Copenhagen Days 4-5 (Weekend and a Surprise Encounter)

Saturday, December 12 (Day 4)

Still adjusting to the 6 hour difference between Copenhagen and Atlanta, so I slept in and missed my chance to hear Dr. Vandana Shiva speak. (Ed: This is a shame: we've written about her before on this blog.) I'm disappointed, but I've been fortunate enough to have previously heard her speak regarding access to clean water and the importance of organic gardening and saving seed on excellent documentaries, like "FLOW: for the love of water," "The Corporation" and "The World According to Monsanto," which I highly recommend.

After so much time spent in sessions and taking notes, I knew I need to take some time to explore and recharge. I'd done some research into the city of Copenhagen, and once I made it out into the cold, I headed for one of the main commercial districts, called the Stroget. Of course, there were the typical stores like H&M, United Colors of Benetton and even an Urban Outfitters, plus MaxMara, Chanel, Louis Vuitton and several other high-end shops. I was trying to find something unique for my family and friends back home, but this was not the street for that. I've had a major problem lately, although I consider it a blessing in many ways, with buying new, mass-produced goods. First of all, I know that there are a lot of resources, water and energy used to make and transport new goods. Also, it troubles me to read the tags saying "Made in China" without knowing about the quality of the working conditions and wages for those employees.

Fortunately, I had looked up the location of some secondhand and specialty shops on the next street over. One such store seemed to be Denmark's version of a Salvation Army. I looked around for a while and found a few items (a scarf, a cardigan, some pairs of coconut shell earrings, a woven winter hat and gloves, all either handmade or vintage) that put a definitive end to my shopping adventure.

I walked to the most unique and interesting part of Copenhagen – Christiania. Jakob (my host while I'm here) had told me that this area is a must-see for newcomers to the city. Basically, Christiania is a self-proclaimed autonomous community not far from the city center. They have their own laws, which differ in some respects from those of Denmark as a whole, and are not subject to police interference except under extreme and fairly uncommon circumstances. (Wikipedia explains the history of Freetown Christiania here.) I found the area particularly exciting and was pleasantly surprised by the atmosphere and friendliness of the people I met there.

The day ended with a quiet Christmas party, held in a living room filled with the warm red glow of candles. I feel more prepared for the next day of work.

Sunday, December 13 (Day 5)

Today I'm catching up on news, blogging, and reporting back on what I've learned. I spent a lot of time today thinking about how to effectively achieve global emissions reductions and repair our devastated environment, economies and social situations. Without going into too much detail, I support straightforward, effective measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, restore our ecosystems, protect life on earth, empower people to act at the household and local levels and rejuvenate economies across the globe. 

Examples of national and international action I want to see include changing our incentive structures to reflect the true cost of goods and services, including environmental and social externalities, improving education and access to information and technology for people in developed and developing countries, especially for women, and implementing laws that require pollution and toxins produced by a nation to remain within the borders of that nation, thereby preventing developed countries from dumping their "waste" in less developed countries. 

  • First, I would like to see the United States phase out fossil fuel and nuclear subsidies so that they would have to compete on the same playing field as renewable energy technologies, many of which already make more economic sense than coal and nuclear in the long-term but are not given the same level of financial support from the government. Then we need to come up with a simple system of charging polluters for their emissions to further shift incentives and create a source of funding for mitigation, adaptation and restoration projects that would be effective and avoid fraud and interference by corrupt government regimes. This could be a tax on fossil fuels, a price put on greenhouse gas emissions, penalties for exceeding limits on energy use or emissions or something else entirely. I'm not an expert on this topic, but I know that we must overcome the threat of corruption and loopholes in whatever system we create so that it will effectively reduce emissions. 
  • Revolutionizing our education system to meet the needs of the 21st century, rather than those of the smokestack era, would be a more long-term project, and results wouldn't be immediately visible. However, it is possibly the most important thing that any government (or other entity) could do to ensure survival and prosperity for its citizens in this new millennium. Sadly, I am convinced that real changes like these, along with true improvements in our health care system and the transition to a sustainable future powered by clean, renewable energy, have little to no chance of success until we achieve fair democratic elections through campaign finance reform. It is very important for politically-oriented folks to keep fighting for legislation that improves our health, environment, economy and quality of life, without sacrificing government efficiency (by adding to the enormous bureaucracy already in place), freedom or future generations. I also think that we must ALL participate in our democracy at every level that we possibly can (from doing our research and voting to communicating with and even visiting the offices of our elected officials) to reclaim the power that has slipped from our hands into those of the special interests and big businesses that finance politician's campaigns.
  • No matter how ambitious a climate and energy bill we pass, this country cannot achieve the reductions necessary to preserve life on earth without people implementing projects on the ground. We are not all very politically-minded and many people involved in the youth-led climate movement have extraordinary skills to share, but few outlets currently exists for them to do so in this international movement. Many of us prefer to participate in community service projects rather than protests. Many of us want to work FOR something and not always AGAINST something. Many of us prefer not to wait for the day when our governments finally decide to act on climate change, but instead want to take action in our homes, on our campuses and in our communities RIGHT NOW. I am one of these people and know that there are many more. My goals for the coming year have a heavy emphasis on setting up programs and educational campaigns to teach and empower others to use their skills in creative, constructive ways for protecting and improving life on earth without burdening or robbing future generations.

I explained much of this to Robert and McNair (who spent the day
catching up as well) who then convinced me to attend the US Youth
planning meeting that would take place that evening in hopes of
influencing plans for the next week and also for 2010 and beyond. This meeting was filled with leaders from many different US youth environmental organizations, which I won't name specifically–this post is already long enough.

The meeting lasted about two hours and attempted to come up with a strategy for the next week and also touch on plans for the new year. Perhaps I missed the scope of the meeting, because I was more focused on moving forward after the Copenhagen conference was over than concerned with planning actions for the last week of the talks. I knew, along with many others in the room, that there was virtually no chance of moving the U.S. position for negotiating the climate talks. A line has already been drawn by the US Senate. Federal Climate and Energy legislation now rests in their court and they have made it pretty clear that a reduction of more than 4% below 1990 levels by 2020 will not get their approval. Meanwhile, the European Union promises a 20% reduction below 1990 levels during the same time period. So why spend our time engaged in actions where we hold signs and yell or sit and refuse to move until our demands are met when, A) we know that there is almost no chance of our demands being met in Copenhagen and B) we know that in the slight chance that the U.S. negotiating position does shift, it will result in a treaty that will be voted down by our very own Senate?  If anything, shouldn't we be trying to speak with US negotiators in person, rather than hoping they will catch our shenanigans on the internet? I wasn't bold enough to ask these questions at the time, unfortunately, but I'm taking that chance now.  

Our government may not be willing to reduce national emissions by more than 4% below 1990 levels, but we as individuals and organizations and businesses can take responsibility. If Cap-and-Trade is implemented, we can buy emissions allowances at auction and prevent those emissions from ever being released (or at least cause fines for overages). We can work in our communities to improve building energy efficiency through weatherization and lighting retrofits. We can contribute to reforestation and ecosystem restoration to naturally and effectively store carbon in plants and soil. We don't need the government's permission to do this, so what are we waiting for? Imagine the results we could achieve by acting locally, but in every locale.

But after all this discussion, the best thing to come out of this meeting was that almost all the Atlanta youth delegates were in the same room. With a little prodding, we managed to get everyone together for some quality time over drinks and dinner. We came across a Turkish restaurant that had relatively cheap beer and appetizers, and when we walked in, we were surprised to find none other than Dr. Robert Bullard himself eating dinner with several colleagues. What an incredible coincidence! Tony and a few of the others with me have worked with Dr. Bullard before, so I finally got to meet the "Grandaddy of Environmental Justice" who has done so much to put the protection of people back into the environmental movement. Awesome surprise encounter!  It was a great twist ending to a very good weekend.

Published: December 21, 2009