Palo Alto Weekly

Spectrum - January 8, 2010

Guest Opinion: The road from Copenhagen runs through Palo Alto

by John Kelley

At the COP15 climate-change conference in Copenhagen, I watched the world's leaders try to address the problems of catastrophic climate change.

I now wonder whether our international political system can meet this epochal challenge. Instead, we at a local level must show our leaders the way forward.

At the opening ceremony, Danish Prime Minister Lars Loekke Rasmussen told delegates from more than 190 nations that a deal was "within our reach."

Soon thereafter, however, a procedural controversy emerged, and it became increasingly clear that a binding agreement would be hard to achieve.

Formal negotiations proceeded on many fronts, including the Conference of the Parties ("COP") itself and two primary "ad hoc working groups." Draft texts spoke to scores of issues, including overall goals for reducing greenhouse gases ("GHGs"), specialized rules for land use and deforestation, and short- and long-term financial commitments by developed countries.

I paid special attention to the deliberations relating to technology transfer and intellectual property rights, assisting the nonprofit Worldwatch Institute in monitoring those areas, as an attorney. It was not my first visit to Denmark: 37 years ago, in 1972, with the Vietnam War reaching its height, I was an American Field Service exchange student in Soroe, a small town 45 miles southwest of Copenhagen.

The Danes I came to know were warm, insightful, incredibly hospitable and extremely well-informed about world events. Many remarked that "Denmark is a little land," but one with an enormous global perspective.

The real give-and-take at COP15 took place outside the enormous plenary halls. Formal meetings often broke up quickly. Many assemblies were simply closed to the press and non-government organizations, known as NGOs.

Hallway conversations and scraps left on copy machines gave clues to the real state of affairs.

Numerous "side events" were held throughout the conference. I was drawn to panels exploring the science of climate change and techniques for responding to it.

Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the International Panel on Climate Change, and his scientist colleagues summarized key findings to be evaluated in their next assessment report. Johannes Lehmann from Cornell and several investigators from the European Union's Joint Research Centre described recent work concerning "biochar," a form of charcoal used as a soil enhancer that also captures carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Representatives from Google described how their PowerMeter software can help people track and reduce their carbon consumption individually and as communities. They showed how Google Earth can be modified to monitor deforestation in the Amazon.

When the second week began, it was far from clear that Prime Minister Rasmussen's deal could be reached. The arrival of senior political leaders, however, brought new momentum. U.S. Sen. John Kerry promised a packed hall that Congress would pass major climate legislation. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave assurances that the United States would pay its share of $100 billion annually, beginning in 2020, to ameliorate climate-related problems worldwide.

But as the ministers arrived the non-government representatives were shown the door. On Tuesday, the number of NGO participants was cut from well over 10,000 to 7,000. On Thursday and Friday it was slashed to 1,000 and then to 90.

Many side events planned months in advance were canceled because speakers were not allowed inside.

I was particularly disappointed that an important panel on reproductive rights and population issues would not be heard.

Hopes for an agreement rose when President Barack Obama arrived. He met privately with representatives of many countries. Throughout Friday evening, at the home of friends, we watched Danish TV, awaiting a dramatic announcement. Finally, a motorcade whisked the president away to Kastrup airport. Reports of a deal circulated, but with few details. On Saturday morning, news of both the "Copenhagen Accord" and many countries' objections to it spread.

Since I've returned home to Palo Alto, many people have asked what I think of COP15.

I see it as a half-step paused in mid-air.

We can't tell how far we've advanced or even where we're headed. We could have taken a courageous stride toward a global climate consensus, we might have moved only inches forward, or we may have turned in the wrong direction.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has urged all countries to sign the accord, but that's a far cry from a legally binding treaty. If the major industrialized countries and the largest emerging nations cannot agree to restrict greenhouse gases substantially, if the developed countries cannot make firm commitments to help pay for adaptation measures, and if an enforceable agreement is not reached in 2010, then the formal processes of COP15 will have accomplished very little.

Yet I remain optimistic, for three reasons.

First, as scientific evidence accumulates I believe more people will take the problem of catastrophic climate change ever more seriously.

Second, the voices of citizens crying for change in Copenhagen will not be silenced. While international consensus may be lacking, global consciousness is growing.

Third, while we must demand that our governments enact meaningful national legislation and enter binding treaties, as "civil society," we ourselves must take up the grueling but urgent work of building a sustainable global community.

Governments of regions, states, counties and cities are fashioning initiatives. Scientists are identifying and outlining the environmental problems we confront and devising techniques for mitigating or overcoming them.

Businesses are recognizing the imperative of stabilizing our world climate, and entrepreneurs are envisioning how to realize that goal — and make money in the process. Non-government organizations of all kinds are educating us regarding specific practices and policies that will lead to a sustainable future.

As I witnessed the unraveling of the initial hopes for the Copenhagen conference, I became more and more convinced that we must all work together to build personal, social, business and political coalitions to move these initiatives forward.

The road from Copenhagen does not lead to Washington or Beijing. It runs from Palm Drive right down University Avenue, around the Bay Area, and then out to the rest of the world.

Global sustainability is too important to leave to national political leaders alone. We must show them the right path, a set of Google directions, clear and unmistakable, in multiple languages.

The journey back from COP15 winds through our homes, our places of work, our schools and ultimately our hearts.

"Will our children hate us?" a Danish essayist asked after Copenhagen's anticlimactic ending. I think not. As he pointed out, they will be too busy devising their own ways forward.

But my hope is that they will not think ill of us — and might even gain a measure of respect for our generation — because we decided not to wait for politicians and national leaders to lead us toward a more sustainable world in inch-worm increments.

I believe our children may respect us because we ourselves chose to tackle that problem head-on.

Palo Alto resident John Kelley works with emerging clean-tech and computer-industry companies. His wife, Lisa Van Dusen, is former director of Palo Alto Online. Kelley can be e-mailed at jkelley@399innovation.com.

Comments

Posted by Citizen, a resident of Menlo Park
on Jan 8, 2010 at 2:11 pm

You're right, John. We need people taking action on things they can control. Not just breathing in the latest news like stoned eco-groupies while drinking bottled water flown in from Europe.


Posted by David, a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jan 8, 2010 at 2:36 pm

John,

Could you please describe the session that promoted nuclear energy?


Posted by geez, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Jan 9, 2010 at 5:42 am

all I can do is laugh.

"catastrophic climate change" replaced "global warming" which replaced "global freezing"..


sorry, it is a dead issue.

now, go find something else to use to scare fools into giving you their money and freedoms.

The rest of us..nuclear energy, energy independence through drill baby drill so that we have enough to take care of ourselves regardless of what others do to us until the nuclear and "alternative" energies are up and running.

Or, we could simply do what we've done cuz of the greenies for the last 30 years, and not do anything at all productive..just tax and control our way out of our fears in the short term and end up with still nothing in 30 more years.


Posted by Paul, a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 11, 2010 at 4:30 pm

"we could simply do what we've done cuz of the greenies for the last 30 years, and not do anything at all productive"

Gosh, I didn't know Ronald Reagan was a greenie. You know him. He's the one that shut down all those oil shale energy development projects so we'd have to buy our oil from Iraq (benefitting Saddam Hussein) and Saudi Arabia (the bin Laden family) and Venezuela (Hugo Chavez). And the number of licenses for new nuclear plants peaked in the Carter administration, then dried up during the Reagan years.


Posted by Sharon, a resident of Midtown
on Jan 11, 2010 at 4:38 pm

"The bitter winter afflicting much of the Northern Hemisphere is only the start of a global trend towards cooler weather that is likely to last for 20 or 30 years, say some of the world's most eminent climate scientists.

Their predictions – based on an analysis of natural cycles in water temperatures in the Pacific and Atlantic oceans – challenge some of the global warming orthodoxy's most deeply cherished beliefs, such as the claim that the North Pole will be free of ice in
summer by 2013.

According to the US National Snow and Ice Data Centre in Colorado, Arctic summer sea ice has increased by 409,000 square miles, or 26 per cent, since 2007 – and even the most committed global warming activists do not dispute this"Web Link
Now that we are getting objective data the picture and investment portfolios will change dramatically-- we may have avoided another major ponzi scheme, with some luck-- look for the perp walks soon.


Posted by David, a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jan 11, 2010 at 4:49 pm

"Ronald Reagan secretly orders the EPA to give the financial strapped utility $2.7 billion to help PG&E finish Diablo Canyon."

Web Link

Reagan was a big supporter of nuclear power. However, he was surrounded by chicken little types who opposed it. Blame the chicken littles, not Reagan.



Posted by Paul, a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 11, 2010 at 8:14 pm

"Reagan was a big supporter of nuclear power. However, he was surrounded by chicken little types who opposed it. Blame the chicken littles, not Reagan."

I see. Reagan was totally ineffectual, a pitiful, helpless giant. So much for the myth that he won the Cold War.


Posted by Always Check The Source, a resident of Midtown
on Jan 11, 2010 at 10:42 pm

Nice one, Sharon: Citing an article from the UK's Daily Mail - a tabloid paper with a conservative bent very much akin to the NY Post.
Yep, exactly where I go first to get factual scientific information!


Posted by yup., a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Jan 12, 2010 at 4:41 am

Yes, it is definitely only a conservative view that this is the coldest winter for the world in about 30 years..nothing to do with actual temperatures and snowfalls. And only conservatives have found a complete halt in all warming over the last 10 years, as the earth enters into the cooling part of it normal 30 years warming and cooling cycle probably fueled by the sun's flare cycles and our positional relationship to it.

The liberals, of course, have different thermometers and data, and so the earth's temperatures and position to the sun, and the amount of flaring the sun will do for them, are different for liberals than for conservatives.

So, always check the source makes good sense.

g


Posted by Paul, a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 12, 2010 at 9:47 am

I'm telling you again, it's that liberal big science cabal that's pushing all these warming scares for who knows what. They're the ones with all those overheated thermometers who made up all those temperatures for hundreds of years and made all those trees grow extra large or extra small rings, whatever it was, and fiddled with all those growing corals, and now they plan to cash in their scheme. They are huge, they thought of everything, and they stop at nothing. They do every detail. They are worse than the Priorie of Zion, and Hansen is their big grand pooh-bah. Nobody would do all that for nothing. What do they want? Right thinkers must be vigilant.


Posted by Always Check The Source, a resident of Midtown
on Jan 12, 2010 at 9:19 pm

Paul,

Yea, all those damn anti-American atheist scientists are holed up at the poles with portable Bunsen burners, melting off ice bergs to make it look like global warming is real.
It's hard to tell that they're there because they're wearing white coats, but luckily our savior Sarah Barracuda spotted them when she was watching those damn communist Russians out her window in the Governor's mansion in Alaska. She talked about that at length tonight with O'Reilly.
And talk about a match made in heaven! Obama the anti-Christ is about to get his a$$ kicked by those two! Praise the Lord and pass the salisbury steak and American Freedom Fries, please!


Posted by Richard deSousa, a resident of Menlo Park
on Jan 12, 2010 at 10:45 pm

No where in Mr. Kelley's narrative did he mention Climategate which broke just before the Copenhagen COP 15 Conference convened. The issues revealed in the email correspondence, which was leaked (not hacked) to the Internet by a whistle blower within the CRU (University of East Anglia's Climate Research Unit), was embarrassing. The CRU is a leading climate research center based in the UK and funded by the UK government via the University of East Anglia. The contents of the emails revealed how the proponents of AGW (anthropogenic global warming) tried to "hide the decline" of the world's temperature (the temperature decline began during the early 2000s despite the fact CO2 kept climbing); obfuscated FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) requests by skeptical scientists to examine data and methodology of the scientists at the CRU; conspired to prevent skeptical scientists from submitting research papers to the peer review process to disprove the AGW results; cherry picked and misused statistical methods in their research (Google the Edward Wegman Report and Climate Audit), etc. The upshot of Climategate is that Phil Jones, the head of the CRU, has temporarily stepped down from his position while the UEA examines Jones' research, and Michael Mann, the author of the infamous hockey stick graph, is being investigated by the Pennsylvania State University. The scandal which has arisen from Climategate has snowballed into a worldwide debate as to the veracity and honesty of the pro AGW scientists. From ClimateGate we learn that the data and methodology and computer models of our climate are incorrect.


Posted by yup, a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Jan 13, 2010 at 5:12 am

Richard, don't worry, most of us know this. You know that most of us know it when the best anyone who doesn't want to accept it can do is laden sarcasm and derision.

"Global cooling" frenzy will replace "global warming" frenzy now, and be used, as it was in my youth, by few to whip the kindly intended but ignorant into such fear that they will push the rest of us into giving up our freedoms and our money to the few wise men of their choosing to do with what they will.

And the whole thing will start again. ( yawn) The next generation will do with that what ours did with "global warming" and what our parents did with "global cooling"..just say "no"..until eventually enough people have been poorly educated enough that the majority can't think.

We have to simply accept it and keep fighting it.


Posted by Richard deSousa, a resident of Menlo Park
on Jan 13, 2010 at 1:15 pm

Yup, Cap and Trade is my biggest worry. It's a huge tax on the American people much like a value added tax Great Britain has. Totally unnecessary considering anthropogenic greenhouse gas warming is a lie.

Web Link


Posted by Richard deSousa, a resident of Menlo Park
on Jan 13, 2010 at 1:16 pm

Google "Cap and Trade John Dingell"


Posted by Just Asking, a resident of Midtown
on Jan 13, 2010 at 8:38 pm

So even if cap-and-trade weens us off foreign oil and dirty coal in favor of renewables, it's still a bad thing?


Posted by Richard deSousa, a resident of Menlo Park
on Jan 13, 2010 at 10:35 pm

The problem with renewables is that without government subsidies (your tax dollars) they won't survive. On top of that, you will be paying higher costs for your heating, electricity, gas, etc. The federal government is already running a huge debt... more taxes, what a wonderful way to pay for it.


Posted by Richard deSousa, a resident of Menlo Park
on Jan 14, 2010 at 9:05 am

BTW, Just Asking, remember photovoltaic cells don't work at night and wind power doesn't work if the wind is not blowing or blowing too hard or it's too cold. So they need to be supplemented by conventional power sources like coal, gas or nuclear. All this redundant and stand by power is expensive to maintain so costs are going to be passed on to the consumer. Right now most of the wind power sources are worthless to the UK and European countries as energy sources as they are suffering a massive cold spell.


Posted by Barbara, a resident of another community
on Jan 19, 2010 at 3:04 pm

Okay --perhaps we who believe in climate change are wrong. We all have done a great job of messing up our nest --the air, the water, the soil -- as well as causing the disastrous results of deforestation. What's wrong with cleaning up our planet? And what if we're right?
Good for you, John, for caring enough to go to the Copenhagen Conference.




Posted by David, a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jan 19, 2010 at 3:42 pm

"perhaps we who believe in climate change are wrong"

The problem, Barbara, is that there is a huge cost to reacting to a wrong idea of global warming. Cap and Trade is a tax on business and consumers. Carbon footprint taxes and regulations directly increase the cost of living, which hits the poor the hardest. Our state budget is broken, and decreased economic activty acts to make this problem worse.

I find it amusing that those, like yourself, who are most interested in controlling CO2 emmissions, do not lead the effort to build more nuclear power plants. It makes no sense to put all your eggs in the Amory Lovins basket.


Posted by Sharon, a resident of Midtown
on Jan 20, 2010 at 11:03 pm



FTWeb Link
"The timetable to reach a global deal to tackle climate change lay in tatters on Wednesday after the UN waived the first deadline of the process laid out at last month's fractious Copenhagen summit."

Another rumble in the jungle?

"India, China, Brazil and South Africa, who meet this weekend, are likely to insist on deep cuts from developed nations but offer few concessions of their own."


If you were a member and logged in you could track comments from this story.

Post a comment

Posting an item on Town Square is simple and requires no registration. Just complete this form and hit "submit" and your topic will appear online. Please be respectful and truthful in your postings so Town Square will continue to be a thoughtful gathering place for sharing community information and opinion. All postings are subject to our TERMS OF USE, and may be deleted if deemed inappropriate by our staff.

We prefer that you use your real name, but you may use any "member" name you wish.

Name: *

Select your neighborhood or school community: * Not sure?

Comment: *

Verification code: *
Enter the verification code exactly as shown, using capital and lowercase letters, in the multi-colored box.

*Required Fields