Post COP Commentary


“I attended a United Nations Conference on Climate Change.” I have said this sentence many times over the weeks following COP20 in Lima, to friends, family, and random aquaintences that asked why I spent the three weeks following thanksgiving in Peru. “Afterwards, we traveled both as a group and individually; so I got to go to the Sacred Valley, Machu Picchu, and then Lake Titicaca and Arequipa.” My response when asked what I did with the rest of my time in South America. All-in-all not a very causal conversation, but one I am fortunate enough to get to have.

However, I learned to use only this exchange after several failed attempts to explain the trip. Upon returning home I was frankly shocked at just how few people I talked to that had never heard of the conference, let alone knew that it was an anual event happening then. Initially I responded to the  inevitable, “So what did you do in Peru?” with, “I was at COP20 doing research with my school.” Confused faces egged me to elaborate, “You know the UNFCCC conference?” (always said as “UNF triple C” because as Neil taught us, only dweebs would say C three times). This never worked so I would continue with something like, “Remember the Copenhangen Conference a few years ago? Or maybe the Kyoto Protocol? It was like that but this year’s conference in Peru.” Sometimes this would work, however, I have a suspicion that many of them who just smiled and nodded with some vaguely affirmative phrase, did so not in understanding but as a means to change the course of conversation to a more familiar topic.

After a full semester of nothing but talk of the climate change and the UNFCCC, I had forgotten that just a few short months ago I too would have been equally unaware of what happened in Lima. Finally, my family confronted me saying I needed to find a way to explain what I did in a way that would allow people to understand.

However, I was talking to people who know at least the basics of what is happening with climate change, have maybe even read an Inconvenient Truth or the Omnivore’s Dilemma, fully believe the science, and furthermore, enjoy following world news and current events. They were aware of China- US deal to curb emissions and yet, only a few had even heard of the UNFCCC, or COP, and were able to converse about what happened in Peru. If even the people who are well educated, generally aware and genuinely care about climate change are not well informed of a hugely important and impactful process, how are world leaders supposed to feel a great pressure to make real progress? In not throughly and consistently covering what happened in Lima at the larger news outlets and mainstream media there is an immense disservice to both the public and the UNFCCC process.  I noticed a lack of conversation about Lima even from the many environmental organizations I receive emails from. I usually have an inbox full of updates, petitions, and information about how to get involved in important environmental battles. Yet, nowhere did I see this type of awareness raising or request from their constituents to press for international cooperation and action to come out of COP20.

Obviously the uphill battle of climate change cannot be won if we focus exclusively on the UNFCCC or the outcomes of a COP. The issue is complex and requires action on individual, local and domestic levels as well. However, we need to fight on every front possible, especially the international level, to stand a chance. I believe that by essentially ignoring it, we are all but surrendering.


Pacha Mama


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.


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.

Who would like to turn right at Machu Picchu?

Jo Llama Macchu Picchu

Mark Adams describes Machu Picchu as a sublime sight.  From many google images (and I mean many) I too agree that it is quite a sublime site.  From steep hikes, the changing of altitudes, and the deep history that lies here, why should we not turn right at Machu Picchu?

In Adams’ book “Turn Right at Machu Picchu”, he narrates his adventure in retracing the steps of Hiram Bingham in the process of studying Bingham’s life and Incan history.  Bingham has been accused of stealing and just “rediscovering” Machu Picchu since there were people already living there once he got there.  Adams set out to discover what Machu Picchu really was.

Throughout his journey, Adams encounters locals, comes across untouched Incan ruins, and a funny Australian guide John Leivers who wears the same clothes everyday.  He does an amazing job in weaving together two stories and adding a nice kick to it.  He truly discovered the lost city one step at a time.

Not only am I excited for COP20, but Machu Picchu has been on my list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites to visit.  I am very happy and grateful that I have the opportunity to do two very wonderful things at such a young age.

Take the longest road, get lost, and talk to the locals before arriving at Machu Picchu

Take the longest road, get lost, and talk to the locals before arriving at Machu Picchu

by Elizabeth Plascencia

Machu Picchu (Photo Cred: Martin Lang)

It’s actually crazy to me how much technology knows the individual. As swiftly as my fingers tap along the brightly lit keyboard in front of me, Google already recognizes the “Mach…” and automatically fills in the rest – Machu Picchu. Sure – this once mysteriously epic, wild adventure of a lost city right off the Inca Trail is now practically a household name.

As I was saying, technology knows. It listened to me and remembered when just shy of seven months ago I searched Machu Picchu. My initial interest in the ruins began early on as an amateur geologist interested in the towering Andes. This initial spark was of course dimmed by reality and a lack of funds in the bank. My second wave of interest ignited once more when news of the Global Climate Change Mosaic caught my attention on campus. Surely enough this could not be true. Could it?

Fast forward to present day as I sit here at my dorm desk reflecting on the projection of this semester. Fall 2014 of my junior year at Dickinson College could not be more jam packed with adventures, loads of reading, hard work, and ultimately gratitude. I am honored to be a part of a team that will dive deep into the pressing topic of global climate change.

Mark Adams’ richly descriptive recollection of his Peruvian adventures in Turn Right at Machu Picchu truly was a highlight read for me this summer. Adams presents an organic unfolding of what may have been the greatest adventure of his life; and for that, I thank him. Thank you, Mr. Mark Adams – wherever you may be. I thank him for reminding me to be mindful and thoughtful. One should not just desire to visit said place, rather there be an educational curiosity, cultural tie, pure thrill. Something. I am done with this generation that post “selfies” in front of grandiose UNESCO World Heritage Sites. I challenge anyone planning a trip to this sacred landscape to do their reading, watch a fair share of documentaries, perhaps even read this book, or run by this list written by Mark Adams himself.


Civilization in the Peaks of the Andes

By Joe Riley

The Inca Empire is generally regarded as the largest pre-Columbian civilization in the Americas, but from the 12th century AD until the early 1400s, the Inca people lived as a pastoral tribe in the area surrounding the city of Cusco. It was only after Sapa Inca (the title given to the Inca leader) Pachacuti came to power in 1438 AD that the Incan territory expanded from a small kingdom surrounding the capital at Cusco to a large empire stretching from what is now southern Colombia all the way to central Chile.

Besides expanding Incan territory and consolidating various different Andean tribes under one rule, Pachacuti is also well known for launching a building program that not only rebuilt much of the city of Cusco, but also created such famous sites as the Koricancha Sun Temple, Machu Picchu, and the Capac Ñan, the royal Incan highway system.

Mark Adams, in his book Turn Right at Machu Picchu explores the architecture of many of these Incan sites, in addition to ones built before and after Pachacuti’s reign, all while retracing the steps of Hiram Bingham III’s various Peruvian expeditions during the early 1900s.

One of the most interesting aspects of the Incan architecture that Adams observes is that most of the buildings are constructed without the use of mortar. Instead, the stones are so precisely cut and shaped and fit so closely together that a knife cannot pass between any two stones. And it is not only the buildings that are constructed in this manner, but also many of the stone walls and bridges along the Capac Ñan, the highway system that traversed the whole of the Incan Empire.

Despite generally not using mortar, Incan masonry was very stable. The walls of their buildings were slightly inclined toward the inside, giving the buildings great seismic resistance. In the case of an earthquake, the stone blocks would settle right where they belonged after only a bit of shifting during the tremor.

The Incans did all the carving of these stones with bronze, copper and stone tools. Unlike the civilizations of Europe and Asia, the Incan Empire (and much of the Americas) never went through an Iron Age, and so had no access to hard metals. Even so, the Incans were still able to create “one of the greatest imperial states in history,” in the words of Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizzaro, who conquered Peru in 1533.

Forging an empire as large the Incan’s without the use of iron tools is impressive enough, but the Incans also made do without the use of a writing system. They did have a spoken language, which was a form of Quechua, but there was no form of written communication. Instead, information was recorded through the use of khipus, which were groups of colored, spun or knotted cords decipherable only to a special class of khipu keepers. Because of this, no surviving khipus have been fully decrypted, although it has been theorized that the khipus use a system analogous to a computer’s binary code — very interesting to me as a computer science minor.

The Incans also had no real concept of the wheel. Transporting messages, goods and persons around the high peaks of the Andes was all done either on foot or through the use of alpacas and llamas. It is generally assumed that any advanced civilization needs to have invented the wheel at some point during their history, but in reality there’s only one civilization that invented it. Sometime around 3500 BC, an unknown Sumerian inventor came up with the concept of the wheel, and from there, it spread around Europe, North Africa and Asia. But the concept of the wheel never made it to the Americas due to that little bit of water separating it from the old world. In place of the wheel, the Incas made use of wooden rollers to transport heavy objects, although these were not attached to the object being transported, as a wheel would have been.

The majority of well-known ancient civilizations existed on fertile plains at low altitudes, but without the wheel, a writing system or hard metals, the Incans were able to build a vast and interconnected empire on the peaks of the second highest mountain range in the world, with some of the most impressive architecture of any ancient civilization. How they were able to do this still remains a mystery to many scholars, and with no written records from the Incans themselves, it will be a while until we are able to understand the Incans advanced ways.

An example of the khipus, used in the absence of a written records


Incan Masonry
A fine Example of Incan Masonry


Capac Ñan
The Capac Ñan going along a cliffside


Koricancha Sun Temple
Koricancha Sun Temple


Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu