Lisa Harris (lrph) Mon 21 Dec 09 15:41
We are so very fortunate to have our own Emily Gertz as our guest in the Inkwell.vue for the next two weeks. Emily is a freelance writer and just now (early Monday morning) back from the Climate talks in Copenhagen. She is here to share with us her unique perspective on this historical event. Here on The WELL, Emily is the host of the Science Fiction Television conference. Emily also can also be found around www.worldchanging.com. Who, when, what, wha?, at: www.secretmuseum.com on the Internet. Leading our discussion is Jacques Leslie. Jacques Leslie started his journalism career as a foreign correspondent, covering the Vietnam War for the Los Angeles Times. For the last decade he has written narrative nonfiction on environmental issues, focusing on water. His 2004 book, Deep Water: The Epic Struggle Over Dams, Displaced People, and the Environment, won the J. Anthony Lukas Work-in-Progress Award and was named one of the top science books of the year by Discover Magazine. His last major magazine piece, a Mother Jones cover story on the international environmental impacts of China's economic growth, won three awards. He has attended one Kyoto Protocol climate change conference, in Buenos Aires in 2004. Thank you both for being here.
the Zen of wooziness and delirium (jacques) Mon 21 Dec 09 20:06
Thank you, Lisa. I'm delighted to be here and looking forward to read Emily's assessment of Copenhagen. Emily, first of all, can you set the scene for us? Where in Copenhagen did the conference take place? Did the city make an impact on the proceedings, or would they have gone on more or less the same regardless of where they were? Did you get any sense of what it meant to Danes to have the talks there? Was it difficult to attend a conference with so many people in the December cold?
Emily J. Gertz (emilyg) Wed 23 Dec 09 05:25
Hi all. Thank you for inviting me on here! I'd like to mention that my web site coordinates have updated somewhat. My web site is www.emilygertz.com; secretmuseum.com is moribund at the moment, sadly, although I have plans for it. Also, I recently became a correspondent for OnEarth Magazine, writing primarily for the website onearth.org. If you go to onearth.org/copenhagen, you'll find links to my Copenhagen coverage. I have not been writing for Worldchanging for a few years, but was the founding/lead blogger of globalwarming.change.org for around a year, from August 2008 to October 2009. Now on to the first round of questions: The conference took place in a venue called the Bella Center -- essentially your typical cavernous trade show space. It's relatively new, has lots of daylighting, meeting rooms ranging in size from large to ginormous, as well as the kinds of spaces you can customize to your needs; for instance, one huge area was devoted wholly to the press centre. It is located east-south-east of central Copenhagen; around 15 minutes out by the city's excellent Metro rail, in an area called Orestad. I heard it described as "suburban Copenhagen," and there is a lot of new development there
Emily J. Gertz (emilyg) Wed 23 Dec 09 05:41
It is very hard for me to assess how much of an impact the conference had on the city, or the reverse, because essentially I just landed in Copenhagen at the last minute to cover the talks. Certainly there were a lot of events going on around town that tied in explicitly or implicitly to COP15 -- a big two week music festival in the center of the city, for instance. Denmark has weaned itself off foreign oil since the oil shocks of the 1970s, and now gets over half its energy from renewables sources; has a kick-ass wind turbine industry; and has integrated conservation pretty well into daily life of the citizenry, so it certainly sets an example for other western nations of what they could do if they had the political will to go low-carbon. The most direct impact this had on the conference, or should I say the attendees, was that we got two-week passes to the entire, greater Copenhagen mass transit system, which includes intercity trains, the city Metro, a vast network of train routes on the "S-tog" system, and a lot of buses. The entire system is clean, nothing apparently broken that I could see, and can get you just about everywhere you want to go without ever stepping into a taxi or a private vehicle for about 20 hours of the day. It made me wince to compare it to the NYC transit system, which struggles in the best of times to fulfill its mandates, founders in worse times, and is chronically starved of resources. It's always dirty, you can never understand the announcements, and there's always something, somewhere, under highly visible and delayed repair. Copenhagen is much older than NYC, so age is no excuse. Clearly if it was important enough to us to have a system like this in NYC, it would be possible, even comparing the population sizes. I'm not saying it was weirdly futuristic, by the way -- except maybe by American standards. There were plenty of older train cars, and a lot of exuberant graffiti on the S-tog trains.
Emily J. Gertz (emilyg) Wed 23 Dec 09 05:47
As for the cold, I arrived in the area on Dec. 4, and went in to get my credential on Dec. 5, a couple days before the conference started. So I was spared the worst of the line-waits that a lot of people endured to get in (notably during the start of the second week of the conference). I like winter, and invested in warm boots before I left, so the cold was okay with me, until around the last two days, when I was running such a sleep deficit that I started to shiver if outside for more than 15 minutes or so! The lines for credentials struck many of us as a fiasco. The UNFCCC and the local Danish team certainly knew how many people had been registered to attend the talks, and therefore could predict what it would take to move that many through registration. So why the six-hour waits in the cold for so many?
Emily J. Gertz (emilyg) Wed 23 Dec 09 08:34
One of my outlets, Oxfam America, did want me to give readers an idea of how the city looked in re: the conference, so I produced this brief slideshow: http://actionhub.oxfamamerica.org/index.php/blog/comments/climate-talks- inspire-happenings-around-copenhagen/
Steven McGarity (sundog) Wed 23 Dec 09 09:47
I have been reading at OnEarth the last couple weeks. Excellent coverage there. Looking forward to this discussion. So nice to talk with someone that was there.
Gail Williams (gail) Wed 23 Dec 09 11:25
Emily, this is so great having you back to tell your tales and discuss the next steps! Your slideshow at <http://actionhub.oxfamamerica.org/index.php/blog/comments/climate-talks-inspir e-happenings-around-copenhagen/> has some interesting images of big black and white photo posters in the town. What were those?
descend into a fractal hell of meta-truthiness (jmcarlin) Wed 23 Dec 09 11:27
The conference is assumed by many to be a failure with only a fig-leaf agreement brokered by President Obama at the last minute to salvage something. Was that your impression?
Emily J. Gertz (emilyg) Wed 23 Dec 09 11:35
"interesting images of big black and white photo posters in the town..." Those were posters based on photographs made by Helena Christensen. Oxfam took her to Peru to see the impacts of climate change. I was a "reporter-in-residence" for Oxfam America's climate hub blog, and in my reporting, I was assigned to cover the humanitarian angles on global warming. So not coincidentally, Oxfam's activities at the conference crop up a lot in my reporting. It was an interesting way to do reporting; I tried to maintain a balance of not being "ooh, awesome" for Oxfam while still taking advantage of such access as working for them gave me. Brave new world of journalism, part the 39th.
Emily J. Gertz (emilyg) Wed 23 Dec 09 11:56
> The conference is assumed by many to be a failure with only a fig-leaf agreement brokered by President Obama at the last minute to salvage something. Was that your impression? I certainly had an impression of failure during and immediately after the final two days of the talks. Some of the coverage and analysis I've been reading since has calmed me down a bit, but only in the sense that the world is not locked out of getting this right, or at least better, next year. The Obama administration didn't even come out of it too badly in terms of the Senate's probable vote on climate and energy policy reform next year. Getting China, India, and Brazil to accept in principle that they'll allow some external monitoring of their emissions cuts ("mitigation activities") was a useful development, from the US domestic politics POV. One of the things that being right there revealed to me is that these processes are more multilateral than we realize. China and the US are the major actors -- where they go, the world will go, it seems. But Lula of Brazil played a big part in shifting the dynamics away from total failure at the end, it seemed to me. And I think the small island states have made progress at shifting the ultimate goal toward 1.5 deg. C mean temperature rise, instead of 2.0 deg. Then again, if you believe this article in today's Guardian, China called the shots at the end and ruined things for everybody while masterfully shifting the blame to the West: http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/dec/22/copenhagen-climate-change- mark-lynas
Emily J. Gertz (emilyg) Wed 23 Dec 09 11:59
How do you read the failure/fig leaf version of the outcome, jmcarlin?
descend into a fractal hell of meta-truthiness (jmcarlin) Wed 23 Dec 09 13:25
I got the impression of failure from various radio, print and internet media reports, not from one cogent analysis.
Jacques Leslie (jacques) Wed 23 Dec 09 13:52
Am I correct in inferring from your comments that you think the world is one tiny step closer to meaningful action on climate change than it was before the conference? And did the conference, despite its obvious failure to produce a binding agreement on significant cuts in emissions, provide some momentum for carbon markets and technological innovators to find other means of reducing climate change? That's more or less the Schwarzenegger line, and I wonder if you think there's any merit to it.
Julie Sherman (julieswn) Wed 23 Dec 09 15:15
A quick note to our offsite readers...You may ask your questions of Emily by emailing them to <email@example.com>
Julie Sherman (julieswn) Wed 23 Dec 09 15:50
To add to the conversation: Five common mistakes in the coverage of the Copenhagen Accord The Copenhagen Accords on climate change were big news. Too bad so much of the reporting was wrong By Sam Hummel With the exception of a few hours of shut-eye, I stayed up all Friday night to watch the last hours of the COP15 negotiations. It was absolutely gripping, shocking, heart-wrenching, inspiring and in the end came with some measure of relief. (By the way -- for anyone who would like to watch any part of Friday nights negotiations it is all online here. I have found this partial transcript useful for skipping around in the many hours of footage.) I have not seen a single news article that has done justice to what happened overnight. In fact, Ive seen many that I feel misunderstand or mischaracterize what happened. Watching the questions journalists asked during the final press conferences, I kept saying to my computer screen, Were you not watching!? so I suppose it should come as little surprise that I, as someone who watched the entire thing, feel a number of the articles written thus far leave readers with misimpressions. In particular, I would like to address five things that Ive seen reported or opined in various media (primarily on the left) over the last two days that I believe are fallacies, based on what I witnessed. More at: http://www.salon.com/news/global_warming/index.html?story=/news/2009/12/22/5_c ommon_mistakes_in_the_coverage_of_the_copenhagen_accord
Steven McGarity (sundog) Wed 23 Dec 09 16:20
Were you able to get out among the people in the streets. I had the feeling there were some interesting things going on out there. As well as some heavy handed reaction by the police based on reports read and the number of arrests. Also, do you feel like NGOs made a significant impact on the process or were they merely in the way?
Searchlight Casting (jstrahl) Wed 23 Dec 09 21:59
http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/cif-green/2009/dec/21/copenhagen-failu re-obama-climate-change Naomi Klein on Copenhagen. And from a blog by a climate scientist, one of of IPCC, http://www.desmogblog.com/cop15-deal-not-fair-not-ambitious-not-binding COP15 "Deal"--Not Fair, Not Ambitious, Not Binding, Richard Littlemore, 12/19/09. (and it's in fact NOT a deal!!)
Emily J. Gertz (emilyg) Thu 24 Dec 09 10:55
Well, Naomi Klein is not a journalist, she's a social critic. So I feel comfortable saying that while I have admired her insights into the ills of consumer-driven, late-stage-capitalist culture, her analysis of Copenhagen and climate politics is just flat out incorrect. Saying in 2009 that only the US possessed the "unique power to change the game" is just another flavor of myopic US exceptionalism. That might have been true 10 years ago, when the Soviet Union expired and the US was THE superpower, and the world's leading polluter. We were also at or near resolution of the national debt, weren't we? When the Senate made clear to the Clinton administration that it would not ratify the Kyoto accord, that deal was fatally weakened. The Bush administration then poisoned regard for the US in global politics, including climate and environmental arenas. Today, in 2009, China is a major economic power; it's surpassed the US as the world's leading emitter of greenhouse gases; and it more or less owns the bulk of America's considerable national debt. (If I understand things correctly.) Even if you believe only half the things being claimed about China's role in torpedoing Copenhagen, clearly it's got tons of influence over the outcome of any now-and-future climate deal. To skewer Klein's position a bit more: The Senate will make or break any chance at really effective climate action. The entire freaking world seems to understand this, judging from a number of off-the-record convos I had in Copenhagen. Everyone gets that Obama can't promise more in terms of binding, deep emissions cuts and a carbon market than Congress will deliver. But not some US activists/political analysts. They believe that Obama has (or ought to use) just the sort of executive power in climate policy that they decried when the Bush administration made just such grabs to expand executive branch power. Under the circumstances, and again Klein's analysis really falls short here, the Obama admin. has done wonders so far. There are literally billions pouring through the DOE for every level of energy action -- from basic to advanced research, to updating the grid, to accelerating the progress of new, clean energy technologies to market, to really effective basics like home energy efficiency, aka state-based weatherization programs for low-income families. Klein writes: "Sure, he spent some money on weatherproofing, but public transport was inexplicably short-changed while highways that perpetuate car culture won big." It's funny to me -- ha ha ha! -- that a populist like Klein should make so little of "weatherproofing" (which is not the same as "weatherization," by the way, she's setting up a straw man here). Because it is one of the easiest, fastest, best-proven ways to help low-income Americans save money and live more comfortably, while also cutting greenhouse gas pollution. I can't speak to every facet of the stim's mass transportation funding, but I know that there's $8bn in there to spark additional state funding for several intercity high-speed rail corridors. People who think that the stim wouldn't have funded highway projects must live in a very pretty-colored world full of magic ponies frisking thru glitter. One of the biggest barrels of state pork there is. (Sorry to mix metaphors there.) I don't know where Klein comes up with her take on the auto industry bailouts; perhaps someone here knows more. But getting the first significant hike in fuel economy standards in at least two or three presidential terms was no small thing. This probably isn't sexy enough stuff for the "system change" crowd, but it was a major move against pollution, and a major story in 2009 for enviro beat reporters. I could go on and on about the many good things EPA's been doing since O took office, but you get the idea.
Emily J. Gertz (emilyg) Thu 24 Dec 09 10:57
O has done an incredible amount in a short time to repair the damage to our international relations and standing, but the divisions within the established climate treaty process run deep. Under the Kyoto accord, you're either an industrialized nation that is bound to cut its emissions, and under a certain moral cloud for getting so rich while causing human-propelled global warming. Or, you're a developing nation not required to cut emissions, innocent of ruining the climate, plus you can expect lots of unsupervised money from the rich nations for mitigation projects that generate carbon credits. This doesn't reflect the more multivalent realities of who's now polluting the most, who'll be polluting the most in the future, or rampant corruption in the aid and development system as it currently exists.
descend into a fractal hell of meta-truthiness (jmcarlin) Thu 24 Dec 09 11:13
> Even if you believe only half the things being claimed about China's > role in torpedoing Copenhagen There was a story on PBS/NPR from someone who had been on the inside and saw all the world's leaders at the table except for the Chinese who had sent a lower level bureaucrat. That said volumes and then some.
Emily J. Gertz (emilyg) Thu 24 Dec 09 11:20
> Am I correct in inferring from your comments that you think the world is one tiny step closer to meaningful action on climate change than it was before the conference? I don't know yet. If the US political agreement with the BASIC nations (Brazil, South Africa, India and China) helps get the climate and energy bill through the Senate, then yes, we probably are one tiny step closer to meaningful action. It's the most meaningful action that could come out of the US government, anyway. >And did the conference, despite its obvious failure to produce a binding agreement on significant cuts in emissions, provide some momentum for carbon markets and technological innovators to find other means of reducing climate change? That's more or less the Schwarzenegger line, and I wonder if you think there's any merit to it. Uuuuuh. Hm. I'd need to know the full context for his comments. The global carbon market took a dive this week as the results of Copenhagen sank in. If the Governator was referring there to momentum to get the US market going, then yeah, so far I agree with that. Once there's a price for carbon on the American markets, it should end a lot of uncertainty in the business community, and spur investment. (I've been hearing this for years at biz forums, by the way; the suits never seemed to buy the Bush administration/GOP line that curbing carbon would destroy the economy.) Right now may be the worst of several worlds from the technology perspective: Copenhagen was a dud. No bill through Congress yet, and the EPA homing in on regulating greenhouse gas emissions like other air pollutants.
Christian De Leon-Horton (echodog) Thu 24 Dec 09 11:47
Emily, could you address the fact that there were actually two parallel negotiatin tracks at Copenhagen? As I understand it, one track was for previous signatories of the Kyoto Treaty (ie, mostly wealthy industrialized nations) and the other was for nations that were not signatories of Kyoto. It appears that this set-up could have created an automatic tension between wealthier nations and developing nations at the conference.
Emily J. Gertz (emilyg) Thu 24 Dec 09 15:48
Nearly every nation in the world ratified the Kyoto accord, rich and not-so-rich. What I think you're referring to is how that accord divides the world into groups. Annex I nations, the industrialized nations are the ones that are legally bound by Kyoto to hit certain emissions reductions targets. I think there are around 40 of these now. A subsection of Annex I countries are Annex II countries -- nations that subsidize the costs for developing nations to cut emissions. All the rest of the countries are "non-Annex I", or developing nations. Dozing off yet? The two track approach arose at the Bali talks in 2007. Essentially it was devised to give the US (the world's largest economy and at that time the world's greatest polluter) a way to participate in the process, since it had not ratified Kyoto.
Emily J. Gertz (emilyg) Thu 24 Dec 09 15:53
One track was working on a new accord based on the Kyoto framework. This would maintain existing definitions for Annex I nations vs other nations -- including letting China, India, Brazil and the other major developing economies off the hook for mandatory emissions cuts. The other track, the one including the US, has been known as the LCA track, for "Long-term Cooperative Action." This track supported bringing the accord's rules up to date to demand of major developing economies "measurable, reportable, verifiable" emissions cuts. The Bush administration advocated this approach One of the major ironies of Copenhagen is that while Obama came in to world climate politics professing respect for past agreements, the "Copenhagen Accord" puts us on a path to arriving at what the Bush administration wanted: junking the Kyoto framework.
Jacques Leslie (jacques) Thu 24 Dec 09 23:12
Emily, to what degree did climate change deniers make their presence known in Copenhagen. Judging by the coverage they get in the U.S., one might assume that they're a substantial force, but my impression is that in Copenhagen they hardly registered. True?
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