Editors' Note: The Center for Media and Democracy is publishing a series of first-hand accounts from the Paris climate conference by guest contributor Alex Carlin, whose observations we've shared on PRWatch from the Lima and Copenhagen meetings. Each entry in this series will be available from the permalink Dispatches from Paris to make it easier to share, but please check back here for new entries during the two-week long meeting between international leaders and the gatherings of concerned citizens and activists from across the globe, despite the recent French restrictions on rallies following the terrorist violence last month.
The Sword of Damocles
PARIS (Dec. 17, 2015)--It is a phenomenal moment in the history of human beings.
Our scientists are telling us that we have been making an invisible air pollution that is so dangerous to our climate that we must change almost everything about our industries if we are to survive. And they are telling us that this meeting in Paris was practically our last chance to plan the Great Transition to avoid this Climate Ruin.
A Parisian filmmaker, Erich Livingston, is making a full length documentary on COP 21 with the working title "This Was Their Last Chance." His title refers to governments ("them"), and their failure at COP 21 to do enough. But his film is about "us", ordinary people. In Erich's view, it is public citizens who now must lead the way to avoid Climate Ruin.
In my two weeks at this momentous event I met a number of public citizens who would deserve to star in Erich's movie.
Enok is a swashbuckling Norwegian fashion model straight out of the Valhalla hood. His giant box beard and Lord of the Rings long hair give him a medieval pagan presence, but also land him on the covers of major fashion magazines and on plenty of advertising spreads.
He told me about his campaign "Fashion Against Climate Change." The key idea is for models to turn down the big bucks if the company is cooking the climate. And Enok has already turned down a few Audis worth of gigs--for example the giant retailer Darty. I asked him, "Enok, are you the role model model?" He answered "yes, it's so important for the kids to see that sometimes it's cool to turn down money." I agreed that the pursuit of money by people who don't need it is, to a great extent, driving Climate Ruin.
Alexandre Novakovski is an IT professional in Paris, but he is consumed with promoting a new political party that is diametrically opposed to the ultra right wing National Front, whose ascendant specter of neo-fascism was casting its shadow over Paris as the conference began.
His party is called FLUO, an acronym that can be translated as Federation of Open Liberal Solidarity. Their first election campaign was overlapping COP 21, and night after night I saw him pulling a wagon full of large posters and glue, plastering Paris with their election message that France should be extremely green, and should be welcoming to all people. FLUO has aggressively ambitious proposals for installing photo voltaic solar power collectors on everything from roofs to roadways. Alexandre and his party have the kind of political enthusiasm that we need to push forward the Great Transition.
Maria Paz Ordonez is an indigenous activist from Ecuador, and a member of the Yasunidos (see below). With passionate effervescence, Maria explained to me the importance of saving the Yasuni forest, and the amazing people who live there. During these two weeks the Yasunidos have been debating what to do about it. Ecuador's president in 2007 had declared that if world governments would donate to Ecuador a total of 3.6 billion dollars then he would refrain from drilling in this forest, but the world's governments failed to pay. Finally the Yasunidos decided they would collect this money in small contributions from ordinary people worldwide. This quest, Yasunidos reaching out and involving people across the globe, will contribute heartily to the Great Transition, and Maria will be using her cheerful mojo to get this task done. Saving the Yasuni forest with small donations is a perfect example of the grassroots doing what the governments refuse to do.
Was COP 21 a success?
The Paris Accord, if you add up the numbers of greenhouse gas emissions, still only gets us to a +3.5 Celsius future, which would be a world of pain and utter disaster. And while its true that if we ramp up the numbers every few years we can get to a livable future, the masses of citizens of Planet Earth cannot be happy with such a "Sword of Damocles" hanging over their heads.
Nonetheless, I believe there are two good reasons to feel good about COP 21.
One, as the New York Times reported soon after the Paris Accord was reached, "the accord is a signal to businesses and investors that the era of carbon reduction has arrived." In other words, financial investors around the world have received a serious warning to dump fossil fuel investments, a very positive development for the Great Transition.
And two, COP 21 gathered together a very impressive array of ideas and people showing us a path away from the abyss of Climate Ruin. I have no doubt that the road did not end in Paris, but rather, it was in this city so rich in historical drama that the movement picked up steam.
Good COP, Bad COP
PARIS (Dec. 13, 2015)--Saturday was the big day for demonstrations in Paris. I went to the Eiffel Tower and the nearby Trocadero to witness the actions.
When I arrived at the large grass field that faced the mighty Tower I saw many heavily armed black-clad security swats manning the entrance to the field. But far from refusing me entrance, they only checked me for weapons and cheerfully let me pass with a smile.
The word had trickled down that the French government had lifted the ban on demonstrations in some areas to allow the big events to happen. Finally, the baton had passed from the bad cop to the good cop, and when it dawned on everyone that prison was no longer the soup de jour, the mood in Paris was a lot more relaxed.
However, under the shadow of the Eiffel Tower I chatted once again with Cecilia Rinaudo, the champion of the Nubian Vault (see below).
She informed me of a brave act she and others from her native Caribbean island of Martinique had performed in front of Notre Dame at noontime. Defying the police ban on protests that was still in force at that location, they formed a circle to perform a traditional Martinique ceremony honoring Mother Earth. Police tried to stop them, but they persevered for 30 minutes. When they finally departed they found a second place to demonstrate, this time, fittingly, in front of the Ministry of Prisons, making a statement against police repression.
Still, the big demonstrations were in fact unimpeded by the police. And there were crowds as far as the eye could see.
The "signs of the prophets"--in the phrase of Simon & Garfunkel--were everywhere:
"No jobs on a dead planet."
"Dinosaurs did not know, but we know."
"Live simply so that others may simply live (Ghandi)."
"They tried to bury us but they didn't know we were seeds."
"Our climate is not your business."
I was not at the Arc de Triomphe, where huge crowds displayed long red banners that ribboned down the Champs-Élysées, these red lines symbolizing the defiance of ordinary citizens.
Since science says not to go past certain limits or we will destroy our lives, this gauntlet was laid down, and it meant that any part of the Paris Accord that tramples over those science based limits will be challenged and rejected by we the people. Five thousand red tulips added some more emphasis to that defiance.
But I did arrive at the Trocadero just in time for the reading of "The Oath."
Organized by Anne-Marie Codur, an economist PhD, this event served as a way to mark the end of the conference on a strong note of agreement to fight hard into the future. Many oath-like phrases were said by Anne and repeated by the crowd, such as vowing to put serious pressure on "all powerful institutions" to take real responsibility for their actions that affect our fragile climate.
But, for me, the key was affirming that now, finally, the Great Transition to the green economy has really started, and it's worth it to make serious personal commitments to throw all our efforts into making that happen.
The Paris Accord--signed, sealed, and delivered just now as I write these words--if you add up the numbers of greenhouse gas emissions, still only gets us to a +3.5 Celsius future, which is a disaster.
But if we ramp up the ambition every few years we can get to a livable future.
Of course theoretical numbers means nothing if our societies don't actually perform this Great Transition in the real world.
And because it is such a massive task, turning the Titanic around on a dime, while it involves a lot of very welcome. healthy, and positive changes, it nonetheless requires all of us to dig deeper than we have ever dug, and to delve into that personal territory where oaths are de rigueur.
Will Superman Save Us This Time?
PARIS (Dec. 11, 2015)--Last night I went to an all night party at one of the several large bases for activists in Paris. This one, in the northwestern reaches of the metropolis, was one of the more than two thousand residences raided by the police during this conference.
Yes, you read it correctly, and yes you should be shocked, it's in the thousands now.
It's hard to imagine that they have the time and personnel for so many raids. You can decide for yourself if you think targeting peaceful protest groups is good policy.
There were gigantic vats for industrial scale cooking to feed the throngs of activists brave enough to enter this declared "state of emergency," french style, where hefty fines and preemptive arrests are currently on the menu. There were leaflets on the table with tips on how to deal with everything related to the police.
Until about 4 a.m. we ate the excellent food, played guitar, and heard South Americans singing their amazing songs. Also highly entertaining was the loud phenomenal throat singing and animal yelping by a cheeky indigenous woman from the Chukotka region of Russia, which is the farthest north and east you can go in Russia. Any further and you would be in Alaska.
We finally needed sleep because an action was planned for 11 a.m. at the Eiffel Tower by the Yasunidos, the defenders of the Yasuni Forest (see below.)
When we left the base in the morning most of them had left their cell phones behind, not wanting to lose them to the grabby fingers of the police who would likely copy the lists of contacts stored on the telephones.
Arriving at the Eiffel Tower, everybody's face got painted with a solid orange goggles pattern around the eyes, Yasuni style. Then, as we sang and chanted, movies and photos were taken for later dissemination. We were demonstrating with the Eiffel Tower in the background, and sometimes we held a banner that said "Leave the Oil in the Soil, We are all Yasunidos." One of the slogans was, translated, "Petroleum no, life yes."
Nearby, a large group of Austrians, Croats, and Bosnians from Global 2000, an affiliate of Friends of the Earth, had finished an action.
I asked their spokesperson, Martin, about their message.
He said that kids from Austria had made messages and drawings on cloth material, and they were sewn together into a giant banner which then proceeded to tour the globe with Global 2000, paraded on marches, and hung in major city centers, but here it had already had been stuffed away.
However, Martin told his cohorts to unfurl it again, just for me and the readers of PR Watch. It displayed messages such as "The earth is not dying, it is being killed" and a drawing of Superman next to a girl asking "Who will save us this time?"
As the Conference is entering its final phase, it has become clear that governments are not going to save us anytime soon.
In Naomi Klein's words here on Monday, the Paris Accord will "steamroll over crucial scientific red lines."
The only Superman who can save us now is that composite superhero known as John Q. Public.
And Mr. Public is quite definitely present and accounted for here in Paris, manifested by the magnificent multiplicity of groups and individuals that I am seeing every day that show a ferocious commitment to solve this pernicious puzzle. They refuse to be slapped around anymore by those bullies and climate terrorists who run the fossil fuel industry, abetted by their willing executioners known as politicians (with some politicians being notable exceptions of course).
But will the carbon cabal conquer, kill, coerce, or co-opt our composite Clark Kent with their cavalcades of cash coated kryptonite? Stay tuned.
PARIS (Dec. 10, 2015)--Yesterday I had the honor of interviewing an amazing woman, Dame Vivienne Westwood. She became world famous in the late 1970's as one of the main architects of the punk fashion style that we now take for granted as a generic iconic look.
She has been active in social causes for decades, notably focusing on climate issues. In 2014, she cut off her hair to highlight the dangers of Climate Ruin.
During our interview she impressed me with her clear thinking and beautiful talent for articulating her objectives. Her most prominent objective is to get people to understand that, at the end of the day, after we agree on what we want to change, the most effective thing is to go out and march and demonstrate.
In her view, if we don't avoid Climate Ruin, by the end of the century, billions of us will have died, and the lives of the surviving one billion or so will be quite miserable. Politicians, to a great extent, understand this, but they commit this crime of "ecocide" because it enriches them.
She has said, "Let’s build demonstrations. Public opinion will stop them...you can have a good time at a demonstration but more importantly it’s a matter of life and death.... we’ve got to keep saying that politicians are criminals and that way people will get the idea that we’re being completely misled and lied to."
For her, an important subset of "us" is the roughly 25% of us that can be called "intellectuals."
With her slogan "Intellectuals Unite," she echoes Noam Chomsky's famous exhortation during the Vietnam War, spotlighting the "responsibility of intellectuals" whom he saw as providing pseudo scientific justification for the war and its atrocities.
Westwood is, with some similarity, calling out to the intellectual class to use their talents to cut through the false narratives of the political class, and lead the way, with their privileged positions in society, to mass demonstrations that demand a fast transition to clean energy. In addition, with this call, she is encouraging every citizen from all the classes to get smart and use their noodle to help us get out of this mess.
Another point she emphasized to me, and also a few minutes later to the journalists and activists attending her speech, was the demand to end government subsidies to industrial fishing, and to regenerate the oceans. This struck a chord with one activist there, who commented that the UN COP process had only now just started to consider including the oceans as something to be specifically concerned with.
This is a bit shocking, considering the prime importance of the oceans in absorbing carbon and heat, and for feeding the planet as we lose huge amounts of arable land.
As we wrapped up our interview, I mentioned to her my idea of creating a social media page where all members agree to do the same thing at the same time, once a month, the first day of every month, at 12 noon Greenwich Time, with the goal of avoiding Climate Ruin by the many millions of members taking progressively stronger actions in unison.
The first action would be an easy but only symbolic demonstration of power, such as everybody putting a green piece of paper on your head.
The next month might be calling for a James Hansen style carbon fee by a certain date.
During each month members will suggest, discuss, and vote on demands and actions. Actions enforcing the demands would be, for example, boycotting BP for a month, going on a general strike for 2 days, not paying certain taxes, assembling in areas to block business as usual, etc.
Dame Westwood was extremely positive about this plan. She looked around and got the attention of her manager, the very capable Cynthia King, and asked her to follow up on it.
With charming enthusiasm she said she loved the idea of millions of people putting a piece of green paper on their head. But she proposed that the 12th action each year be a mass demonstration, or perhaps even more frequently.
In her speech, this 74-year old dynamo continued to pick up steam and dole out the zingers.
"Money has wrecked the climate" she declared, and "politicians are perpetrating the financial system" that continues the wreckage.
"We need the green economy" to manifest itself very quickly or "we are going to kill ourselves." "We need a law against the ecocide being committed by politicians."
If we continue with business as usual, "If you look at a map of the world and draw a line horizontally at the latitude of Paris, all the lands below that will be uninhabitable."
By the end of the century "nobody will be able to deal with it. No water supply, corpses...we must stop it." "When a person makes a first action they become a freedom fighter.""The most important thing to do is to intimidate the politicians."
It was a pep talk that we all need, delivered by a phenomenal woman who has inspired everybody from Johnny Rotten to the Johnny Appleseeds of the climate movement.
The Inside Scoop
PARIS (Dec. 9, 2015)--Today I went out to the UN Conference Center in Le Bourget, a suburb of Paris. I had scheduled an interview in the Indigenous Pavilion with Dmitry, an indigenous man from Kamchatka, Russia, a large peninsula, renowned for its awesome natural wonders, that extends into the Pacific Ocean, north of Japan and about the size of Japan.
The good news is that Kamchatka has not yet been ravaged by the fossil fuel industry. But Dmitry and his colleagues are aware of being in the crosshairs, so they are in Paris to push for some preventative measures to save their homeland locally, and also to prevent Climate Ruin globally. Most important for them is to get the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People included into the Paris Accords.
Crucial is the right of "free prior informed consent." This becomes important when a company wants to come onto indigenous people's land and extract some natural resources because it can mean that, contrary to business as usual, they must first get the permission of the people living there.
As the negotiations stand at the moment, these rights are neither in nor out, they are in that limbo called "in brackets" or, to demonstrate the diplomatic bureaucratese, [in brackets] until the decision is made later this week. Some countries, notably in Africa, are resisting granting these rights because they consider all their people to be indigenous, and they don't want business deals to get overly burdened with concerns over land rights.
From Kamchatka to Alaska is not too far, and in the Indigenous Pavilion I didn't have to go more than a few meters to meet an extremely articulate Alaskan indigenous advocate named Faith Gemmill (www.redoilak.org). She was doing a TV interview, and I was drawn into her passionate argument for a fast transition to clean energy. She was outraged that the future of her grandchildren, and the further generations beyond, could be destroyed simply by being too slow to end the era of fossil fuels.
Almost everybody now, other than the Republican Party of the USA, agrees that at some date we must have fossil fuel free energy. But almost all groups are proposing dates based on some calculation of what is socially or politically possible. Faith Gemmill has the guts to demand a much earlier date based on what the science says will actually save a livable climate for her grandchildren.
She told me about her life in northern Alaska, how they can heat themselves by burning small amounts of wood from trees that grow back faster than they can burn them. She is convinced that science has essentially told us to wind down fossil fuel use within just a few years, and that mankind has enough ingenuity to accomplish that, while keeping warm and surviving quite well.
She proposes that all new energy plants that we build from now on must be clean. Rather than shutting off the old dirty plants immediately, we fuel the transition by letting the old existing dirty plants continue to the end of their ability to produce.
I had recently interviewed Katherine Sawyer, a smart activist from the Global Campaign to Demand Climate Justice pushing an innovative slogan "Rich Countries Clean by 2030, All Countries Clean by 2050."
But Faith thinks it's nonsense that we must wait to 2050 to be fossil fuel free. In fact, for her, 2030 is also far too conservative, she is convinced this weaning off process can be done in a few years. Anyway we really have no choice but to try because we must shut down the greenhouse gas emissions very quickly, for the sake of at least seven generations to come.
Our interview was taking place in the stall of a bright young German consultant who approached me later.
On condition of anonymity, he told me the inside scoop on what was happening behind closed doors in the Conference. Contrary to what was being reported about delegates patting themselves on the back for making the Paris Accords a success, the more prevalent feeling was that this is turning into "another Copenhagen," meaning a failure, and that there was a distinct feeling of doom and gloom.
A big factor was the behavior of Saudi Arabia who was blocking progress left and right. For example, a central tenet of these talks is the distinction between "good fuels" and bad fuels," but the Saudis are adamant in their opposition to making any such distinction.
Nonetheless, there is a growing consensus that we are all in this together now, and that the Paris Accord will give us a framework that we can revisit frequently and ramp up the numbers until we get it right.
A Tale of Two Cities
PARIS (Dec. 8, 2015)--If there is an area on Earth that should never be drilled for oil, its the Yasuni Forest in Ecuador.
With biodiversity so thick that botanists come from all over the world to be stunned by its cornucopia of species, this real life "Avatar" seemingly was well protected from drilling by a clause in the Ecuadoran constitution called the Rights of Nature.
But President Correa of Ecuador threw the fate of this forest onto a roulette wheel when he decided not to honor the Rights of Nature, and instead he proposed to the world that he would only hold off on drilling if the world would pay Ecuador half the value of the oil reserves, 3.6 billion dollars.
The world didn't pay, and Correa started drilling.
A recurring theme in many of the interviews I have done at these COPs since 2009 is that indigenous people's survival and their forests' survival are the keys to avoiding Climate Ruin.
Their wisdom for sustainable living, plus the forests' importance for keeping carbon out of the atmosphere, combine to make these people and their forests indispensable for our survival.
But here in Paris, indigenous people do not have a position that corresponds to their importance. As Crystal Lamenmann from the Beaver Lake Cree Nation of northern Alberta, Canada said about their role in the negotiations, "We don't have a role. We walk around with badges which say 'observer.' We're not allowed into the negotiating spaces."
Trying to get a handle on this problem, I went to the outskirts of Paris to find the bare bones meeting place of the Yasunidos, the defenders of the Yasuni Forest.
I was briefed by an Ecuadorean named Cati Vallejo and a German named Frido Mellin, as they are becoming more and more an international group. They told me some background, that Ecuador had incurred some heavy obligation to give China a large supply of oil, and that this added to Correa's being hell bent to drill.
Yasunidos will be convincing Ecuador to pay off China with oil from existing non-Yasuni oil wells, and from oil saved by the reduced consumption of oil, mostly by utilizing new wind, solar and geothermal power.
After decades of efforts by civil society to protect Yasuni, we are now entering a new phase called "Yasuni 2.0," which includes restarting a referendum election on drilling in Yasuni.
This election should already be scheduled since the Yasunidos managed to get the required number of petition signatures. However, the Ecuadorean government lied as it claimed that too many signatures were illegitimate for the referendum to proceed. The Yasunidos say that this issue will be sorted out, and the referendum can still happen. But in Paris, the best stewards of the planet still seemed, for the most part, on the outside looking in.
On the other hand, in the swank center of Paris, at an opulent theater named Mogador, Hollywood star Alec Baldwin was the MC for a medium- to high-society affair honoring indigenous people called the "Equator Prize Award Ceremony--an evening to honor local achievement and mobilize action for people, nature and climate."
Prize-winning groups from every area of the "Third World" were preparing to go onto the stage to accept their awards for doing amazing--but heretofore unheralded--hard work to keep their respective indigenous areas intact and their people going strong.
Before we all moved into the luxurious theater itself, still in the meet-and-greet-and-schmooze area, free champagne helped to get the two thousand attendees into the right mood.
I asked the group winners from Bolivia, who were wearing traditional clothes, to tell me the one thing that North Americans in the USA should understand about the climate problem. Their president, Nicolas Cartagena Siviora, told me directly: "save these forests."
Inside the impressively dramatic darkened theater, with a projection of a lush rainforest exquisitely filling the background, Alec Baldwin put us at ease with his suave yet down-to-earth charm. The speakers included top notch climate stars such as Greenpeace's Kumi Naidoo and the former President of Ireland Mary Robinson. Between their speeches were slick short documentaries showing how and where the prize winners from around the world had performed their missions.
These films thrilled us on the huge screen with vivid trips into the lush primeval worlds of the climate frontliners, who then, when the lights came on, paraded onto the stage, visibly pleased to be there: to speak a bit at the podium, to get some recognition from Paris, to have received the 10,000 dollar cash prize, and to hear the honest whoops of applause from the big crowd.
If we, as a human race, are going to prevail through this climate crisis, we are going to have to get contributions from the entire spectrum of our culture.
From crusty hackers to Hollywood stars, from the totally committed believers to the dilettantes of radical chic.... And in Paris, tonight, it was the best of times, it was the worst of times, but nonetheless it was a dickens of a time.
The Nubian Vault
PARIS (Dec. 6, 2015)--Today I went to the outskirts of Paris where a large fair was taking place.
It's the latest in a series of fairs called Alternatiba's Global Village of Alternatives.
The first one was in October 2013 in the Basque region, conceived by the Basque group "Bizi!," germinating out of their frustration with the failure of the COP process to avoid Climate Ruin. There have been about 30 such fairs since then, mostly in France. Their empowering idea is to show that the solutions to the climate problem already exist, they just need to be reinforced, developed and multiplied.
Outstanding was "The Nubian Vault."
In a huge swath of Central Africa, just south of the Sahara, from the Atlantic to the Red Sea, millions of families don't have decent housing. If materials such as cement, iron, steel, or sawn timber would be used to build this housing, the carbon footprint turns out to be surprisingly huge, partly because these materials would have to be imported and air conditioning would be needed.
With the Nubian Vault we have a great solution to this problem. The design originated many centuries ago in Nubia, the Nile region in what is now southern Egypt. With basic tools, local cheap materials like raw earth bricks and no wood framing, and simple building skills, you get very comfortable, temperature friendly, low cost houses. And none of that loud rain waking you up from the metal roof.
Promoting the Nubian Vault has been taken up by many people involved in assisting this troubled region, including Cecilia Rinaudo, the woman who was so deftly explaining it to me at her installation in the Village.
As Senegal's Minister of Environment and Sustainable Development said recently: "The Nubian Vault should be supported."
Continuing onward through the white tented kiosks of this Village Of The No Longer Damned, I stopped when I saw the words "Idle No More."
It's the movement of indigenous people in Canada who have been extremely strong and effective in standing up for their land rights, successfully stopping shipments of tar sands oil, and exemplifying that opposition to fossil fuel commerce that Naomi Klein calls "Blockadia."
But I was surprised to find out that the woman running this tent, Emmanuelle Bramban, was from the Caribbean island Saint- Martin, and not Canada.
It was great to learn that Idle No More has now, propitiously, spread worldwide.
And Climate Ruin is firmly on Saint-Martin's agenda as an existential problem, since the world is on track for sea level rise that would wipe her homeland right off the map.
I asked her what is the one thing she would want to tell readers of PRwatch. She answered "stop TPP," the Trans Pacific Partnership.
That's the trade deal that she said would decimate small farming, and for many other reasons send greenhouse gas emissions through the proverbial roof.
She also implored Americans to "listen to your indigenous people" which will help to get us on a better path, with less TV-driven materialistic brainwashing and more in touch with our humanity and with Mother Earth, the path to solve Climate Ruin.
On the way to the next solution, I was interdicted by a vibrant volunteer for Oxfam, Emelie D., who wanted to take a photo of my eyes.
Oxfam is appealing to the negotiating teams at COP21 to maximize their ambition and arrive at an accord that really does avoid Climate Ruin. They want to hold their feet to the fire by demonstrating that the people of the planet are watching them, echoing the chant from the 1960's "the whole world is watching." Therefore they are assembling photos of peoples' eyes, plus their cogent comments, for their campaign called "Eyes On Paris."
People can join the campaign by taking a photograph of their eyes and posting it on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram using #eyesonParis.
Many celebrities in England have participated, including the new Bond girl Naomie Harris, and also singer Paloma Faith who said on her comment: "Rich countries have got to lead the way in doing more to cut emissions to avoid climate change spiraling out of control. That's why we should all have our eyes on Paris--to make sure the world acts in time."
Discredit where Discredit Is Due
PARIS (Dec. 5, 2015)--Last year at the Lima COP 20, Pascoe Sabido impressed me as a panelist who could make razor sharp arguments exposing corporate greenwashing with a lot of verve and a dynamic dynamite delivery.
So when I saw that he was in Paris leading an action against greenwashing, I found his phone number and set up an interview. We decided to meet in a community center for activists in Montreil, a fascinating suburb of Paris known for being extremely left wing.
I arrived and found myself in a base for climate warriors, close to a hundred young crusties of all races, busy with the business of creating a future they can survive in.
It was a large warehouse type space, with the front half turned into a kitchen cranking out mega barrels of food for free or donation, plus a bar with cold beer. The back half had a welcoming sign that said in French "Workshop of the Possible," and it was swarming with climate elves making the giant banners and posters that we all take for granted at the rallies.
In walked Pascoe, and we sat down and I took in his rapid fire discourse.
My first question was about our prospects for avoiding Climate Ruin if we employ a strategy of ignoring the carbon industries, as we go about our business of creating a parallel new economy that does not emit too many climate destroying greenhouse gases.
Pascoe maintained that we can't just ignore these carbon spewing corporations, because they clog up various spaces that we need to operate in, with incessant lobbying taking up available policy space, and with their PR machines gobbling up our mental real estate, not to mention their pumping out devastating amounts of climate ruining greenhouse gases.
He was emphatic that we need to relentlessly discredit these corporations because they won't just wither away. And they must be so thoroughly discredited that shutting them down will become a feasible option.
A good example of this discrediting is the fossil fuel divestment movement, as these industries are now getting the boot from respected institutions such as the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, prestigious universities like Stanford, and giant pension funds like California's two largest pension plans for public employees and teachers.
Meanwhile the greenwashing continues.
Friday, in the Grand Palais near theChamps-Élysées in Paris, some large corporations, in a cynical bid to stave off stigma, were doing their best to seduce with presentations of impressive solar cars and wonderful new bio fuels. But Pascoe's warriors, including Young Friends of the Earth France and many other groups, were up to the task, slipping into the event as normal visitors, and, once inside the Grand Palais, making the Grand Exposé by way of a mass sit-in that featured folks telling the stories of fighting these companies in their respective countries, and generally debunking the message that we don't really need to worry because these corporations, by being clever and high tech, are going to solve the climate problem.
Some activists were detained by the police, but released rather quickly.
We talked about the further strategies that we will need to avoid Climate Ruin. Pascoe zeroed in on the issue of which way the new emerging clean energy industries would be set up and developed.
He said it's crucial that we don't just let the existing large corporations dominate this field with their giant mega projects. Rather, we must insist on decentralized development such as proposed by the Africa Group of Negotiators, a bloc of African nations now operating in the COP process.
This decentralized approach is critical for keeping greenhouse gas emissions to a minimum, because if today's giant corporations continue to run the show with mega projects, they will want this new clean energy to power a crude kind of maximum growth and will perpetuate high greenhouse gas emissions.
And greenhouse gas emissions is, of course, the name of the game.
Our carbon budget is just about used up. Most of the world's coal, gas and oil must not be burned, it must be left in the ground.
And, therefore, Pascoe's point of discrediting where discredit is due becomes crucial because, after all, if these corporations continue to defy what science says we must do to survive, then we will have no alternative to the policy of firmly and finally shutting them down. And to do that, their legitimacy must be firmly and finally discredited.
Bonafide Leap Forward
PARIS (Dec. 3, 2015)--On Tuesday there was a large event run by a Canadian group called the Leap Manifesto, prominently led by the great Canadian climate warrior Ms. Naomi Klein. Ms. Klein's book "This Changes Everything" has already become something of a manifesto for the climate movement, inspiring many with its sweeping overview of the climate problem, and with its explanation of how the many social movements that are affected by the climate problem, but don't directly address it, can connect to the climate fight as an overarching umbrella that unites all the movements, and gives them all a better chance to win their battles because of this tremendous aggregate strength and power.
At the event, the panel, including Ms. Klein of course, discussed the 15 bullet points of the Leap Manifesto, which cover a broad range of issues including indigenous rights, public transit, cutting military spending, and this bullet point #2: "The latest research shows we could get 100% of our electricity from renewable resources within two decades, by 2050 we could have a 100% clean economy. We demand that this shift begin now."
This "latest research" is partly coming from the brilliant Stanford professor Mark Z. Jacobson, who has been trumpeting widely, including on The David Letterman Show last year, his policies that are specifically tailored for each of the 50 states in the USA to get completely clean quickly.
But talk is cheap. Its crucial to show how to accomplish all these bullet points. Ms. Klein spoke eloquently from the podium about her concept of getting people to transcend their separate "silos" of parochial issues to give the movement that combining power to prevail. But she also pointed out that, after this conference ends, we are going to hear a lot about how we must be satisfied with "small steps in the right direction," and while that might have been acceptable 23 years ago after the Rio Conference in 1992, its now 2015 and our "backs are to the wall," and we need to win very quickly to avoid Climate Ruin.
In this context, I was looking for more examples of how to win quickly, so after the event I interviewed one of the panelists, Christian Poll, Member of Parliament in Denmark for the political party called The Alternative. Mr. Poll told me that the way to win fast is "green taxation" on carbon products because it will "internalize the externalities," that this tax makes the price of carbon products internally reflect the external costs that they incur, including the destruction of a livable climate, and that will make the transition to clean energy much faster as the clean energy systems quickly become more and more cheaper than the dirty ones. As he explained this, he agreed that it is essentially the same idea as James Hansen's "carbon fee" (see below).
Then I asked Mr. Poll's friendly entourage of Danish activists what short message would they like to tell the readers of PR Watch on the subject of winning the climate battle. One answer was "Vote for Bernie Sanders." Another said "Eat less meat." A third said to watch the movie "Bikes vs Cars" which opens in cinemas across the USA this month.
Also traveling with Mr. Poll from Denmark is his advisor Helene Hagel. She told me that, despite the climate movement's widely held assumption that governments are not going to fix the problem and somehow need to be forced into acting the right way, we should not forget that politicians actually are not doing their job, and we should not neglect using the electoral process to throw the bums out and elect proper representatives. Ms. Hagel is in fact rather appalled that this job of avoiding Climate Ruin has fallen to normal everyday people, she believes that parliaments should simply be doing what they are supposed to be doing.
Yes, if parliaments did their jobs that certainly would be a Bonafide Leap Forward!
The Carbon Fee
PARIS (Dec. 2, 2015)--How much better would the world be with free transportation? As the UN Conference on Climate Ruin began, the City of Paris magnanimously made the metro free for everybody for two days, and it was a fabulous gesture, starting us all off on the right foot.
Is this what it feels like when governments do the right thing? Is it possible to imagine a world where governments demand a fast track to renewable energy to avoid Climate Ruin?
I made my way to "Place to B," set up as an alternative to the official Conference Center miles away. This place is in the center of Paris, and it was bustling with its two purposes: a work space for journalists without passes to the official conference, and a venue for events such as the speech by James Hansen, the Climate superstar who, as a lead scientist for NASA, came to Congress all the way back in 1988 to tell us what we needed to know about Climate Ruin.
Dr. Hansen retired from NASA in 2013 to devote his time to the Climate Ruin issue.
One of the things that makes him so impressive is that he is focused on actually winning the game, getting it done. So much of what is said and done about Climate Ruin are general laments about the situation, and mind numbing lists of data and facts.
But Hansen, to his immense credit, has zeroed in on one thing that actually can give future generations a palpably better chance to avoid catastrophe, and that one thing is what he calls the "carbon fee." The point is that we need to rapidly accelerate the transition to renewable energy. If the price of carbon was honestly reflecting its total cost to society in terms of its effect on climate and health, then clean renewables would sweep dirty carbon off the floor very quickly by being much cheaper.
Earlier this year, Hansen stated "If we would simply put a fee on carbon–you would collect from the fossil fuel companies at the source (the domestic mines or the ports of entry) and then distribute that money to the public, an equal amount to all legal residents, that would begin to make the prices honest."
When I arrived at the "Place to B," I was pleased to see many interesting people chatting and networking in the first large room near the entrance.
I interviewed a German named Philipp Unger who was traveling the world with a soccer ball painted with a map of the Earth.
One aspect of his quest was based on his observation that if we are going to get that necessary groundswell of every day people demanding a solution to Climate Ruin, we are going to need the worldwide millions (billions?) of soccer fans to get interested. And as the Euro Cup is approaching, Philipp is trying to get FIFA to make the soccer balls "Climate Balls" with a map painted on the ball showing the Earth in a foggy state of pollution. At that point the sports journalists would have to write about it in the sports pages, and we would have a great start to enlisting new legions of citizens into the fight to avoid Climate Ruin.
I had seen on the TV monitor screens that surrounded us that James Hansen was speaking downstairs, so I went to have a look. Hansen was delivering an impassioned plea for the carbon fee.
He talked about his disappointment with the Paris Conference, that despite his lobbying, the carbon fee was not going to be part of the final agreements, and therefore the success of the Conference would be severely limited.
However, good strong practical ideas like the carbon fee will rise to the top, and after seeing the devoted reaction of the crowd last night to Hansen's speech, I fully expect this carbon fee will grow as a focal point for the movement to avoid Climate Ruin.
PARIS (Nov. 30, 2015)--Sunday I arrived in Paris on an eerily empty flight from Munich, the stewardess and I were wondering if the desolate seats were due to the Paris attacks.
As I emerged from the Paris metro, predictably, I was ordered by a friendly gun toting sergeant of security to open my bag for inspection. Finally in my room, I checked the news and saw that I had just missed the big action of the day: a large scrappy protest against the outrage that while football matches and trade fairs are allowed in Paris, peaceful demonstrations about Climate Ruin are banned.
As soon as I heard this news I went to the scene, Place de la Republique, exactly where candles, flowers and signs honoring Charlie Hebdo are still in vigil, now joined by homages to the victims of the recent attacks.
It was evening, I had missed the afternoon tear gas, and also the placing on the plaza of a huge number of shoes, including two of Pope Francis's immaculate loafers, an action that had symbolized the lost right to march, but there were still battalions of police in battle phalanxes, and I spotted a worthy interview subject carrying a sign in French that translates as "Democracy Now."
I asked her to tell me her story. Her name is Stephanie Perdreau, and her organization is called "14 July," referring to the storming of the Bastille Prison during the French Revolution. Her group is calling for nothing less than the elimination of the twin threats to humanity: war and Climate Ruin. She believes that these two threats are closely interlinked, and will never be overcome without establishing a real and vibrant democracy, hence her sign "Democratie Maintenant."
"14 July" has a plan to accomplish their goals.
As her colleague, Gregory Dondas, helped to explain, the main task in their agenda is to disengage from the economies that feed both the "War Machine" and the "Climate Ruin Machine." Therefore, they have planned a "Christmas Boycott" starting December 11 and lasting to Christmas Day. This boycott would involve more than just refusing to buy presents--it would be an almost total disengagement from all economic activity, as much as possible, for two weeks, while discussing how our economy has become almost totally intertwined with the economies of war and Climate Ruin. With enough people participating, the effect would be massive.
The great trepidation that surrounds this UN Conference is that, despite 30 years of warnings from scientists, it seems inevitable that whatever agreement comes out of COP 21 will not be in line with what science tells us we need to do to avoid Climate Ruin.
This disconnect between what is necessary for survival and what political leaders say is possible is reaching a point of absurdity.
It pushes us to the wall and forces us to ask the question "how can this be?" Therefore, while this Christmas Boycott, as an attempt to answer this question of societal suicide, may seem to be quixotic and marginal, it raises the important point that we must decide how much disengagement from the current system is necessary for our survival. Must we cancel Christmas to survive?
But, despite the doom and gloom, this Conference is just now beginning, we have two weeks, and this reporter is full of confidence that somehow we can square the circle and land on our feet. Après le déluge--c'est NOUS!