March to Extinction

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     Last week in my March to Extinction: The Impact of Climate Change on Biodiversity class we did an exercise focused on climate change. On Tuesday we split the class into five groups, each with a different topic. My topic was climate forcings and magnitude. Each group had to brainstorm and come up with everything they knew about the subject and all their uncertainties they had and then present it to the class. Before the following class on Thursday, we were instructed to address all of the uncertainties we had and present again. The exercise was helpful in forcing me to realize it’s not so easy to just talk about climate change and teach a class about it without any preparation. We had a reflective assignment to do wrapping it all up. The first question was “Did this exercise teach you anything new or identify for you important gaps in your knowledge?” I responded with the following…

“I have to say that no this exercise did not really teach me anything new in terms of substantive material, however I did get something out of it. I realized that I might think I know a decent amount about climate change but when it comes time to actually verbalize my knowledge, I struggle. Having discussions with people or teaching and informing people is very different from writing a paper, taking a test, or reading a book. You have less time to think about what you are going to say in a conversation and it’s certainly not as easy as reading something for class and absorbing only the big picture or listening to a lecture. I found it difficult to vocalize my knowledge that I do have, on the spot.

     As far as knowledge gaps go, this is something I struggle with all the time. In fact, it stresses me out. There is literally so much more for me to learn in the environmental field as a whole. Even after being in the mosaic I feel that I still have only briefly touched the surface and that’s stressful to me. How am I going to make a difference (on the bigger scale) if I don’t know enough? I’ve been researching and exploring sea level rise since last semester, my paper is currently at 22 pages and I STILL feel like I don’t know nearly enough about the subject. What’s worse is there isn’t enough time in the day to learn everything.”

An Observer Role is Not A Staring Role

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Although the COP20 was a couple months ago, one moment of clear inequity will be an indelible memory in my mind. In our climate change governance course, we learned that indigenous peoples had an observer’s status at the United Nations Climate Change Conferences. However, there’s always a difference between reading about something and actually seeing the thing you read about. Six of my classmates and I were fortunate enough to attend the COP20 as observers for the first week. I didn’t realize just how fortunate we were until I was interviewing an Amazonian indigenous chief. He discussed how difficult it was for him to gain access to the COP and how he was the only one representing his entire community. I looked down at my tag and then looked at his, I felt extremely guilty and wanted to tear the blue lanyard from my neck and hand it over to him. This chief, who’s highly respected amongst his peers and was fighting for his rights, had the same role as me. An observer.

He was at the COP to create awareness and  protect his lands from being further threatened by REDD+, land claims and deforestation. While, I was at the conference for an undergraduate research project to gather information about his situation. This situation felt so unfair. In negotiations, delegates and members of the World Bank would discuss the future of the Amazon territory, while Amazonian indigenous peoples could only observe the discussion about the lands they inhabit. In addition, when the room was full or the negotiators did not want to answer any questions, all the observers were asked to leave the room, meaning they couldn’t even observe negotiations. Indigenous peoples are highly vulnerable to the effects of climate change since they often depend on the environment for their livelihood. Hence, I believe that indigenous peoples should have full participation in negotiations to express their concerns and situation.

Although, this video below is a little off topic, I thought it’s message was really interesting!

Preparation for Paris

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The post Lima preparation for Paris is already underway. While each country and their delegations have their own expectations and responsibilities, it is imperative that the entire global community prepares as well. What better way to spread global awareness and participation than with live music!? Al Gore and pop icon Pharrell Williams have teamed up to announce a global Live Earth concert in June. This concert, with its purpose to demand climate action, will be staged in six cities on all seven continents. Yes, Antarctica will also be participating in this global event. On this day, the entire globe will stand up together for a cause that is affecting all aspects of our shared planet. The ultimate goal of this music festival is to collect 1 billion signatures to encourage world leaders to adopt a new climate agreement in Paris at COP21. There is a lot of pressure for the outcomes in Paris, especially after 2014 was recorded as the Earth’s warmest year on record. A global event like this could be groundbreaking for increasing public action and awareness.

 

 

http://www.rollingstone.com/music/news/pharrell-al-gore-live-earth-2015-20150121

Pope Francis Addresses Climate Change

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By Maeve Hogel

Whether you are religious or not, Pope Francis’ climate plans for 2015 brings together religion and science, two topics that are often seen as conflicting by nature. According to the Guardian, the Pope hopes to be more involved in climate negotiations next year in Paris. However, what is it exactly that the Pope can bring to the table for international negotiations? 1.2 billion Catholic followers (just under the population of China and three times the population of the United States). I never stopped to consider the role of religion in mitigating climate change, but Pope Francis’ statements, asking Catholics worldwide to preserve and protect the environment have certainly gotten a lot of attention.

Of course these statements haven’t been supported by everyone. Fox News reports claim that the climate change argument has weakened over the past two decades and that the Pope is putting himself at risk for making enemies.

As we head into 2015, it will be interesting to see if religious leaders will begin to take more of a stance on climate change.

 

Pacha Mama

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It only made sense that we end our semester long climate change adventure visiting some of the most incredible sites provided by Mother Earth, or “Pacha Mama” known as by the Quechua indigenous people of the Andes. After our experiences at COP20 chasing down delegates, collecting and trading business cards, shuffling from meeting to meeting, and escaping the heat (from both inside and outside the plenary) with some gelato, it was exciting to visit ancient sites that climate change could prohibit future generations from enjoying. I considered myself lucky to be able to visit Machu Picchu, one of the Seven Wonders of the World, where within the next year the Ministry of Culture in Cusco has decided tourism will be restricted to a certain number of visitors who must be accompanied by an official guide. The ancient Inca city of Machu Picchu is a gold mine for Peru’s tourism industry. Our guide, Hamilton, informed us just the 1Sol fee to use the bathroom generates 6,000 Soles per day.

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This tourist attraction is huge part of Peru’s economy and they would never close it, but it is sad to see that years of previous human degradation will restrict future generations to enjoy one of Mother Earth’s marvelous sites. This same concept applies to the Earth’s changing climate, years of environmental degradation caused by previous generations of humans is changing how future generations will be able to live on our shared planet. My experience at COP20 was both optimistic and skeptic. While it is optimistic to see progress in negotiations and progress in the use of sustainable technology, there is still a long way to go until we reach a global participation and agreement. Every year there is this extravagant event where representatives from each party meet to discuss what needs to be done to save the planet. However, much of this event is excessive and wasteful, which makes it seem counterproductive. But I am certainly invested in following the road to Paris and beyond.

A Visit to La Molina University

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By Elizabeth Plascencia

This past weekend Will and I attended a Mountain Peatlands and Climate Change Conference at La Molina University. The conference was organized and sponsored by the Rangeland Ecology and Utilization Lab, The Mountain Institute, and the Natural Resource Ecology Lab at Colorado State University. The conference consisted of several lectures and workshops presented by Peruvian universities, American universities, and NGOs. The conference was a great opportunity to learn and understand the importance of mountain peatlands and wetlands (bofedales) in front of a changing climate.

Bofedales in the high Andean region
Bofedales in the high Andean region

 

 

What are bofedales? Bofedales are high Andean wetlands. These native environments are being directly affected by climate change through extreme weather-related events and glacial retreat. Bofedales are key for those living downstream of the their water resources. The wetlands store water from rainfall and glacial melt.

 

 

 

During the coffee break, Will and I had the opportunity to talk to a couple of professors and it was really nice to hear their perspectives on the 20th Conference of the Parties (COP20). After the last couple of presentations the floor opened up to a dynamic workshop that was lead by the leader of the conference. We split the entire auditorium up into three groups: Peruvian universities, American universities, and NGOs. We were all given three questions to answer and then we presented our findings and discussions to the group.

La Molina Presentation
La Molina Presentation

 

 

Each group selected a representative to share perspectives with the audience about what each group had discussed. I was honored to have the opportunity to represent the American universities sector of the workshop. Overall, the cooperation and collaboration between the groups was really nice to be a part of and I feel more aware of the importance of the fragile bofedales in the Andean region.

Dinner with Delegates

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Thus far our time in Lima has been spent sightseeing, for both people and places. We have been spending our days at Voces por el Clima interviewing delegates and representatives from various countries, Peru, Bolivia, Netherlands, and the Democratic Republic of Congo to name a few. While also exploring Lima outside of COP venues, we continue to run into party members and representatives. We were fortunate enough to have dinner with Gabriel Blanco a delegate from Argentina who has attended 9 previous COPs. Through a more relaxed interview involving cebiche and cerveza, Señor Blanco held nothing back about Argentina’s insufficient climate action. While it was surprising to hear about Argentina’s climate denial, it was even more surprising to me that Argentinas government continued to send delegates to a convention in which the argentine people had very little commitment towards. Leaving that dinner was a bit frustrating to hear that despite this being the twentieth conference of the parties, some governments are still in disagreement about the changing climate which is greatly impacting the lack of education for its citizens. Therefore a cycle of negligence occurs. However, Gabriel Blanco seemed somewhat optimistic for the outcomes in Lima, and we told him we will come to Argentina to help change the minds of the many Argentines who remain apathetic towards climate change.

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The Daily Schedule at COP20

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The main walk of COP20.

Half of the Dickinson research team is into their fourth day at COP20 and we are starting to get into a bit of a groove, but in traditional COP fashion it is hectic and can shift without notice. It starts off for me with a 06:30 wake up time. I spend the next hour gathering my things, running across the street to the supermarket to grab my breakfast and lunch, and then walk to the shuttle bus to COP at 07:30. The bus rides are long, but provide a good place to meet Party delegates or other observers (that’s what we are). We also occasionally fall asleep on the busses, since they are so comfortable.

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Keziah and Jess conducting an on-the-spot interview.

By 08:30 or 09:00 we arrive at the venue, after which we generally sit down for about an hour and talk about the coming day’s events or interviews. We then break off to either track down delegates to speak with, head to the exhibition hall to meet interesting people from all around the world, attend side-events, attend negotiation sessions, secretly slip into closed events until we are politely asked to leave, or conduct interviews. This morning I will be attending a side negotiation and text editing session on Climate Financing Mechanisms. This type of event is one where negotiators from the Parties attend and offer edits to text in the draft agreement or discuss the negotiations.

At 11:30 everyday most of the group attends the Climate Action Network (CAN) press conference in Press Room 2. This is a great 30 minute press briefing hosted by CAN, a global network of civil organizations. Three new panelists speak everyday, one is usually form Greenpeace and the other two are generally wild card NGOs. They touch on everything from negotiations around forestry to the discussions around what the “safe” warming limit is. Afterwards we grab the business cards of the three panelists, in hopes of interviewing them later.

The mornings go fast and by 12:00 we are all sweaty and exhausted, so at 12:30 we have the team meeting, eat some lunch, drink water, and rest our aching feet. Soon after we are back on the hunt for delegates or doing scheduled interviews. For instance my afternoon today involves and interview with a Professor from PSU, an NGO observer who we spoke with after a press conference, and an observer from a second NGO (CDKN) that works on knowledge brokering (post on this forthcoming).

The afternoon are also when most of the side-events occur. This afternoon I will be sitting in on one that is about promoting climate technologies. This events provide good information for our research paper, introduce new research, and are a great spot to find delegates or experts to interview about research topics. We also tend some time running around the exhibition hall doing quick interviews with those representing groups that pertain to our research.

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Rehana, Jess, Joe, and Will working at Mezze during dinner.

Around 18:15 I generally head to the exit with a few others, but some of the group stays until 20:00. Once we are back in the city, we find a good dinner spot. Last night we had some Middle Eastern food, and the two nights before we enjoyed great local food at a restaurant called Mezze. After dinner, we all converge at Butler University’s abroad center. They have kindly offered it to us in the evenings as a meeting spot. Here we download the footage we shot throughout the day and discuss how the day went. Generally we are out of there by 22:30 and head back to the Flying Dog (our hostel).

For the next couple of hours I usually organize my things for the next day, take a shower, grab a bite to eat, download any more footage that wasn’t downloaded at Butler, and relax for a bit, always making it to bed by 01:00.

Paradigm Shift

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In my Religion and Modern Culture class, we have talked about paradigm shifts this semester which is directly related to the climate change conversation. The movie, “An Inconvenient Truth” is a, excellent example of a paradigm shift emerging. The movie, and the work of Al Gore, is an attempt at shifting the worldview of the climate change problem. The movie acts to summarize a brief synopsis of the problem and it does so in a way that can be easily understood to the general public and is easily relatable. Towards the end of the movie, Gore brings up the topic of the Kyoto Protocol. The United States originally signed the Kyoto Protocol but never ratified it; this caused a huge global controversy that continued along with the US not ratifying the second commitment period to Kyoto. Where the visible shift can be seen is through initiatives in the United States being taken in California and the nine north eastern states banding together to take action. In Gore’s presentation, he shows a list of a multitude of major cities that are in support of the Kyoto. This is where the paradigm shift is starting to be seen, at the bottom-up level.

He also mentions, towards the end of the movie that he is doing his part by doing what he can. This entails giving presentations in major cities all around the world, addressing people at a more local level. His approach of conveying the message and the approach of the movie is extremely similar to that of James Balog and the film Chasing Ice. Sitting and chatting with Balog on a more personal basis and seeing his presentation while he visited Dickinson really put a lot of things into perspective. Balog, in the same way that Gore does, conveys his message in the best way he possibly can, through his photography. Both men express a sense of urgency and the need for further communication. Gore mentions that the issue of the ozone hole has been depleted; the climate change problem is not completely out of our grasp. What is needed, is a complete shift in cooperation globally, a paradigm shift. Not everyone is currently sitting at the table, but everyone is invited.

Eight years has passed since this movie came out and the shift is still continuing; there is power growing. I think the Peoples Climate March, the largest climate march in history, that took place recently is an extremely powerful example of the movement. Well over 400,000 people took the streets of Manhattan to express their voices and to take a stand. However, the shift needs to continue. Even here at Dickinson College, ranked in the nation among the most environmentally friendly schools, still needs change. There are people that don’t think anything of their actions throughout their day, perhaps they should. Everything we do in our everyday lives, literally everything, has an impact. The amount of times I hear students and friends say that their minute actions make no difference, that one or two things makes no difference, is literally sickening. The fact that people can leave their phone charger plugged into a wall while it is not in use and it is still emitting .5 pounds of carbon into the atmosphere per hour is again, a sickening thought. People NEED to be more conscious. The shift must continue.

The title of the movie is what it is; the issue of climate change that needs to be addressed is inconvenient in many ways. It has been ignored for so many for way too long because people would rather pretend the problem is not there than actually address it head on. The novel, Merchants of Doubt, by Naomi Oreskes is a perfect example of doubt being used in many controversies over time. It is inconvenient both in that we have to deal with it and it’s impacts on today’s world, with some nations being more vulnerable than others. The definition of sustainability, to uphold the needs of today’s people without compromising the needs of future generations, relates to this inconvenience in that the paradigm shift must occur in order to comply with the needs of future generations.

Climate Change is Simple

Dubbed “Politicians Discussing Global Warming” by social media. Street sculpture by Isaac Cordal.

Why is no one talking about climate change?

A 2014 Gallop poll found that more than half (56 percent) of Americans are concerned a great deal or a fair amount about climate change. However, how often do you hear people bring up the subject of climate change in everyday conversation? It’s a downer, that’s true, but you think the impending doom of the climate as we know it would get more air time.

In a recent TED talk, David Roberts talks about why some people don’t like to talk about climate change- they think it’s too complicated.

Anytime you mention it, the hoards descend, bearing complicated stories about the medieval ice age or sun spots or water vapor… and you know there’s a lot of myths born by these climate skeptics but to debunk these myths you have to go online and research and read and be able to respond to them in detail and a lot of people just find that prospect dreary and so they don’t bother. -David Roberts

However, Roberts assures us that climate change is simple. You just need to know a few key facts.

1. Gases surround the Earth to warm it and keep it stable.

2. For the last 10,000 years the climate has been relatively stable (around +/- 1 degree C).

3. All advanced human civilization since the dawn of agriculture has taken place within this 10,000 year period of stability. In other words, our present society is built upon the Earth’s climate remaining the same.

4. However, humans are changing this past climate stability by burning fossil fuels and releasing carbon into the atmosphere. We’ve already raised the global average temperature 0.8 degrees C.

5. The data is very strong on the cause of climate change, but, in spite of this, we humans are not doing much to change our habits. Unfortunately, our present course leads to certain catastrophe.  

 

The iconic “stay below 2 degrees C” is a goal almost certainly too high to be safe and too low to possible. At the rate we are going, global average temperatures could increase around 4 or 6 degrees C by the end of this century. This means a completely different Earth than the one we inhabit today. This means intense droughts, different coastlines, and vast amounts of uninhabitable land.

 

There are many complicated and fascinating discussions to be had about what to do about it or about what effect our actions might have on the climate and when or which policies are best based on cost benefit analysis. There’s complexity, plenty of complexity, for those who like complexity but we now know to a fair degree or certainty that if we keep doing what we are now doing, we will face unthinkable catastrophe.

That’s the bumper sticker, that’s the take home message.

 

And saying, ‘I don’t want to talk about that because I don’t know the ends and outs is like saying ‘I don’t want to raise alarms about Hitler’s army being 100 miles out because I don’t know the thread count of their uniforms or I don’t know the average calorie intake of a German solider. You don’t need to know those things to be scared that the army’s on the margin, to raise alarms about it.

-David Roberts

Now, it’s our job as citizens of the Earth to talk about what’s going to happen. We know potentially catastrophic change is coming. We know how to decrease the danger. Now we just have to take collective action as the human race.