Copenhagen

Denmark’s commitment to tackling the climate change issue is quite impressive.  The entire city is completely dedicated to this meeting.  It’s the biggest thing to ever happen here.  And “ever” is a long time.  Copenhagen is an old place…older than my country.

They have added a new conference center; they have added bus routes, all public transportation is free for COP15 participants.  A big square downtown has been completely transformed into climate change central, complete with stage, bike-powered Christmas tree, and GIANT magic globe.  Everything is really impressive.

And it’s not just the conference.  The Danes are committed to sustainability in most of what they do.  I was almost hit by a bike yesterday, because the bike lanes look like roads, and they are often overwhelmingly full.  Their airlines are efficient.  They love wind power.  They are a conscientious crowd, and it really shows in their operation of this conference.  More on that later.

One other cool thing:  last night I saw a bigwig UN climate person introduced with concert-like excitement and to a roaring crowd.  I’m sure it was pretty new and exciting for her.  It is only fitting that she was opening for a German rock band….

–Grant Galland, Scripps graduate student

Copenhagen

This city has been transformed by NGOs and interest groups in preparation for COP-15. Public squares, billboards, subways, and even a local small college have been remade with artwork, exhibits, and forums. Many of these pieces are simple messages of hope or pleas to the people in power to “seal the deal.” Others are clearly part of a city/nation-wide PR campaign. Still others are heavy-handed symbolism: a polar bear ice sculpture left by the World Wildlife Foundation to slowly melt in a just-above freezing courtyard. One photographic exhibition with a clear message displayed in a plaza was entitled “Top 100 places to remember before they disappear.”

Naturally, interspersed with all of these are advertisements for the latest green industries. The city hall plaza hosts a giant ball about 3 stories tall made to look like the rotating Earth using projected light. The base of this globe was also the site of a Euro-rock show last night, though they skipped the cover band in lieu of speeches by UNFCCC Executive Secretary Yvo De Boer and some local politicians.

Copenhagen is an interesting and, in some ways, ideal choice to host this 15th “Conference of Parties.” The city is several steps ahead of any other modern city I’ve been to with respect to green practices. I’m certain that some of this is a result of pre-COP-15 preparations (such as the corn-husk disposable plates), but most of the meaningful differences are reflected in the actions of the residents and the existing infrastructure. Windmills are everywhere… including a giant one that dwarfs the rather large conference center we’re in. I’ve also heard the statistic that 50% of the population here takes their bikes to work. I believe it too. They have much larger bike lanes on every downtown road complete with lights and curbs. Weirder still, they’re occupied! I mention this partially as a warning… as a San Diegan, I generally feel free to drift into the middle of bike lanes with semi-impunity secure that, if I get run over there, it’ll probably be by a car that drifted out of the road. Here though, pedestrian incursions are met with fiercely tingling bells and clumps of passing cyclists. It’s exciting how efficient the bikes are at getting around once they have a little infrastructure and room to move. Traffic is also essentially a non-issue… even with the extra 15,000-20,000 people in town for the meeting. It’s not just bikes though… the people of this town seem especially engaged in these issues. Our group had an offsite event yesterday evening, and a large number of the attendees were just people from town who were curious about ocean acidification.

Also curious about ocean acidification?  More entries to come! Unfortunately my ability to write about what’s going on is being outpaced by seeing neat things to ramble about…

–Brendan Carter, Scripps Oceanography graduate student

Day One

For 15,000 people jamming into a room, the first day of COP-15 was remarkably peaceful. During opening remarks, several world leaders called for negotiators to get the job done. IPCC Chairman and director general of Indian research institute TERI proclaimed that addressing climate change would scarcely stall global economic growth and would be far less expensive than inaction in the long run.

Scripps researchers took part in informal information sessions and panel discussions. After a screening of the film “A Sea Change,” which deals with the threat of ocean acidification, Scripps Oceanography Director Tony Haymet was among several researchers to field audience questions. Asked if he were optimistic about the conference’s prospects, he responded that he was. “I’m cautiously optimistic because we’re all here. More than 125 countries are at the table.”

Out in the streets, each of the central city’s stages seems to be hosting a concert stage where advocacy groups are firing up crowds. They’re half political rallies, half dance concerts. By far the largest is the Hopenhagen venue off the city town hall.

An enormous globe dominates the downtown Copenhagen skyline.

An enormous globe dominates the downtown Copenhagen skyline.

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

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

Countdown to Monday

Copenhagen is simultaneously gearing up for Christmas and COP15, which starts tomorrow with opening ceremonies and the first sessions. A public awareness campaign on the issue of ocean acidification is underway around the city thanks to the efforts of Scripps partner Oceana, which will host an official briefing on the subject Monday morning

Street scene in downtown Copenhagen during COP15

Street scene in downtown Copenhagen during COP15

Scripps researchers are gearing up for their own media events on ocean acidification, emissions verification and air pollution.

Scripps biological oceanographer Victoria Fabry on the Copenhagen Metro

Scripps biological oceanographer Victoria Fabry on the Copenhagen Metro

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

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

Big News, Small News

Breaking news from the AP about Obama and COP-15: http://tinyurl.com/yl2qa8u.  The good news is that he’ll now attend the summit when it matters most. The bad news is that many from the Scripps delegation will be gone by then, meaning we won’t get a chance to hang out with him!

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

What's Dwight Eisenhower's most famous quote?

Every time I get my passport renewed, the replacement I get in the mail is significantly fancier than the one I had before. The one I got this summer has some sort of computer chip in it. I don’t know what it does.

And each page is elegantly inscribed now with a quotation from one famous American or other. JFK, Teddy Roosevelt, etc.

I must admit famous sayings ascribed to Dwight David Eisenhower don’t roll off my tongue, other than the term “military-industrial complex,” which would just look funny on a passport. But, on the plane ride to Copenhagen, I noticed that there’s one in the passport that’s attributed to him that I hadn’t ever read before. It reads, “Whatever America hopes to bring to pass in the world must first come to pass in the heart of America.”

Next week, the U.S. delegation arrives in Copenhagen to persuade other countries to agree to its preferred course of action to limit greenhouse gas emissions and bargain with representatives of other nations who will try to get the U.S. delegates to agree to something they prefer. I’ll be thinking of Eisenhower’s quote and watching with interest to see how American negotiators will work the room at COP-15. Really I’m interested to better understand what they want to get from the conference in the big-picture sense. What is best for America, knowing what we know at this point about climate change? What’s in our collective heart?

Uh oh. Now I’m channeling another voice from the 1950′s thinking how to answer this. This quote from Rod Serling defining the Twilight Zone: “It lies between the pit of man’s fears and the summit of his knowledge.” See, now that rolls off the tongue but I don’t think that’ll ever pass as passport material. Oh man. Now I have the Twilight Zone intro music stuck in my head.

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

Getting Ready…

The Scripps delegation is traveling over in waves.  My advisor and I leave tomorrow morning and we will arrive at almost the same hour (after some time zone hijinx) the next day. Right now we’re saying goodbyes and getting ready.  Of course, readying oneself suggests preparing to meet an expectation, and at the moment I’m entirely unsure of what to expect.

As a graduate student my role is simple: staff a booth, get out Scripps’ press materials, stay out from underfoot, and direct as many people as possible to speak with the senior scientists in our delegation. Thankfully, this meshes well with my duty as a concerned earthling.  I can imagine a number of ways we can respond as individuals/cities/states/nations/a species to the climate issue, but the only viable ways begin by focusing on the science.

So far getting ready has mostly just entailed reading and downloading recent climate research outside of my immediate discipline.  For anyone wanting a read-able summary of this body of research (as of 2007) I suggest the 4th IPCC report for policymakers or, if you’re feeling more ambitious, the report for scientists (available piecemeal here)

Perhaps the most daunting preparation for a graduate student raised on Scripps formality though…finding that pair of dress socks.

–Brendan Carter, Scripps Oceanography graduate student

 
scripps oceanography uc san diego