The Life of a Climate Change Groupie


My week at the COP20 in Lima was a completely different experience than I had ever imagined. I am normally a relatively shy person when it comes to approaching strangers, but in order to succeed in getting interviews, I had to push myself out of my comfort zone. So the first question I faced was how on earth do I get these intelligent, busy and experienced people to talk to me?  From my time at the COP, I found several successful ways to score an interview. The first approach was stopping at any information booth that had to do with our topics. We began asking the booth operators what their organization was and from there we evaluated whether interviewing them could help us further our research. Most of our potential interviewees informed us that they “weren’t the person to interview” and handed us a business card of “someone that could help us with our research”. However later we learned the chances of the mysterious business card person e-mailing us back was a fifty, fifty chance. We were lucky with some of our booth-approach interviews for we were able to talk with the Head of Climate Alliance, a Peruvian indigenous chief, a scientist who worked on the REDD+ monitoring technology and other NGOS.

Another interview approach is something I call the after-side-event-creep.  The technique consists of attending specific side events and waiting until the speakers have finished talking. Then you approach them (often more awkwardly than I participated) and then say “Hi I really loved your talk! Is there anyway I could ask you a few questions for my undergraduate research”. This mechanism I found to be more successful, but it does allow for the occasional embarrassing interview strike out. With this approach, I learned several lessons to be a successful climate change groupie- One: you must be fast. The speaker often has a line of fellow climate change groupies that that tend to shoot you death glares if you take too much time in your interview. Also there is a press for time because the room is often booked for another event directly afterwards, so the speakers leave the room quickly before you have time to chat with them. Two: you must pick your interviewee wisely. Often you want to chat with all the panelists, but usually there is only time to interview one person. So it’s important to evaluate which panelist could provide you with the most vital information and which panelist most likely to agree to an interview. Three:  have your equipment ready. For the first couple interviews, our equipment was all over the place, creating obstacles for everyone around us. We learned to have tripod ready with the camera attached, so again the interview did not take too much time. This approach was the most groupie-like, but by the end of the week I felt like we had almost perfected the process.

Lastly is the luck-of-the-draw approach. A great deal of the strongest connections I made occurred randomly without the help of my detailed schedule. Due to circumstance and timing, I was able to chat with people who provided me with valuable input on my research. The first day at the COP sat next to a man on the bus who worked on REDD+ projects in Indonesia, which provided me with information on how Indonesia differs from the Amazon.  Another interview only occurred because I dropped a pamphlet and the man sitting next to me picked it up and then began discussing the event. He use was a key member of Leave It In the Group and I had a 30 minute long interview with him.  My classmate and I also met an undergraduate from Northeastern who we later met up with an discussed our concerns about REDD+ and Indigenous communities.

From taking undercover selfies with Christiana Figures to following a man who resembled the past President of Peru to memorizing the faces of delegates from photos on the Internet to trying to strike up conversations at the printer, the Week 1 team were successful climate change groupies.

Once You UN, You Never Go Back


Under a moonlit night on Thursday night, the UNFCCC delegates, observers, and researchers crossed town from the Conference venue to the Parque Estadio Nacional in the center of Lima to mingle and enjoy a cornucopia of food, drink, and performances from native Peruvians.  In the words of our professor, Neil Leary, this was the “swankiest” party Lima has seen in the past decade.  With such a fantastic backdrop and magnificent evening, the official welcome reception for the COP welcome reception wasaonce for the history books.

The Place to Be


There were five different areas of the event, as there were in Voces por el Clima: Energy, Sustainable Cities, Oceans, Forests, and Mountains.  At each area, there was a unique buffet, open bar, and performances that focused on the specific section.  At the Energy section, there was a drum troupe performing that, midway through, pulled three of the Dickinson delegation onto the stage to salsa dance with them.

Dancing in the Moonlight

Later on in the night, there was a presentation by Christiana Figueres, the Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC, and Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, the Peruvian Minister of the Environment and President of the COP, both of whom met with Dickinson students to talk to them.  There was also a live performance from a popular local Spanish rock band from Lima where Dickinson students started a dance party with delegates from Tanzania, Fiji, and Peru, to name a few.

Overall, fun was had for all, and there was consensus that it was the best night that anyone had experienced before.

The Inequality of the Get Richer Quick Schemes of the 1%

trickle-downTaking Professor Barnum’s class American Inequalities while in the mosaic has enabled me to really trace the pattern of poverty in those affected most by policy backfires. The housing crisis of 2008 leading to the Great Recession hit those who lost their mortgages and went through foreclosures the most even though the housing bubble burst because of irresponsible lending by large banks. As Joseph Stiglitz, the economist who coined the term the “1% and 99%” writes “the irony is that in the crises that finance brings about, workers and small businesses bear the brunt of the costs” (Stiglitz 66). The 1% can play around with the system in order to eke out as much profit as possible despite the harm its actions might cause the rest of society.  The sad part is, the trickle-down effect is bogus. Increased profits for the 1% does not fuel the overall American economy because the richer one is, the smaller portion of their income they actually spend. Thus, those most defenseless against economic hardships are the ones most vulnerable to exploitation by the 1%.


This reminds me of my research on LDCs and their vulnerability to climate change despite the fact that they did little to cause the problem. LDCs have contributed next to nothing in GHG emissions causing global climate change. Still, they will be the ones worst hit. Developed countries have been emitting GHGs for over a century, causing global climate change and as a result, have become rich and powerful in the global governance arena. Meanwhile, LDCs have stayed behind and will also be the first, and worst, hit by droughts, sea level rise, and temperature changes due to climate change. The fact that LDCs often still rely on subsistence agrarian societies- a sector way too reliant on climate considering the upcoming roller coaster. While developed countries have been able to develop away from agrarian societies and on the way caused climate change, LDCs have been left behind with agrarian societies put at great risks in the face of climate change.

LDCs, like the most impoverished in the US, are the ones hit hardest by the development schemes of the rich, yet they feel none of the benefits. This reflects a greater trend in all of society, where those who are poor are the most disadvantaged. There is no way for the poor to “pick themselves up by their bootstraps” while the rich are constantly tying them down through their own schemes of exploitation. Only when this trend is changed will policies have a possibility of creating more equal successes for all.

Klaus Keller at Dickinson

Keller web

By Elizabeth Plascencia

Klaus Keller, Department of Geosciences at Penn State University
Klaus Keller, Department of Geosciences at Penn State University

This past Tuesday, November 11th, the ERSC Seminar Series welcomed a special guest from the Department of Geosciences at Penn State University, Klaus Keller. His lecture was called “Climate Risk Management in the Anthropocene: From Basic Science to Decision Making (and back)” and it directly related to our studies in both of the mosaic courses, ERSC 204: Global Climate Change and SUST 330: Global Environmental Challenges and Governance.

As Keller spoke about this whole notion of decision making under uncertainty, I could not help but directly relate it to the work under the UNFCCC (United Nations Conference on Climate Change). As December 1st approaches, our cohort has been wrapping up our relevant course materials as we prepare for our time at COP20. This lecture made it evident that uncertainties are truly still a roadblock in climate negotiations.

Keller’s perspective was extremely enlightening and I was eager to speak with him after his lecture. Fortunately, Will Kochtitzky ‘16 and I were able to chat with him after his talk and he gave us some great pointers about future work in climate change post-Dickinson.

Keller also spoke about the SCRiM (Sustainable Climate Risk Management) Scholars Program which particularly peaked my interests. It is essentially an interdisciplinary team of climate scientists, economists, philosophers, statisticians, engineers, and policy analysts from 19 universities and 5 research institutions across 6 nations. Together this team works to answer the looming question of: “What are sustainable, scientifically sound, technologically feasible, economically efficient, and ethically defensible climate risk management strategies?” My sense is that this program offers an incredible opportunity to anyone who is interested in pursuing work within climate change, sustainability, sustainable development, and/or sustainable risk management development. I personally am interested in possibly applying to the SCRiM Scholars Program.

Overall, I am very pleased to have had the opportunity to speak with Keller and I really can’t believe how close we are to attending COP20. Cheers.

For further reading, please feel free to check out this link

Harry Potter, Not Knowledge and Colbert

“You don’t have to worry about global warming anymore, because the Senate sure won’t” – Stephen Colbert

Colbert Climate Change

Regardless of your personal views, and political officiation, the outcome of the recent republican domination of this election will undoubtably have an some meaningful consequences on the America’s action on climate change.  Especially considering that a man who wrote a book entitled “The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future,” James Inhofe  is about to replace Barbara Boxer as the chair of the senate’s Environmental Committee. The absurdity of this is downright comical.. and also terrifying.

Stephen Colbert, a master of political humor and sarcasm, had a clip in response to this entitled “The Repulicans’ Inspiring Message on Climate Change” that called out and summed up the ridiculousness of this as well as other climate change deniers; otherwise known as “not knowledge” by “not scientists.” In talking about Inhofe’s book he said, “its like harry potter for people who thought harry potter as too much science in it.”

In one of the most accurate and amusing metaphors on the way many in the republican party view climate change, Colbert pours water into a container with a topographic model of the United States. As he is pouring in the water he says,”now what apears to be happening is that the water is rising. Why? One theory is: I don’t know I’m not a scientist…Oh look there goes florida! And there’s no way of knowing why.”

Sometimes I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.



[youtube_sc url=””]


Future of violent conflict

Security Studies since the early 90’s have been looking at the connection between the environment and violent conflicts.  Looking back we can see a history of violent conflicts in certain countries, many of which of LDC (Least Developed countries).  The security community has come to agreement that environment factors are rarely causes of conflict but rather catalysts and drivers. But what about the future? There is now a new field of study beginning, climate change and violent conflict.  A new review of 55 research papers shows that there is an increase in violent conflict related to climate change.  The National Bureau of Economic Research conducted this review and has a working paper that is also saying that these two factors are linked.  Although most people can agree that with a changing climate may cause stress on certain systems that we need to survive, and will there fore cause some sort of violent reaction.  However what is really interesting is that environment issues as drivers and catalysts change in these predictions of climate change caused violent conflict.  This new form of conflict would be the cause, driver, and catalyst of violence. In past conflicts, environmental stresses help to exacerbate conflict, but do not usually act as the core reason.  However, if climate threats increase enough they will become the sole cause of conflict.  If there is simply not enough water for everyone, there will be conflict.  Furthermore this shifts the priorities of the Security community, placing climate change threats as the top.  If there is not enough water for people to survive it doesn’t really matter what the economic or political climate is.

Renewable Revolution!


Climate change does pose significant threats to prospects for sustainable development. It impacts our environmental, economic, and social development. With climate change in our radar, our ability to meet basic needs to sustain life would be difficult. The behavior that we are carrying out currently may allow or disallow our use of planet earth by future generations. It is also very difficult for developing countries to develop sustainably due to lack of government policy, finance and adaption plans.

In “Renewable Revolution: Low-Carbon Energy by 2030” by Janet L. Sawin and William R. Moomaw, the focus is on sustainable development but by the reduction of energy usage by using it more efficiently and using mostly renewable energy resources.  “Humanity can prevent catastrophic climate change if we act now and adopt policies that reduce energy usage by unleashing the full potential of energy efficiency in concert with renewable energy resources” (Sawin & Moomsaw, 2009).  This is a valid statement because climate change is first and foremost a challenge to development.  Climate change is not just a pollution problem.  In Sawin and Moomsaw’s article, they also stated that “A combination of political will and the right policies can get the world on track to mitigate climate change in the near term while also meeting demand for energy services, providing energy access for the world’s poorest, boosting the global economy, bolstering energy security, and improving the natural environment and human health” (Sawin & Moomsaw, 2009).

According to “Integrating Development in Climate Change: A Framework Policy Discussion Paper on Key Elements for the Development of the Post-2012 Global Climate Policy Regime” by the South Centre, global cooperation to reduce developed countries’ climate footprint and support developing countries’ adoption and implementation of low carbon sustainable development methods should be a priority. In context of the climate change negotiations, there is hope for developing countries to form policies that would promote and aid sustainable development objectives. The South Centre proposed that the post-2012 framework should support the creation of an international economic system that supports and promotes economic development of developing countries (South Centre, 2007). However, certain aspects need to be accounted for such as the need of flexibility to properly determine what policies are needed for development as well as what is best for adaptation to climate change. Policy parameters for the design of economic and environmental policies that were projected by the South Centre are “…the development policy space for developing countries in the areas of tariff and non-tariff barriers, intellectual property, investment promotion and regulation, regional integration, industrial policy, and finance regulation; and the environment and carbon space to increase GHG emissions, to the extent that may be required to enable them to increase the standards of living of their peoples to levels commensurate with a decent and dignified way of life” (South Centre, 2007).




Sawin & Moomaw, Renewable revolution: low-carbon energy by 2030, Worldwatch Institute, 2009.

South Center, Integrating Development in Climate Change. Nov. 2007.



[youtube_sc url=”″]

Transformative Change or Bust

Screen Shot    at

            Climate change is the largest challenge humanity has ever faced. The problem and solution in its essence are simple: humans are emitting too greenhouse gasses and need to stop these emissions. However, in reality it is exponentially more complicated. The ability to emit greenhouse gasses in unlimited qualities has been built into the fabric of modern society and the global economy, yet, these emissions also threaten to destroy both. The notion of ‘dangerous’ climate change can mean something completely different for each person trying to quantify it; it changes based on region, capacity to adapt, perceptions on the science and so on. For the purposes of this essay dangerous climate change is already happening, at a one-degree increase in global temperatures, and unacceptably dangerous climate change is anything beyond this. Incremental changes in policy and reforms are inherently unable to avoid dangerous circumstances because it is already happening; there is no time to wait for gradual shifts and transitions to a clean energy economy and society. Transformative and radical changes in the way and how much humans consume energy are necessary just to avoid even more dangerousclimate change.

Currently there has already been an observed increase of almost one degree in world temperatures, with roughly 400 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. There has been relative international consensus, with an agreement to review decision later, that a temperature increase of two degrees Celsius is an acceptable amount of climate change to avoid “dangerous” effects. Thomas Lovejoy, a highly respected biologist, has said that based on what he has observed already in terms of ocean acidification, changes in annual cycles, temperature, precipitation and these effects of biology and biological diversity, the idea of two degrees is to much. He noted that anywhere one looks, “the finger prints of climate change” is visible. Just looking at the Burning Embers Graph, created by the IPCC, risk is created with any amount of temperature change. However, if we quantify dangerous change as beginning with the “high risk” category, that begins after one degree and the “very high” category begins right after two degrees. Climate change has already had measurable consequences such water availability, extreme weather events (such as hurricanes and typhoons) that have impacted human health and safety, and an increase in severity and number of wildfires as well as heat waves.[i] While these impacts have not affected each region and every community equally, clearly the world is already at a stage of dangerous climate change for many.

IPCC AR5 projected global average surface temperature changes in a high emissions scenario (RCP8.5; red) and low emissions scenario (RCP2.6; blue).
IPCC AR5 projected global average surface temperature changes in a high emissions scenario (RCP8.5; red) and low emissions scenario (RCP2.6; blue).

Screen Shot 2014-11-03 at 7.57.09 PM

With the realization that the world is already experiencing ‘dangerous’ climate change, the most aggressively climate-resilient pathway must be chosen. A report by the Worldwatch Institute noted that a transformational, “transition is essential if we are to achieve emissions reductions on the scale that the IPCC says is required by 2050 in order to limit global warming to 2-degrees Celsius.”[ii] The report later specifies that a least eighty-percent below 2000 levels, is required. This signifies a truly revolutionary change in energy consumption for such a short time scale, particularly considering this is based off a goal of two degrees, not just one.

Yet, that does not mean it is not possible. According to the same report by the Worldwatch Institute necessary transformational change is viable in the coming two decades (to achieve the 2050 goal) if a combination of energy efficiency and renewable energy is used. In the “Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability: Summary for Policymakers” the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said with high confidence that, “Transformations in economic, social, technological, and political decisions and actions can enable climate-resilient pathways.”[iii] Transformational changes require mitigation actions on these four levels immediately, through a rapid growth in clean energy implementation and use, a drastically more energy efficient society and economy and the strong political force to promote and implement these changes.

Screen Shot 2014-11-03 at 8.00.45 PMScreen Shot 2014-11-03 at 8.00.55 PM

An effective strategy of mitigation a few decades ago, before climate change was acutely visible, would have involved incremental changes and gradual policy reform to slowly create a low-carbon economy. However, humanity is no longer in this position. The future security of the world depends on avoiding any and all amounts of dangerous climate change. The ability to do this will directly rely on the collective ability to create rapid transformative change that drastically reduces current greenhouse gas emissions.



Work Cited:

Sawin, Janet, and William Moomaw. “Renewable Revolution: Low-Carbon Energy by             2030.” Worldwatch Report (2009): 5-39. Print.


“Summary for Policymakers.” Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and             Vulnerability (2014): 3-30. Print.


[i] “Summary for Policymakers.” Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and             Vulnerability (2014): 3-30. Print.

[ii] Sawin watch 24

[iii] “Summary for Policymakers” 29

Sustainable Development Reborn From The Ashes of Climate Change

sustainable development and natural resources blog rahul

From the predicted heat waves lasting for 100 years to the Arctic Ice melting by 2080 to islands in Pacific being completely submerged, climate change’s projected future outcomes seem dire. The pressing issues generated from climate change poses serious threats for millions around the globe. However, the projected gloomy future could further the development in sustainability. Sustainable energy is often seen as alternative energy source, but in order to counteract climate change, a transition away from a fossil fuel based energy system is needed. Although climate change is inherently destructive, the dangers from climate change have furthered development in for sustainability and depending on future negotiations, the prospects for sustainable development should be accelerated due to an increased demand for alternative energy.

First of all, if climate change did not result in significant risks or simply did not exist, there would be not necessarily be a need to develop sustainable energy. Unfortunately, the human-induced green house gas emissions result in an imbalance in Earth’s climate systems.  This imbalance has called for reform in many different sanctions in climate change negotiations. As policies become more restrictive with CO2 emissions, the demand for alternative energy sources should increase because there will be a need to utilize less carbon intensive energy sources. In areas where the current global energy system is lacking, renewable energy is well suited. For example, sustainable energy’s benefits range from: providing energy to some of the poorest regions to improving human health to creating new jobs. In particular, the major benefit is that it avoids adding more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, which will have long-term benefits in counteracting climate change. The wide array of benefits from sustainable energy and the increase in demand for sustainable energy to achieve climate goals has resulted in climate change furthering development in sustainability.

Although the energy demand is currently concentrated on carbon emitting sources, the risks from climate changes have already resulted in a shift towards renewables and projected outcomes indicate advancement in renewables. Specifically, a trend towards renewables has already begun for renewable shares have “jumped from 5% in 2003 to 23% in 2008” (Sawin and Moomaw 2009). In addition, areas ranging in size and location are implementing sustainable developments by increasing energy efficiency and utilizing renewables. The current increasing trends are projected to extend seen in the global energy scenarios that show “a gradual shift to renewables” and hypothetically, “a transformation or step-change in how the world produces and uses energy” (Sawin and Moomaw 2009). In order to meet the suggested climate change emissions targets in the IPCC, a need for renewable energy may increase.

It is key to note that climate change will negatively impact various aspects, which includes the development of sustainability.  The threats from climate change are and will cause economic, social and political strain. Due to finances, some developed nations will be less vulnerable and have the funds to further sustainability. Whereas, some developing nations do not have the funds to invest in expensive sustainable resources and need to focus available funds to alleviate climate change damage, limiting sustainable development.  Fortunately, there are several strategies that can help solve the issues around implementing sustainability. One strategy is implementing a carbon tax, which would raise fuel prices and encourage the transition to alternative energy.  Another possible strategy is for developed nations to provide finances for sustainable development in developing regions. An additional strategy is ratifying more aggressive short and long-term policies that will help eliminate the support for fossil fuels. Overall, sustainability has is weaknesses, but it is necessary in transitioning away from fossil fuel emissions.

The need for sustainable development would not be as pressing if our current fossil fuel energy system did not have lasting and negative impacts on the planet. Climate change could undermine economic and social goals, but if negotiations are successful there could be a development in sustainability.  As conditions worsen, there will hopefully be more stringent carbon emission reductions. Hence, if future negotiations are progressive there could be a movement towards further developing suitability and moving away from carbon-emitting energy sources.

[youtube_sc url=”” title=”Sustainable%20Development”]

Work Cited

Sawin & Moomaw, Renewable revolution: low-carbon energy by 2030, Worldwatch Institute, 2009.


Another Obstacle on the Road to Sustainable Development


By Maeve Hogel

When it comes to talking about climate change, it is easy to leave the conversation feeling like there is no hope left for the world. Greenhouse gas emissions are rising and policies have yet to be drastic enough to bring levels down where they need to be. Sitting in the comfort of a highly developed country, climate change means having to sacrifice some luxuries, like driving large SUVs, that have become customary. Looking through the eyes of a developing country, climate change hits harder and faster, interfering with the ability to ever reach a point where the developed country’s luxuries would even be attainable. Climate change, among other factors, is certainly an obstacle in the way of sustainable development. Developing countries need financial support, incentives to develop sustainably and help adapting to the damage that has already been caused.

The global nature of climate change requires cooperation from all countries, both developed and developing, despite who was historically the source of emissions. However, even with the idea of “common but differentiated responsibilities” supported by the UNFCCC, developing countries inherently get hit harder by climate change and have less ability to do anything about it. South Center’s report, Integrating Development in Climate Change, discusses that idea of developed countries taking a larger role in decreasing emissions in order to give incentives to developing countries to develop in a sustainable manner (South Center, 7). Developing sustainably, by diversifying the energy sector and increasing reliance on renewable energies can be both environmentally and economically beneficial for a developing country. However, most developing countries do not have the money or resources to implement new policies or develop new technologies. If climate change was not a concern, developing countries could continue to develop exactly how the United States did; by industrializing rapidly without a care about how much CO2 is being emitted. Climate change does exist though, and therefore countries need to develop with climate-friendly policies and technologies. South Center states that future climate change policy “should ensure that the best appropriate technologies for climate change monitoring, mitigation and adaptation be a made available to developing countries…”(17). However, how to make these technologies available and how to finance them are the more difficult questions. Essentially, developing countries cannot develop sustainably, in a world where climate change exists, without the assistance of developed countries.

The path to development is a long one. Climate change adds just another obstacle in order for a developing country to develop sustainable. However, obstacles are meant to be overcome, and it is still possible to develop sustainably in a world with climate change. Global cooperation is necessary and shared responsibilities between developed and developing countries. Getting all countries to make the best decisions, not only for themselves, but for the environment has certainly shown not be an easy feat. Climate change makes sustainable development more difficult, but it doesn’t make it impossible.



South Center, Intergrating Development in Climate Change. Nov. 2007.