs”, as well as very aggressively push for the new development and production of climate ruining oil, gas and coal that will make it impossible to fulfil the commitments of the Paris Agreement.
Undeterred by this shocking news, the stalwart attendees of COP 22 are pushing on with the implementation agenda.
Implementation of the Paris Agreement is divided into two main areas, “M & A”, “mitigation”, which means reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and “adaptation”, which is how people will try to survive in a severely degraded environment.
This week, there was a big push to make water a focus of the fight to mitigate and to adapt. Various groups which believe that water issues are being neglected were staging events and handing out pamphlets such as “Water for Africa” and “Water and Climate”. They are trying to get the delegates to see how water policies, or lack of, can either cripple or strengthen virtually every M & A plan, and therefore they are vigorously lobbying to put water issues prominently into the M & A plans being negotiated here at COP 22.
A Spanish PR firm, with a heart, named Marco de Comunicación was assisting in this effort. Their special agents Luisa and Julia skillfully arranged for me to interview Dogan Altinbilek from the World Water Council, an international group based in Marseille, France that has accomplished some very significant victories. He is appropriately proud of getting the UN to pass a measure declaring that having 35 liters of water per day is a human right. His group has also organized a series of high level meetings where heads of many states have agreed to fund important water projects world wide.
Dogan wants those of us who are privileged to easily get all the water we need to be aware that 2.6 billion people lack access to basic sanitation, that is 40% of the world’s population. But as Climate Ruin dries out more and more areas of the planet, Dogan’s point that “884 million people in the world today do not have access to safe drinking water”, which is already a monstrous statistic, will get much worse, creating vast numbers of refugees that will make the exodus from Syria seem like a trickle.
Climate Ruin brings forth not only lack of water but also too much water. The greenhouse effect heats the planet’s sea water, and this actually supercharges hurricanes, such as Sandy that flooded the subways of New York City, and Matthew that flooded Haiti more recently.
Indonesia is certainly vulnerable to water disasters. Rising seas can change the balance of mass across the earth’s surface, putting new strains on old earthquake faults, and may have been partly to blame for the devastating 2004 tsunami that pummeled Indonesia.
I asked Mina Susana Setra from Indonesia’s AMAN (Indigenous People’s Alliance of the Archipelago) about the effects of the US election on the these concerns. She said “it is a big worry to everyone, the majority of Indonesian people are shocked. Clearly Trump has problems with racism, women, and paying taxes, and for climate we need the US to lead with cutting emissions.” When I referred to the fact that Trump says there is no climate problem, Mina replied, “that is why he is a problem.”
Nov. 10, 2016 — For the U.S. State Department delegation at COP 22 it was not an easy morning.
My colleague Bassam Al-Kantar from the Beirut news website “Green Area” happened to be filming a report from the pavillion where the US delegation is located, and he caught sight of three US delegates, one woman red eyed from tears, and the other woman and man clearly in shock and dismay. Donald Trump had just been declared the next President of the United States.
Some hours later, I arrived at the same pavillion, to arrange an interview with a U.S. delegate. I spoke to an American woman working there, and I told her I understood what a difficult, and perhaps emotional time it must be for them, considering that the new incoming administration was planning to discontinue any and all of the current U.S. efforts connected to the UN COP process. Her expression acknowledged my point, but she clearly did not want to talk about it. Still, she was very friendly and helpful, and assured me I would get an interview, but she wanted to know what questions I wanted to ask. I told her, with a jocular tone, that America is a free country with freedom of the press, and that I could ask any questions that I wanted to ask. She smiled but her eyes were rigid. She said “yes, you can ask any question…but they will not answer any questions related to the election.”
In the years since he became Secretary of State in 2013, John Kerry appears to be the leader of the American effort to deal with worldwide Climate Ruin, especially via the UN COP process. Whatever you may think about him, from his brave opposition to the Vietnam War, to his lack of the same regarding some of the wars since then, he does seem to genuinely have a passion for the UN COP process to avoid Climate Ruin. I saw him deliver a fairly good speech about it at COP 20 in Lima, Peru in 2014. So, there can be little doubt that he and his team here are going through serious tribulations as they contemplate that their hard work will be considered a waste of time by his successors at the Department of State.
There is an echo here from the late 90’s when Vice President Al Gore managed to sign the Kyoto Protocols, only to have the Republican Senate and then the incoming Bush Administration refuse to ratify or support them. Unfortunately, we are now 20 years down the road, and we have run out of any extra time for this kind of ebb and flow.
That is, the Paris Agreement from COP 21 was codified in the context that 2°C of warming is the upper limit to avoid Climate Ruin, with the proviso that 1.5°C really should be our ambition. However, we have recently reached an important “point of no return”, as the latest science says this: “The potential carbon emissions from the oil, gas, and coal in the world’s currently operating fields and mines would take us beyond 2°C of warming.” http://priceofoil.org/2016/09/22/the-skys-limit-report/
Therefore, regarding any new developments of oil, gas, and coal, we simply must prohibit new developments and “leave it in the ground.” The time for governments and diplomats to draw the line in the sand is now. Today. Period.
Tragically, the incoming President of the United States plans to “take it out of the ground,” burn it, and thereby doom humanity to catastrophic Climate Ruin.
Still, hope and old fashioned diplomacy springs eternal. Salaheddine Mezouar, the Moroccan Minister of Foreign Affairs, and the President of COP 22, released a statement saying:
“I would like to congratulate Mr. Donald Trump on his election to the presidency of the United States of America. Now that the Paris Agreement has entered into force, all countries and non-state actors, have the shared responsibility to continue the great progress achieved to date. The climate change question concerns the preservation of our livelihood, dignity and the only planet on which we all live. We are convinced that all Parties will respect their commitments and stay the course in this collective effort. The Presidency will continue discussions and mobilization in order to pursue progress already made thanks to all Parties in a spirit of inclusiveness and determination.”
Translation from diplomatic language to English: “We hope that all the policies contained in all of Mr. Trump’s past speeches about Climate are exactly the opposite of what he will actually do when he becomes President of the United States.”
2 + 2 = 4 …. Sometimes
Nov. 9, 2016 — The 800 pound pink elephant in the room here at COP 22 is that the new Donald Trump government of the USA will take the position that COP 22 has no reason to exist. The policy of the United States will be that Climate Ruin is a hoax.
However, the adults in the room understand that Climate Ruin is real. Outside, it may seem to be a beautiful day, but experts are telling us not to be taken in by a false sense of security, that there will be hell to pay. How should responsible governments respond to this warning?
In 1988, Climate Ruin was taken seriously enough by governments that they requested the United Nations to establish a group of thousands of scientists and other experts to provide them with a reliable and objective portrayal of the problem. They called it the IPCC, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. To the present moment it is considered the bedrock foundation of our knowledge of this mortal enemy of humanity, and their work is central to the annual UN COP meetings, such as this one here in Marrakech, COP 22.
If it was easy for governments to understand this enemy, they would hardly need the IPCC. But because it does take an expertise that most of us do not have, to fully fathom this threat that can destroy the livability of our world, they need the IPCC very much indeed.
With this in mind, I began my interview yesterday, before the election of Trump, with Jonathan Lynn, the head of communications and media relations for the IPCC.
The hallmark and essential quality of the IPCC is its objectivity. If it were to be seen as politically partisan in any way, then it would lose its crucial neutrality and integrity, and therefore its value as a source of authority for government action to save our civilization from ruin.
I inadvertently tested Mr. Lynn by asking him if he could comment on the effect on COP 22 of a victory by a Climate Ruin denier, Donald Trump. True to the principles of the IPCC, Mr. Lynn declined to make any such comment.
But Mr. Lynn did explain to me how the IPCC supplies crucial information to governments, enhancing the possibility that these governments will finally pick up the Climate Ball and run with it.
Unfortunately, governments have, for the most part, left the ball on the ground.
In the U.S., since the early 1980s, scientists such as James Hansen from NASA have been testifying before Congress that we must radically reduce greenhouse gas emissions, or we will face serious peril. These scientists assumed that the government would listen to this inescapable advice and act accordingly. But business interests thwarted this expectation, and now, after more than 30 years of very little action, our backs are to the wall, as time is running out to avoid runaway and catastrophic Climate Ruin.
What is the role of the IPCC in terms of advocating policy? Mr. Lynn explains that the IPCC are like map makers. They provide governments with many possible routes on the policy map whereby we finally may arrive at a manageable future. For example, regarding a price on carbon, which many experts believe is the best tool we have to phase out greenhouse gas emissions, the IPCC will not advocate for a Carbon Tax or any specific version of how to put a price on carbon, but they will offer roadmaps so that governments can arrive at their own version of a proper price on carbon that ultimately reflects the amount of damage carbon inflicts on humanity.
Mr. Lynn also explained a recent trend of nations asking the IPCC for information about local climate issues, rather than for more global scale data.
For example, Singapore has been requesting specific scientific information about climate related problems in their immediate area. Mr. Lynn informed me that the IPCC has been supplying these demands, and that this trend is positive because the local relevance leads to more concrete action by individual nations.
Overall, to the extent that governments still operate as if human activity is not ruining the climate, as if 2+2=5, they must be brought into synch with an adult world that says “well, actually 2 + 2 = 4,” meaning that “yes, human activity is ruining the climate, and therefore we must radically reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”
For doing this job the IPCC won the Nobel Peace Prize (shared with Al Gore) in 2007.
If the IPCC can convince the incoming new American administration that 2 + 2 = 4 then they will deserve a second Nobel Prize.
The Devil Is in the Details
Nov. 8, 2016–I arrived last night at the airport in Marrakech, Morocco, where I was greeted by a flood of United Nations hospitality cadres, mostly Moroccan, and all of them extremely warm and helpful.
They spirited me super swiftly through passport control, avoiding the long lines via their special UN queue line. Then, after getting me a free SIM card, they sat me in a brand new 100% electric Nissan–it was a free private taxi ride to my hotel. An auspicious start!
Since last year’s “Paris Agreement” at COP 21, we have seen a rallying of the world’s nations to ratify, well ahead of schedule, these accords whose ambitions can eventually ramp up into reducing greenhouse gas emissions enough to avoid Climate Ruin. At this year’s conference, called “COP 22,” the task is to hash out the details that were not hashed out in Paris.
This includes, for one example, how exactly the richer countries will manage to pay the poorer countries enough money, properly earmarked, to insure that they will skip over the old, climate ruining, forms of energy that use fossil fuels, and instead pursue their development by using the new clean energy systems.
As I arrived on the conference site, where many booths are set up by groups that fight on the front lines of the war to avoid Climate Ruin, I started looking for examples of the practical ways we can win this war.
Soon I saw an interesting display poster declaring that meat production contributes to 51% of annual worldwide greenhouse gas emissions. I asked the fellow manning the booth, Mr. Hanford Lin, from the Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation, about practical ways that we can bring that number down. He replied with something I had never heard about, artificial lab grown meat. This is decidedly not endless rows of animals suffering in stalls in an enormous dystopian factory, rather it is stem cells that grow to become edible meals of meat.
Think about it. Huge reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. Zero cruelty to animals. Getting around the impossible task of persuading meat eaters to stop eating meat. A huge new industry with a lot of new jobs. Winston Churchill suggested the possibility of it in 1931, and as the first test tube burger was eaten in 2013, its time is coming soon.
For us to have a chance to avoid Climate Ruin, we need to implement many practical ideas to reduce greenhouse gas emissions such as lab grown meat. We will also need many smart policy ideas such as a world wide tax on carbon, proposed at COP 21 by James Hansen from NASA, a tax that rises until carbon reaches its true unsubsidized market price that, finally, accounts for its ruinous damage to the climate. Once carbon bears its true high price then the cheaper clean energy systems can rapidly take its place.
COP 21 was about a dream–can humanity come together and cobble an agreement that gives us a chance to avoid Climate Ruin.
By some miracle, COP 21 did not fail. COP 22 is about practical reality.
Armed with the COP 21 agreement, how do we go, in practice, from point A, impending doom, to point B, a manageable future. In the next two weeks I will be reporting on the many ways the participants here are demonstrating how we can get this done.
P.S. At the airport leaving Morocco, I have been pondering the prediction that The Denier in Chief will face the facts, become the Climate Champion in Chief, and start pushing fossil fuels towards the ash heap of history.
CNN reported today that “Trump has conceded some ‘connectivity’ between human activity and climate change and wavered on whether he would pull the United States out of international accords aimed at combating the phenomenon, which scientists overwhelmingly agree is caused by human activity.”
Is it naive to predict that a president will agree on a scientific matter of biblical proportions that scientists overwhelmingly agree on?