the sun still rises

Well the two weeks are up and sadly, we are left with little to show for after tireless hours of negotiations in Copenhagen. After months of political rallies around the globe and countless prayers from Christian to Muslim to Jew, our society is left with the reality that this fight must continue. There is plenty of commentary on why things weren't accomplished and what needs to happen next. It's easy to feel that we didn't do all that we could. It's easy to think that there just might not be hope for this matter. It's easy to think that we don't have the courage to act for what is neccesary.

But then I flip through these pictures, and am inspired once again. I listen to Desmond Tutu and have faith in our leaders once again. I remember the plea of those from years past and once again realize that with enough action, we will eventually come to an agreement.

We have the ability to come together. We have the ability to make a difference for those who will come after us. We have the ability to change the norm and strive for something better.

Copenhagen is not, and never was, the end of this long walk. Rather, it demonstrated the skill and necessity that such an agreement requires. I have hope for such an agreement. Perhaps not today, but one day, for the sun will still rise tomorrow.

Bill McKibben sums it up pretty well, it's time to get back to the office and mobilize this global society once again.

No time for tears in Copenhagen
- Bill McKibben  

I’ve spent the last few years working more than fulltime to organize the first big global grassroots climate change campaign. That’s meant shutting off my emotions most of the time—this crisis is so terrifying that when you let yourself feel too deeply it can be paralyzing. Hence, much gallows humor, irony, and sheer work.

This afternoon I sobbed for an hour, and I’m still choking a little. I got to Copenhagen’s main Lutheran Cathedral just before the start of a special service designed to mark the conference underway for the next week. It was jammed, but I squeezed into a chair near the corner. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, gave the sermon; Desmond Tutu read the Psalm. Both were wonderful.

But my tears started before anyone said a word. As the service started dozens of choristers from around the world carried three things down the aisle and to the altar: pieces of dead coral bleached by hot ocean temperatures; stones uncovered by retreating glaciers; and small, shriveled ears of corn from drought-stricken parts of Africa.

As I watched them go by, all I could think of was the people I’ve met in the last couple of years traveling the world: the people living in the valleys where those glaciers are disappearing, and the people downstream who have no backup plan for where their water is going to come from. The people who live on the islands surrounded by that coral, who depend on the reefs for the fish they eat, and to protect their homes from the waves. And the people, on every corner of the world, dealing with drought and flood, already unable to earn their daily bread in the places where their ancestors farmed for generations.

Those damned shriveled ears of corn. I’ve done everything I can think of, and millions of people around the world have joined us at in the most international campaign there ever was. But I just sat there thinking: it’s not enough. We didn’t do enough. I should have started earlier.

People are dying already. People are sitting tonight in their small homes trying to figure out how they’re going to make the maize meal they have stretch far enough to fill the tummies of the kids sitting there waiting for dinner. And that’s with 390 parts per million CO2 in the atmosphere. The latest numbers from the computer jockeys at Climate Interactive - A collaboration of Sustainability Institute, Sloan School of Management at MIT, and Ventana Systems, indicate that if all the national plans now on the table were adopted the planet in 2100 would have an atmosphere with 770 parts per million CO2. What then for coral, for glaciers, for corn? I didn’t do enough.

I cried all the harder a few minutes later when the great cathedral bell began slowly tolling 350 times. At the same moment, thousands of churches across Europe began ringing their bells the same 350 times. And in other parts of the world—from the bottom of New Zealand to the top of Greenland, Christendom sounded the alarm. And not just Christendom. In New York rabbis were blowing the shofar 350 times. We had pictures rolling in from the weekend’s vigil, from places like Dhahran in Saudi Arabia, where girls in burkas were forming human 350s, and from Bahrain, and from Amman.

And these tears were now sweet as well as bitter—at the thought that all over the world (not metaphorically all over the world, but literally all over the world) people had proven themselves this year. Proven their ability to understand the science and the stakes. Proven their ability to come together on their own—in October, when we organized what CNN called “the most widespread day of political action in the planet’s history,” there wasn’t a movie star or rock idol in sight—just people rallying around a scientific data point. Now the world’s religious leaders were adding their voice.

On one side: scientists. And archbishops, Nobelists, and most of all ordinary people in ordinary places. Reason and faith. On the other side, power—the kind of power that will be assembling in the Bella Center all week to hammer out some kind of agreement. The kind of power, exemplified by the American delegation, that so far has decided it’s not worth making the kind of leap that the science demands. The kind of power that’s willing to do what’s politically pretty easy, but not what’s necessary. The kind that would condemn the planet to 770 ppm rather than take the hard steps we need.

So no more tears. Not now, not while there’s work to be done. Pass the Diet Coke, fire up the laptop, grab the cellphone. To work. We may not have done enough, but we’re going to do all we can.

Climate Scoreboard

Here is an up-to-date analysis of how current proposals at Copenhagen are affecting global temperatures in 2100.

Presentations at Copenhagen

In a week, our MSLS class will be presenting some of our work from the previous weeks at a seminar at the World Trade Center in Malmo, Sweden (a 20 min train ride from Copenhagen). The seminar will take place during the Copenhagen discussions. I have been working on a project in collaboration with iCeL looking at the long-term carbon, energy, and finanical savings from intelligent energy storage technology.

After the conference, we will be heading into Copenhagen to check out the events happening during the two weeks. One in particular we will be visiting is Bright Green. If you hear of any other exciting things happening that weekend, let me know. Or if you won't have the chance to get out there and would like me to check something out for you, send me a message.

Lost Generation

How to Deal with Carbon...

With the climate change talks coming up soon, I thought I'd post some information related to methods of dealing with carbon emissions. The two words that we often hear thrown around are cap-and-trade and carbon tax.

Although these sound very similar, they have some important differences. According to most analysts, cap and trade has a few loopholes in which heavy polluters may actually benefit from the scheme and actually cause increases in carbon emissions.

According to economist John Kay:
"When [a market] is created through political action, rather than emerging spontaneously, business will seek to influence its design for commercial advantage,"

This is why many are in favor of a carbon tax, which would hopefully provide a fairer and stricter method for limiting carbon emissions. In addition, funds collected from the tax can be used for additional carbon offset projects around the world.

New York mayor Michael Bloomberg states:
"A direct charge [carbon tax] would eliminate the uncertainty that companies would face in a cap-and-trade system. It would be easier to implement and enforce, it would prevent special interests from opening up loopholes,"

As mentioned in an early post, Sweden has already adopted a carbon tax since 1991. It has proven financially and environmentally successful and has helped spur innovation, particularly in the field of biomass energy production. In Europe, countries are moving towards carbon tax where as in the US, the discussion seems to still be focused on cap-and-trade.

For a quick (and funny) view on the drawbacks of cap-and-trade, check out the Story of Cap and Trade. For additional information between the two methods, check out this article (short) and this article (long). For information about trends in Europe on carbon tax check here.

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