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Week 2: Tuesday and Wednesday

The blog is back up!  Now, what I’d been meaning to post since yesterday, plus some today updates, so apologies if this gets a little long.

I arrived in Copenhagen yesterday after a marathon of flights (Orange County to Minneapolis/St Paul, Minneapolis to Amsterdam, Amsterdam to Copenhagen) and hit the ground running. I was informed by the nice COP15 representatives at the airport that in the near 24 hours since I boarded my first plane, the situation had gotten a little crazy, with NGO delegates waiting in line for up to seven hours trying to get their badges. As I’d arrived around 15:30 local time and was already sleep-deprived and disoriented, I figured I might as well try to get in that afternoon rather than ruin my Wednesday morning, which proved fortuitous; through sheer luck I managed to get my badge within about three hours, and to my understanding we were the last batch to get badges, period.

Besides the logistical nightmares (more on that later), the experience so far has been almost surreal, possibly because of jet lag. When I got in Tuesday evening I wandered around the Bella Center a bit as I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to get in today at all. There are representatives of practically every group that has an interest in the climate change issue; before yesterday I hadn’t really given it much thought that there could be a “women for climate solutions” organization (actually there may have been two or three!), then of course there were youth groups (which was encouraging), developing countries, alternative fuel industries, and universities such as Scripps Institution of Oceanography, just to name a few. I was also interested to see the number of vegetarian/vegan advocacy groups there, mostly handing out paraphernalia outside the front gate. I went fully vegetarian about a year ago primarily for the environmental benefits, and I feel it’s one of those often-overlooked climate mitigation strategies. It would be interesting to see delegates at one of these meetings try to offset their travel emissions by eating lower on the food chain for the duration of the conference.

I have to say the thing I’m most disappointed about is, as others have mentioned, the organization of the event (or rather, the lack thereof). Those in charge could definitely have done a better job of setting up NGO access, as well as facilitating the dissemination of information. They say there are about 40,000 people here, but the capacity of the Bella Center is only 15,000.  The solution to this was to limit the number of people by giving each delegation a certain number of “secondary” passes, so in order to get in you need both your primary photo badge and then a secondary badge. However, as of Tuesday, if you didn’t have a secondary badge they wouldn’t let you in to pick up your primary badge (I saw several fellow line-standers get turned away after getting through security because they didn’t have the secondary badges.) What an awful experience to fly all the way from somewhere like Africa or Australia to attend these events, only to be turned away before even getting through the door, or missing your side events because of the registration logjam! Beyond that, even, they are limiting the number of us who can get into the BC to fewer and fewer each day, so the secondary badges don’t even guarantee anything: 7,000 today, 1,000 tomorrow, and only 90 on Friday. Ostensibly this is to keep the building under capacity while protecting the heads of state from the protesters seen on the news today, but it is quite disappointing as those of us left had hoped to see Obama speak on Friday.  The BBC is reporting that some protesters have tried and succeeded to spend the night inside the BC; good luck to them, but those of us who succumbed to the desire to sleep in a bed and have a shower will probably go around to some of the external side events of Thursday and Friday, and with any luck find a closed-circuit broadcast of the proceedings airing outside the BC.  Something like that could probably have gone a long way in placating the masses as well as reducing congestion at the BC, especially considering the powers that be knew the people there would amount to almost three times the capacity, but as far as I can tell there is nothing widely publicized of that nature going on. Most of the information desk people were as helpful as they possibly could be, but there was definitely a gap in communication somewhere along the line.

We did manage to get in this morning, though they had already blocked NGO access to the main plenary. We were able to go into the secondary plenary hall and for a brief period they were broadcasting the ongoing plenary proceedings there. Heads of state were supposed to speak in the afternoon, but as of when they turned off the broadcast there was still a back-and-forth going on between negotiators, which was a shame, as I was hoping to see what el presidente Hugo Chavez and the other scheduled heads of state had to say.

Other highlights:
–on our final descent into Amsterdam, seeing not one but two offshore wind farms.

Offshore wind farm off Amsterdam

–going out to dinner with the group only to have the governor of California and the LA mayor walk in and sit at the next table, with an entourage of about 15. Look out soon for the picture of Tamara, me, and Arnold Schwarzenegger that Rob scored with his excellent communication skills.

John Kerry speaking at COP-15

John Kerry speaking at COP-15

–getting in to see John Kerry speak today. He was very optimistic about the potential for a climate bill passing the Senate next year, but emphasized that an agreement here would facilitate that process. I’m not quite so optimistic, but it’s nice to see sitting politicians recognize the gravity of the situation, and I hope he proves me wrong.

–sitting in the plenary and using the translating headphones!

–and, completely unrelated to the conference: snow!

Snow in Copenhagen (the dark blurred figures are bicyclists)

–Kristina Pistone, Scripps graduate student

The Second Shift

I guess I’m the only one left to start posting!  I won’t be leaving until a week from now, due to me finding out a little late that they actually let grad students attend these things, but I’ll be following it closely on the Internet and will hopefully be able to pick up the blog, etc where Tamara, Brendan, and Grant leave off in the latter half of the conference.  I’m very excited to be in Copenhagen at such an important moment, and am very much looking forward to being able to contribute in whatever small way I can.

Beyond that, I’ll pretty much just echo what everyone else has said: I’m not really sure what to expect, but I hope that some agreement is reached, because it’s too important an issue for me and my generation to keep dragging our feet.  I realize there are economic and political issues at play, but this is too important and too massive an issue to not take action as soon as possible.  We need to stop thinking of this as a national issue and recognize it for the global problem that it is.  I know it’s hard, and expensive, and scary to change, but I hope that everyone can put aside their fears and differences and come together for the long-term greater good, before it’s too late.

Regardless, I’ll be watching the news and blog sites very closely until I leave on Monday!

–Kristina Pistone, Scripps graduate student

On the way

Well, this is it:  my first trip to Europe, and not for vacation. I’m on my way to Copenhagen, along with about 40 thousand or so other folks with a shared interest in having some sort of voice in how the world (all of it) deals with the threats of climate change and ocean acidification (together, “global change”) that are a result of our continued emissions of greenhouse gases. Realizing the myriad possibilities in place because of the commitment made in Bali, Indonesia two years ago to agree to a post-Kyoto plan, the scientific, environmental, and human rights communities have mobilized like never before. It is not lost on me that we will be flying from all around the world, emitting vast quantities of CO2 on our way to and from a meeting where we will ask the world to cut back.  I, for one, fly from San Diego to Philadelphia, Philadelphia to Dublin, Dublin to Copenhagen, Copenhagen to Munich, Munich to Philadelphia, and Philadelphia to San Diego. I have not done the math, but I’m pretty sure that adds up. I better do a good job!  I’m on the plane to Philly now.

Scripps Institution of Oceanography is a premier oceanographic institution and is sending some of the top climate scientists and marine chemists in the world, to offer answers to any questions that our diplomats, foreign and domestic, may have regarding the science behind global change (our delegation also includes a crown prince…). Answers to these questions are often straightforward. Through their distinguished careers, Scripps delegates and others have demonstrated how the greenhouse effect works and what the continual absorption of anthropogenic CO2 means for the world’s ocean. Of course there will be controversy in Copenhagen. There always is. Forty thousand people would be staying at home, preparing for the holidays if we were all in agreement.  But, the controversy is not about the basic chemistry and physics of the atmosphere and ocean. It is not about whether or not global change is real, is happening now, and will continue to happen.  It is instead about just how much change we can expect and just how much financial capital we should spend to prevent it. We are a conservative species. We do not like change. Moving cities, starting new jobs, and changing our relationship status on Facebook all cause us stress.  Changes to the environment around us will be no different.

I’m the biologist. I’m also a grad student. I’m along to speak to the threats to marine and coastal biodiversity and ecosystems and to the people at the ocean’s edges. I’m along to learn. I’m along to point inquisitive members of the media and other delegates to the right people and places to get the best answers about what global change means to life in the ocean. I’m along to blog. I’m along to help interpret why the physical and chemical changes to the ocean are important to landlocked countries in Central Asia and to the Vatican, with its charge to represent Catholics all over the world. As academically interesting as the changes to the atmosphere and the ocean are, they would mean very little to most people if they didn’t threaten life, human and otherwise. So, I’m the biologist.  Maybe I’m being too ambitious. The next several days will tell. The Scripps delegation is coming over in waves (get it?).  Some are already there. I arrive Monday afternoon. My work starts Tuesday. I can’t wait.

–Grant Galland, Scripps graduate student

City, Bella Center Gearing Up

Near Central Station

Near Central Station

Stages are still being constructed and wire is still being run at the Bella Center in anticipation of the beginning of the United Nations’ 15th Conference of the Parties (COP15), but in the city of Copenhagen, the festival has started. Most of the squares in the city center have stages or exhibits filling them. The banners throughout town herald the talks. The first members of the UC Revelle Program on Science and Climate delegation from Scripps got a chance Saturday to tour the labrynthine conference center, prior to the Dec. 7 opening of the talks.

On a World Stage

On a World Stage: From left, Scripps development officer Lori Gremel, University of Washington ocean acidification expert Richard Feely, Scripps Director Tony Haymet and filmmakers Barbara Ettinger and Sven Huseby test out a dais as preparations continue for COP-15 at Copenhagen's Bella Center.

–Robert Monroe, Scripps public information officer and editor of explorations

Climate Change is the Most Important Challenge Facing My Generation

We have inherited an atmosphere saturated with greenhouse gases and a global economy dependent on fossil fuels.  The crisis could reach a tipping point during my lifetime and I want to help mitigate the potential disaster.  COP-15 will be an incredible opportunity to bring together everyone with a  shared passion for trying to solve this difficult dilemma.

Scripps weighs in on AP climate blog

The AP and other wire services are teaming to offer The Climate Pool, a Facebook page loaded with updates from Copenhagen. Scripps Oceanography Director Tony Haymet and climate scientist Richard Somerville have already been featured.

Countdown to Copenhagen

15,000 delegates, 5,000 journalists, tens of thousands of activists in the streets. To put it mildly, we’re expecting a frenzy in Copenhagen when negotiators from around the world meet to address climate change. A group of Scripps Oceanography scientists, students and supporters will be there in the hope of informing the talks with the latest research on climate change.

We’ll be there to talk about phenomena like ocean acidification. We see clear evidence that the oceans are taking up atmospheric carbon dioxide produced by human activities and become more acidic. The raised acidity hampers the ability of shell- and skeleton-forming organisms like coral and clams to grow one of their main sources of defense. It may only be decades before drastic restructuring of some ecosystems begins and collapse of some fisheries becomes more likely.

But we recognize it’s important not to be all doom and gloom. Our researchers have positive news as well. Existing technologies already in use in the United States and Europe can make a huge difference in attenuating global warming and can substantially improve public health in the developing world. This can happen now.

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