<![CDATA[Stanford @ COP21 - Blog]]>Mon, 11 Jan 2016 19:40:02 -0800Weebly<![CDATA[Why I Took the Night Off When History Was Made]]>Tue, 15 Dec 2015 22:44:56 GMThttp://www.climate-stories.org/blog/why-i-took-the-night-off-when-history-was-madeWhen French Foreign Minister banged the gavel and declared the first truly global climate agreement passed, I was enjoying a relaxing evening in Paris. Sharing a simple dinner with friends, strolling along the streets of the City of Lights, enjoying a hot chocolate on a chilly winter night.

Last Saturday, after two intense weeks of negotiations, the United Nations adopted the Paris Agreement—a document meant to commit all the world’s nations to taking action against climate change. Yet the accord is striking for how much it doesn't do. It doesn't set binding targets for countries to reduce their emissions, nor does it commit developed countries to provide the money vulnerable communities sorely need. It does reflect, for the first time, a goal of limiting global warming to below 1.5°C, but does not specify how this will be achieved. I’m not surprised. After spending months studying the climate negotiations process, I expected the outcome of a system built on global consensus to lean towards preserving the status quo. And it has.

UN Secretary-General Ban-Ki Moon called it a “monumental triumph.” President Obama said, “I believe this moment can be a turning point for the world.” Indeed, the world will surely remember December 12 as a historic day: the day humanity decided to save itself.

But in my eyes, history is made not in the signing of a single document. It's made in the determined labor of millions of people working towards a brighter future.

It's made on the sacred land of indigenous peoples, where people are fighting to protect their homes and cultures from petroleum companies seeking to profit from their destruction.
It's made in the streets of New York and Paris and London, where hundreds of thousands of people have come together again and again to demand a better future.

It's made in the hard work of journalists like Chai Jing, whose documentary about China’s air pollution crisis shocked a country into action, and the LA Times team that exposed ExxonMobil’s terrible history of funding climate denial.

History is found in the labs of the climate scientists whose research uncovered the crisis that threatens human society as we know it, and in the ingenuity of policymakers and innovators figuring out how to solve it.

So while the world hailed the agreement—some in celebration, others in disappointment—I took the night off, because for now, my work lies elsewhere. It lies in helping to strengthen the global grassroots to reclaim our planet and our economy from the powerful corporations and politicians that control it. It lies in working together with my classmates and colleagues to figure out how we’re going to fulfill a just transition to a democratic, sustainable, and just world.

COP 21 is finally over. But my work—our work—is far from done.
Charlie Jiang is a senior at Stanford University majoring in Engineering Physics.
<![CDATA[​Earth To #EarthToParis]]>Tue, 15 Dec 2015 18:19:52 GMThttp://www.climate-stories.org/blog/earth-to-earthtoparisAt the beginning of the second week, I attended EarthToParis, the United Nations Foundation and National Geographic’s star-studded advertisement for the COP21 climate negotiations. Its back-to-back speeches broadcast live to tens of thousands around the world, but a select live audience of several hundred also gathered at Le Petit Palais. There, stunning production value, cutting edge style and artistic coordination, and some of the climate world’s leading figures came together to reinforce an elite community’s complacency on climate.
Initially the brainchild of a tech tycoon introduced as “founder of a magazine for people who want to live well and do good”, EarthToParis was steeped in the familiar mindset of what Bill Wasik calls “digital imperialism”. Here, alongside a conference which brought 150 heads of state and 185 nations together to settle arguments over $100 billion in annual climate finance, over the difference between 1.5° and 2° aspirations (and thus over the lives of some 50 million people), the number with which EarthToParis was concerned were different. “There have been over a billion impressions” made via #EarthToParis, the emcees crowed.
“The #EarthToParis hashtag,” we were told by the United Nations Foundation’s enthusiastic head of marketing, is “a way of allowing people around the world to band together.” This event was a “true example of what it means to build a global community,” another luminary continued. “For all of us, we are acting on this. We have all put our hopes into a good outcome here in Paris. I just want to say that I see your efforts, I recognize your efforts.”
In between the selfie wall and the free catered lunch, in the quite-literally gilded halls of a commandeered public museum, this was action. To convene in a well-appointed room, to assemble around themselves the actors, politicians, scientists, and athletes whose names have become synonymous with climate change, this was action. The assertion that this vapid self-congratulation satisfied any sort of ethical responsibility, or much less deserved special recognition, was off-putting.
“Today, we are sharing a video,” they announced in the face of the hundreds of thousands of videos which already smother this issue. “Be bold!” was the mantra and the catchphrase to a campaign which asked its participants to hold up a hashtag for a two-second clip. It suggested blindness to the true courage which, under a thousand different banners and entirely without a press pool or a publicist, has been confronting climate change across the globe. Though of course most in the room knew this well, the campaign’s conquistador mindset revealed that its point had always been to preserve complacency.
"We are the first generation,” they told the audience, “to take this seriously." In the face of many communities who have been fighting this fight for generations, they're still right, because this is what taking something seriously looks like to a moneyed elite which is concerned primarily with itself and its reputation. They've wrapped it in the rhetoric of action and the body language of sleepwalking. They've summoned the moral authorities - famous scientists, civic leaders, corporate giants from all corners - to deliver a message of satisfaction: You are the good ones. By acknowledging the issue and its relevance, you have done enough.

The history of climate change is in many ways a history of the failure of the industrial and political elite. Each surge of Mauna Loa’s CO2 measurements, as we are now learning for certain through the investigative work of the LA Times and other media outlets, traces a back-room deal, an intimidated scientist, or a corporate collusion. The great lesson of global warming is that free markets and free entrepreneurs do not hold themselves to high ethical standards. It is because of this, as well as because of the tremendous new frontiers of necessity which climate change has opened, that we must make this a deeply educational moment for society’s wealthiest members.
I don’t intend to belittle the democratic power of social media, which truly can elevate marginalized voices and provide a platform for issues which centralized institutions aren’t interested in confronting. And I certainly don’t mean to denigrate the content which EarthToParis provided. A string of brilliant speakers, from Jerry Brown to Irina Bokova, had truly important and substantive things to say. The convening power of this event was tremendous, but that power was used to reinforce rather than to critique, to placate rather than rile up.
What we need to tell our elites is how they are failing. Instead, the elite marshal their resources to hear how they already know enough—to hear how knowing is enough. Quite simply, this is a fatal perversion of the ethical mandates of power.
—Josh Lappen, Earth Systems
<![CDATA[Stories Outside]]>Mon, 14 Dec 2015 18:16:41 GMThttp://www.climate-stories.org/blog/stories-from-outsideMany of my fellow students have written about the difficulty of breaking through the unnerving veneer and polished messaging of the Climate Generations Area. These impressions ring true to me, so I’m going recount two experiences I have had in places outside of Le Bourget.
The first comes from a conference put on by the Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network (WECAN) about women on the front lines of climate change. The event was held in a large conference room in a Marriott in the center of Paris, but despite the corporate setting, the atmosphere was raw, honest, and genuine. The audience was almost entirely women, and attendees hailed from as far abreast as the Philippines and the Ecuadorian Amazon.
The event’s host opened by talking about why including women worldwide is so critical in an effective response to climate change. Some particularly salient points were:
  • Studies show that involving women in peacebuilding processes increases the chances of success by more than 25%.
  • Because women produce 60-80% of food consumed in the developing world, they must be involved in discussions of food security and food sovereignty. They hold the social capital and expert knowledge needed to change food systems.
  • By modeling small scale solutions that have a large impact, women are the antithesis to the top-down, profit-driven processes imperiling effective adaptation initiatives.

​She also talked about some of Women and Gender Coalition's goals for the Paris Agreement, which include a 1.5 C warming target and inclusion of language about the rights of women in the operative text.
Next a series of speakers talked about climate change impacts in their communities. It was a powerful set of stories, and I was particularly moved by a woman from a Native American reservation in North Dakota whose community was forced to move when the federal government discovered oil on their land.
The North Dakota woman talked about how women have always played a central role in the balance of life, saying that when it comes to our relationship to the planet, “you cannot expect to take and take and take without ever giving back.” She also expressed her frustration with making her voice heard within the UNFCCC process, saying, “Women and indigenous people have the answer if you would just listen to us and stop telling us what’s best for us.”
I left the event feeling simultaneously empowered by all of the brave women who had spoken and frustrated that their voices are still on the fringe of the COP. But in future times when I need strength or inspiration I’ll look back on a favorite quote from the day: “We women, we can do anything. We carry our babies on our backs and run through the jungle at night. We can do anything.”
The second experience I’d like to recount was an interview I conducted with Princess Lucaj, a Gwich'in Athabascan woman with the Indigenous Environmental Network. I met Princess mid-morning, in a flat she’d rented with her family for the week they are in Paris. Her husband, brother, and two sons were with here, and there was something about literally sitting down at the kitchen table in the midst of her family that erased the usual barriers of Le Bourget.
While Princess and I spoke about a lot of topics, by far the most memorable part of the interview for me was the following story:
“My mom, when I was a little girl, shared a story with me. We were living in Los Angeles and went by all the oil rigs... We used to call them grasshoppers or dinosaurs. They looked prehistoric.
One day I asked my mom, ‘What are those?’ She said, ‘A long time ago, Mother Earth buried all these toxins deep inside of her body because she didn’t want them to harm the species on the surface of the earth, and those rigs are drilling it back up.’ And I was just like, ‘Well, why? That doesn’t make any sense.’
And that story left such a deep impression on me, and just a little while after that we visited Little Brea Tar Pits. And there was this little bird that had all that oil on its feathers, and it was alive. And I had a stick—I was five—and I was trying to get it out [of the oil] and my mom said, ‘You just have to let it go - we can’t do anything about it.’
Later when I saw what happened with Exxon Valdez, I thought, ‘We cannot continue to do this to ourselves. We’re doing it to ourselves.’ It’s not living in balance. It’s not living in harmony…[but] I feel like in some sense that we were meant to be at this crux, this precipice, and I do feel like we are being spiritually called upon to figure it out.”
I loved this story because it was so vivid and honest and different from most what I’d been hearing during the COP. Princess’s ability to see such traumatizing experiences as a call to action was very inspiring to me, and is something I would like to remember in years to come. 
Laura Crews, B.S. Candidate 2016, Environmental Systems Engineering
<![CDATA[The Idolatry of Forests]]>Mon, 14 Dec 2015 18:01:10 GMThttp://www.climate-stories.org/blog/the-idolatry-of-forestsAs an ecologist, most of my scientific peers and advisors feel a special affinity the ecosystem they’ve spent the most time in. My advisor spent most of his life in the rainforest and calls these beautiful forests “his ecosystem.” I’ve done a bit of research in the rainforest, and if I go back again it might become my ecosystem too.
Despite this deep personal connection, every ecologist understands the importance of every ecosystem in making up the environmental constellation that is our planet. Only a fundamentally bitter, hostile scientist would call out from the rainforest to say that savannas are useless, because they know deep down in their ecological hearts that it’s not true.
But here at COP, people have a different view of things. Forests and deforestation, almost exclusively with regards to rainforest, define the conversation around conservation. Ocean ecosystems, and every other terrestrial ecosystem, are barely discussed. Even in terms of COP’s pet project, the "ecosystem storage of carbon," things like blue carbon and soil carbon were touched on only ever-so-slightly.
When people think of conservation, the first thing that comes to mind is likely an immaculate rainforest with a jaguar or tiger slinking away in the shadows. This image has been nurtured by NGOs over the decades, and as far as raising money is concerned, it’s working. Many European countries are prioritizing rainforest conservation, with an estimated $10 billion going to this alone.
I understand that this flow of money to conservation is remarkable, but I still see a problem. Rainforests hold much of the world’s diversity of species, but when you look at the whole Amazon basin, an area nearly the size of the continental United States, the species makeup barely changes from one side to the other. Cultivating this image of rainforests as quintessential nature is ineffective, even detrimental. Here’s why.
The Amazon has been a beacon of hope for conservationists. Deforestation has declined by 80% over the past decade and Brazil has pledged to get to zero net emissions through deforestation by 2030. Much of this decrease was accomplished by policies that focused on agricultural intensification of already deforested land, moving from cattle pasture (1 cow per hectare) to intensive soybean or sugarcane production. However, all this conserved rainforest displaced land conversion to the Cerrado, Brazil’s diverse savanna ecosystem southeast of the Amazon.
As of 2010, 47% of Brazil’s Cerrado was intact. Tropical savanna ecosystems like the Cerrado are known for their incredible diversity, which is comparable to rainforest. In Brazil, the Cerrado region is also crucial for water resources in the region, with three major watersheds originating in this grassland area. Keeping the ecosystem intact is critical to conserving this water.
Additionally, rainforests store less carbon than many other ecosystems. Native grasslands like the Cerrado, as well as wetlands, mangroves and seagrass beds all store significantly more carbon belowground than most rainforests store in general. Even unsexy boreal forests are much better at growing aboveground carbon. Sure, their wide global extent makes rainforests a crucial part of the global carbon budget, but it would be much more effective to use limited carbon funds to focus on conserving mangroves or restoring peat bogs.
This isn’t to say the points I mention are completely absent from the conversation. Marine scientists have been increasingly calling for greater recognition of blue carbon (carbon stored in marine ecosystems). Terrestrial scientists are stressing the importance of all threatened ecosystems in conservation and carbon accounting. However, these conversations are alarmingly absent from broader discussions at COP.
I wrote earlier about the ‘living forest’ proposition presented by an indigenous tribe from Ecuador, which proposes an inherent valuing of the biological and spiritual balance of the natural forest. But why forest? Why not savanna, or a coral reef, or tundra? Of course, this tribe came from the rainforest and likely did not have the ecological context for other areas. However, the rest of the international system mirrors this view.
In 2011, countries agreed upon the Bonn Challenge, which called for 150 million hectares of reforestation by 2020. It’s an enormous call to action, but in many ways a misguided one. The Bonn Challenge looks at potential forest cover, much of which includes native non-forest ecosystems that regulate tree cover through fire or herbivore disturbance.  Planting trees in these areas would destroy the native ecosystem and could lower the water table in water-stressed areas and threaten native species.
So although I’m ecstatic to see all the money going towards rainforests, there is little philanthropic acknowledgement of the intricacies of holistic ecosystem conservation. NGOs have relied on the charismatic image of rainforests in danger, promoting this simplistic view. But we have to start working with a wide swath of endangered, critical ecosystems.  Conservation is not about rainforests; it’s about nature and the beautiful diversity of the world we live in. When it comes to climate change, it’s clear we’re going to need all of our natural ecosystems. Let’s make sure it’s a strong system before we start throwing catastrophic climate change at it. 
—Evan Patrick, Earth Systems, Class of 2016
<![CDATA[Climate in the Commonwealth]]>Sun, 13 Dec 2015 18:53:24 GMThttp://www.climate-stories.org/blog/climate-in-the-commonwealth
Member countries of the Commonwealth (Source: thecommonwealth.org)
COP21 has multiple groupings of countries, some official, some unofficial: developed, developing, G77, small island states, OECD and more. However, one grouping of particular interest to me is the Commonwealth. A side event in the Green Zone of COP21 brought together youth from Commonwealth countries to discuss climate change, spearheaded by the Commonwealth Youth Climate Change Network. The panel featured six individuals, each representing a country once colonized by the British Empire. Being from Jamaica—also a former colony and now a member of the Commonwealth—I was excited to observe the event.

The Commonwealth countries (or more accurately, “The Commonwealth of Nations”) refers to a group of 53 countries that were mostly territories of the former British Empire. On one level, Commonwealth countries are united by the English language, culture and their “shared values of democracy, human rights, and the rule of law”, according to the Commonwealth website. On a deeper level, however, a legacy of being historically exploited and systematically disadvantaged also unites us. The legacy of colonization can still be observed in many, if not all, of these Commonwealth countries.
One woman from Mauritius spoke about the project of which she was a part that was seeking to have Mauritius be one of the first ten countries to have a nation-wide ban on plastic bags. One other man spoke of the old-phone recycling program he started in the Southern African region and how one can respond to climate change while working for-profit. The mood of the event was generally light-hearted and cheery, filled with laughs and a lot of optimism from the different panelists. I was happy to see a great deal of optimism from my Commonwealth peers, and I was also happy to engage in the general cheeriness of the side event.

However, a question kept popping up in my head that I felt compelled to ask some of the panelists after the side event had concluded: What do you guys think of the influence of the legacy of colonialism on climate change response and on the “playing out” of the COP 21 negotiations?
The responses to my question amazed me. However, it was also a relief to hear these responses because they showed me that people were still aware of how past colonialism, or even neo-colonialism can impact the outcome of these climate negotiations.

One panelist, who was from Jamaica (like me), told me that she personally felt that the negotiations were a farce. She pointed to the continuous debate over the fate of the Green Climate Fund, as one example, as well as the potential negative impacts that REDD+ may have on groups of people who are living in and who have historically managed forest spaces. Additionally, as several small countries are pushing for a 1.5°C limit, there is pushback from more powerful countries against this limit, even though recent science would advocate more for a 1.5°C limit (as opposed to 2°C).

​Another panelist also told me that while she was optimistic of the Commonwealth Youth Climate Change Network in itself, more broadly she was worried how these negotiations may contribute to neo-colonialism in her country, Samoa. For instance, she spoke of the impact that her country’s national debt was having on their negotiations with corporations and bigger countries to aid in climate change response.

​These concerns are all alarming, but well justified. With the release of recent draft texts, combined efforts of current INDCs allegedly do not even allow the limiting of global temperature to 2°C by the end of this century.

On the topic of colonialism, however, it is interesting to see that rich countries are seemingly evading their financial obligations to poorer, historically exploited countries. The prospects of the Green Climate Fund remain uncertain. Meanwhile, some influential formerly imperialist (some would contend currently imperialist) countries such as the United States, Spain, and Japan, had not, as of April 2015, signed contributions to the Green Climate fund. Not to disregard the economic challenges that some of these “rich” countries face, it is still imperative to address the ethical ramifications of such evasive actions towards climate change response. Funding climate change response for developing countries is not just an issue of the rich helping the poor.

Historically, a lot of current developing countries were exploited and victim to extractive institutions which to this day still impacts their capacity to put together and run functional national institutions that serve their respective societies. Climate justice is not just about the fair treatment of all people and freedom from discrimination with the creation of climate change response policies. Justice also has a compensatory dimension; there is an obligation for certain powerful countries to assist formerly colonized countries to correct for the disadvantages that they currently face from historic oppression.

So yes, I was relieved to know that my Commonwealth peers were still aware of how past colonialism and neo-colonialism can impact the outcome of these climate negotiations. However, it is my hope that other groups of people will also acknowledge the impact of the legacy of colonialism on each country’s negotiating capacity. Rich countries are not “doing developing countries a favor” by funding the GCF and involving forest communities of people in REDD+ management. It is through historically-based obligations that developing countries are entitled to such funds, to a 1.5°C limit, and to equitable management of local resources. Hopefully the negotiators and higher powers of the most powerful countries realize that very soon.
—Mikhail Grant is a senior majoring in Atmosphere/Energy
<![CDATA[The Three Branches of International Climate Negotiations]]>Sun, 13 Dec 2015 18:11:38 GMThttp://www.climate-stories.org/blog/the-three-branches-of-international-climate-negotiationsOver the course of my stay in Paris, I have witnessed the activities and interactions of three basic action arms at COP21. First, there is civil society, which works to bring about meaningful change through large social movements. This arm includes both large NGOs and individuals like you and me. Then, there's the business sector, which strives to make money by developing the revolutionary technologies that are supposed to save us from our carbon emitting ways, and selling those technologies to people all over the world. And lastly, there are the thousands of government actors representing nearly 200 nations from all over the world who are trying to coordinate and enhance these efforts on an international scale.
And how do these different action arms communicate with each other? Well, they don't really. At least not at COP21.
When I first stepped foot into the Climate Generations Area, the dedicated civil society space at the Le Bourget conference center, I didn't know quite what to expect. This was a giant international conference on climate change after all, so I guess I was looking for some kind of meeting place for different peoples of different backgrounds to come together and talk about the future of our planet.  And to a certain extent, it was.
There were people there from all over the world, but they were almost all members of civil society and as a result, there was a plentitude of groups calling for action on climate change, but almost no one showcasing the technologies that would be needed to achieve this action.
When I stepped into La Galerie, the dedicated business space, I breathed a sigh of relief.  Here were all sorts of companies showing off how their technologies were going to save the world. But as I continued to walk around, I slowly started noticing that many of these companies where more intent on making big profits from their solutions than taking meaningful action on climate change.
There were, for example, oil companies developing carbon capture technologies, who seemed to be driven more by the prospect of sustaining their oil revenues than sustaining the environment.
Even solar panel companies seemed to be focused more on getting the highest return for their investments than helping the local populations in which they worked.  In the Climate Generations Area, Samuela Vercelli from the NGO CO2GeoNet told me, on the topic of small household-size solar installation projects, that "I think this is important...because technology development is taking new ways.  These very small projects and technologies don't require a lot of investment, and don't make a lot of profit, so they might be neglected. But I think that, for many problems, it could be the actual solution."  I later spoke with a representative from Enekio, a green informatics company, and he highlighted the company's partnerships with solar utilities to construct giant solar power plants in Senegal. Enekio is taking action, but is it the action we need right now?
Boy, if the business and civil society arms met frankly with each other, I bet they could get a lot done, I thought to myself, but the Climate Generations Area was a mile away, and you needed "professional accreditation" to even get into the business space. I am guessing this was done to avoid civil society protests like the one that occurred at Solutions COP21, a business expo open to the public located in the center of Paris.
The government arm, then, was so absent in the business and civil society spaces that the negotiations might as well have been taking place in another part of the city, and not in the building next door.  Apart from a brief appearance by the President of France (which I missed) and seeing a few "overflow" negotiators taking a stroll through the climate generations area every once in a while, the government arm was all but nonexistent to me.  I have heard even from NGO's that have access to the negotiations that the prospects of their having any impact on the negotiating texts are extremely low.
I understand that these three action arms often come into conflict with each other, and that they each need their own space in order to get anything done, I also think they will need to interact with each other a little more than they have been at COP21 in order to effectively crack the climate change problem.  It will not be solved by activists alone, or businesspeople, or politicians.  We need all of them.
—Gregorio Lopes, Sophomore in Electrical Engineering
<![CDATA[​Degrowth: A Taboo at COP 21]]>Sun, 13 Dec 2015 18:03:28 GMThttp://www.climate-stories.org/blog/degrowth-a-taboo-at-cop-21I came to COP 21 interested in talking about the link between economic growth and greenhouse gas emissions. I wondered whether or not economic growth could truly be sustainable. After reviewing some of the scientific literature, it was apparent that we need to re-evaluate our obsession over economic growth.

The 2006 Stern Review, regarded as one of the most significant economic reports on climate change, asserts that carbon emission reductions of more than 3-4% per year are incompatible with GDP growth. So yes, we can decouple economic growth with emissions, but only to an extent.

According to climate scientists such as Kevin Anderson, Alice Bows-Larkin, and Samuel Alexander, this decoupling rate is not enough. They concluded that in order to adequately address climate change, developed countries would have to pursue economic degrowth. (Of course, developing countries should still be able to develop their economy, albeit more sustainably than developed countries did.)

For people who have not heard the arguments of degrowth, the concept can be off-putting at first, and rightfully so. The idea of degrowth would force us to rethink capitalism, an economic system that our society is so deeply attached to.

I see this voluntary boycott of Climate Generations as an indication that the UNFCCC process is failing civil society."

When I first went to Climate Generations, I was excited to engage in intellectually stimulating conversations on degrowth with people. Surely, people who were focused on tackling climate change were thinking about the problems with economic growth, right? As it turns out, I was wrong.

Most of the panel discussions talking about economics focused on “green growth” and “sustainable development.” Whenever I confronted people about degrowth during these panels, they were either dismissive or clearly hadn’t thought about it before. I was only able to get people to talk about degrowth in one-on-one conversations. It was disheartening—and honestly quite scary—to see that at 
the forum on climate change, nobody was willing to engage in this issue, at least publicly.

Honestly, I shouldn’t have expected anything else at a place being hosted by COP 21. After all, international negotiations like these aren’t designed to be radically transformative, so why would COP21 be the place where systems such as capitalism are confronted?

I had a much better time attending events at alternative venues.

At Place to B, I attended a workshop called “Dismantling the Buying Imperative,” which focused on consumerism and issues with our capitalist system. I met people who were willing to engage in conversations about economic growth, and some of them had even done research on degrowth. I had the pleasure of interviewing Vincent Liegey, one of the organizers of the International Degrowth Conference.

Vincent did not hesitate to criticize the UNFCCC process for failing to address the systemic issues that are driving climate change. Vincent did not go to the COP 21 venue at all, because he didn’t have any reason to. I see this voluntary boycott of Climate Generations as an indication that the UNFCCC process is failing civil society.

​Personally, I had a more meaningful time going to alternative venues than wandering around Climate Generations. Until we can honestly discuss the core problems at hand, our society will continue to come up with false solutions that don’t address the root cause. Until spaces such as Climate Generations are willing to actively and publicly question and dismantle systems such as capitalism, colonialism, and patriarchy, I doubt that the UNFCCC process will do enough to address climate change.
—John Zhao (Class of 2018)
<![CDATA[1.5 or 2 Degrees C: A Question of Politics?]]>Sun, 13 Dec 2015 17:53:17 GMThttp://www.climate-stories.org/blog/15-or-2-degrees-c-a-question-of-politics
One target for limiting global warming — '1.5 DEGREES' — is projected on the Eiffel Tower on Friday as part of the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris. (Text: NPR, Photo: Francois Mori/AP)
For those of us who are to some degree inside either of the bubbles that are the UNFCCC/COP process or climate activism, we've heard 2C and 1.5 C used a lot. From mainstream media outlets to the myriad of press releases and tweets emanating from the COP these two numbers both frame virtually every aspect of the debate and encapsulate the many disparate needs and wants of the nearly 200 countries trying to negotiate an agreement by consensus.

But why are these two simple numbers so important and how do they fit into the compromise that consensus, by definition, is? As Chris Field, former co-chair of the IPCC's Working Group II (on climate change impacts, adaptation and vulnerability), told our class, the science clearly conveys that there is no safe amount of global warming. Not the 0.9 C we're at now, not 1.5 C, and certainly not 2 C. The world has already begun to feel catastrophic climate change impacts and anywhere near 1.5 C means impacts that will threaten the existence of whole nations, yet official statements from wealthy developed countries like the US refuse to ratchet up their ambition to strive for an official goal that is better than the 2 C limit. Now, you might be wondering, why?
Katie Mach and Chris Field speaking to Stanford students (Photo credit: Richard Nevle)
The simplest answer, which admittedly glosses over some of the nuances, is that one, the US, like other nations including Australia or Saudi Arabia, has a vested financial interest in fossil fuel production and that two, political gridlock, largely due to the clout of wealthy fossil fuel companies and their ability to misinform large swaths of the American public, makes giving the requisite attention to mitigating climate change (as much as humanity possibly can) politically infeasible. From the perspective of many of the people in positions of power, like the former lead US climate change negotiator who also spoke to our class, it's really tough to meet a goal of 1.5 C, so limiting global warming to 2 C and providing technology and capacity support to other nations is compromise enough.

Again, however, this is because of the political landscape of climate change mitigation, particularly in the US. Congress continues to brush off climate change as if it is an issue of belief and not scientific fact, the latter of which is emphatically demonstrated by the consensus of every country in the world coming together to address this issue. This landscape, though, is disconnected from the reality of the incredible work already being done to justly address climate change and how much more society can do now, not least of which is due to the incredible progression of renewable energy technology over the last decade.

This landscape erases the reality of the needs of millions—if not billions—of people to justly mitigate climate change as much as possible. This landscape erases the reality of the millions who will be displaced or killed by climate change in the very near future, let alone the reality of the hundreds of thousands of people who are 
already dying each year due to climate-related impacts.

​Perhaps then instead of framing climate change success in terms of 1.5 C or 2 C, we—everyone in society from each of us as individuals to NGOs to the mainstream media—need to begin conveying the reality of this problem in terms of the impacts felt by the people most at-risk and who have the least say in dictating how society addresses climate change, framing this not as an issue that is about tenths of a degree but rather one that is about the 
millions of people who will be displaced if not killed by climate change over the course of a relatively short amount of time in the all-to-soon future.
—By Shane Johnson, Engineering Physics (Class of 2016)
<![CDATA[The People draw red lines across Paris to close COP21]]>Sat, 12 Dec 2015 18:15:12 GMThttp://www.climate-stories.org/blog/the-people-draw-red-lines-across-paris-to-close-cop21We won't stop fighting
The action on the final day of COP21, D12 (twitter, flickr, #D12) drew tens of thousands of people, and allowed activists like us to leave Paris feeling hopeful. It took thousands to organize and prepare for the event; thousands gathered at the Arc de Triomphe; thousands gathered at the Eiffel Tower; and thousands gathered to spell out “+3o SOS” on the Champs de Mars.

Contingents hundreds strong showed up from the fossil fuel divestment movement, from La Via Campesina, from 350.org, from nations’ youth delegations, from indigenous and First Nations groups. There were socialists and anti-capitalists, farmers and feminists. There were youth campaigns and Grandparents for Climate Action, dancers, singers, chanters, monks.  

We stood in long lines holding 100-meter long banners that said, “It’s Up To Us To Keep It In The Ground.” We chanted new, simple chants like “People-Power, Climate Action,” and some of our old favorites: “What do we want? Climate Justice! When do we want it? Now!” We embraced the connections drawn between the impacts of climate change and their ultimate sources: capitalism and colonization, joining the chants, “Ah- anti- anti-capitalista” and “Ah- anti- anti- colonista!” We marched with people calling for agrarian reform, who sang “My mother was a kitchen girl, my father was a garden boy, that’s why I’m a feminist, an activist, a socialist.” Perhaps the most well-known chant turned out to be a French one, “Et un, et deux, et trois degrés, c'est un crime contre l'humanité!” (translation: “And one, and two, and three degrees, it’s a crime against humanity!”)
Photo Credit: Collin Rees
Photos courtesy of Yari Greaney and Michael Peñuelas
One rally bled into the next, with people from different contingents meshing, sharing chants, sharing space all throughout the iconic center of Paris. We started by holding red lines—long pieces of cloth held by thousands of hands. The basic message is that there are red lines that cannot be crossed in the text, that our national leaders are about to cross those red lines (in about 10 minutes when they sign the final agreement), and that we will hold them accountable to those decisions. In the context of this #D12 action, each human present was a red line, and our “leaders” were crossing us. There were also some more specific interpretations of the red lines: 1.5 degrees C is a red line. Human rights are a red line.

After about an hour at the Arc de Triomphe, feeling both overwhelmed and empowered by the tens of thousands of people there, the mass shifted and started marching down the sidewalks of Paris. We’re glad we followed because they took us to the Eiffel Tower, where they joined even more activists waiting there (thousands and thousands of people). There, people power reverberated through Paris’ icon as our voices joined the chant. Several hundred sat down and held a “people’s assembly” in the shadow of the Tower and described what true solutions looked like to them.

The people who gathered there proved ourselves the true leaders. We owned the space as we called for climate justice, decolonization, and fast action toward a safe climate. We were so excited—we kept pointing at all of the new contingents of activists and losing each other in the crowd. We ran beneath the banner that said “It’s Up To Us” chanting, “This is what democracy looks like!” Ten thousand people were high on the united power of hundreds of social movements.

And it didn’t stop there. We marched with the crowd to the other side of the Eiffel Tower and reached the Champs de Mars, where hundreds of activists in “ANV COP21” vests directed thousands of us to stand holding hands in three lines that stretched all the way between the Champs de Mars and the Eiffel Tower. ANV stands for "Action Non-Violent." Here, the theme was that national leaders have committed a crime against humanity by not reaching an agreement that puts us at livable levels of warming. Gradually, chanting, holding hands, we gathered around a huge concert stage, where we enjoyed some French songs that were presumably about climate action. It felt good. There was so much energy, so much positive, relentless, determined energy.

The entire protest, throughout all of the places we marched, chanted, and rallied was very peaceful—though all areas were bordered by hundreds of police with riot guards and tear gas. Fortunately, the people were organized and committed to non-violent direct action as a way to make change.

After weeks tracing updates in the negotiating text and following press releases, searching for a sign that our leaders would move in the right direction, it was a joyous relief to feel the center of power shift back to the people. We stood among a beautiful collection of tens of thousands of people who represented millions of people around the world. Many carried the photographs of those they were standing in for, including families, friends, and tribal groups. We all know that it is up to us to keep fossil fuels in the ground, and it was an emotional relief to see all of these people who will not stop fighting. We feel accountable to the activists and communities who we stood with today, and you can bet that we will bring this renewed energy and commitment back home to our campaign.
—Written by Yari Greaney Earth Systems '15, M.S. '16 and Michael Peñuelas, '16
<![CDATA[The Strength of the Human Spirit]]>Sat, 12 Dec 2015 17:46:20 GMThttp://www.climate-stories.org/blog/the-strength-of-the-human-spirit
 The City of Lights at dusk. (Photo credit: Charlie Jiang)
It's Friday, December 11, the last scheduled day of COP21.

​From my apartment window, I can see the lights of the Eiffel Tower sparkle over the blue roofs of Paris. A monument built in a time of wonder—for the 1889 World’s Fair—the Tower remains a testament to the power of human ingenuity and determination.

That power, that spirit, are not infallible. In the last 150 years, human activity and invention have caused global temperatures to rise and threaten millions of lives. The world, it seems, teeters on the edge of crisis, as climate change leads to more extreme weather events, food insecurity, and rising seas that all put millions of people at risk.

But today, a groundswell has risen to combat the mistakes of the past. At the COP 21 climate change conference, diplomats, innovators, activists, and more have all come together to forge an agreement and take major steps forward to accelerate action on climate change.

Today, the Eiffel Tower stands to introduce a new era for humanity: one of solidarity and determination to do right by the world and all its people. It overlooks a revival of the human spirit. In my two weeks attending the conference and observing events around Paris, I have seen that spirit come to life. I have seen determination and solidarity from people in all walks of life, and it has given me hope.

“Come, join us!” my classmate Meghan said as I came to see what was going on. She was sitting in a circle with some 350.org Pacific Climate Warriors — young people from island nations who have become spokespeople for the thousands of islanders facing an existential threat from climate change.

I squeezed in beside her. “Hi, I'm Isso, from Vanuatu.” Boisterous and clearly in his element, Isso shook my hand and offered me a small cup of what looked like juice.

“It's kava,” Meghan explained. “Drink it, clap, and toss the cup back into the circle. It'll make you kinda calm and numb though.” I looked at it a little suspiciously.

“Drink!” laughed Isso.

I drank.
Issa makes kava in the middle of Le Bourget. (Video still by Meghan Shea.)
Island nations — referred to in climate-speak as SIDS, or small island developing states — are among the countries most vulnerable to climate change. Sea level rise, extreme storms, and saltwater intrusion on freshwater sources threaten some of these nations’ very existence. For island nations, the negotiations in Paris will not just impact on their economies, but also their fundamental way of life. To the casual observer, the situation seems hopeless.

Sitting in a circle with the Pacific Climate Warriors and drinking kava, however, I felt not hopelessness but strength and resilience. Isso and his friends were only a few of the many islanders that have traveled to Paris to raise their voices. I've talked to many of them, and heard the same message from each: our people are in danger, but we refuse to go quietly.

On opening day of COP 21, Paris was abuzz with promise. 151 heads of state traveled to Paris to speak at the conference, the largest gathering of world leaders in history. The Presidents, Prime Ministers, and monarchs each called for a strong global agreement to turn climate change into a thing of the past.
151 heads of state gather for a “family portrait” at COP 21, the largest such gathering in history.
It was a strong start to the conference, a sign that the global community seemed fully on board with working together to forge an ambitious agreement. Soon, however, negotiations turned sour, unable to move past contentious debates around climate finance, the legally binding nature, loss and damage, and the long-term temperature goal.

This last would come up often around the conference center and in the news: should the agreement reflect a goal of limiting temperature rise to below 2 degrees Celsius, or 1.5? That a 0.5-degree difference could spark such heated debate seems silly, but here in Paris, it represents the difference between safety and endangerment for millions of people and the global economy.

I continued to sit with Isso and his fellow activists as the afternoon wore on. More Stanford friends joined, as well as other students from Germany and France, until I was part of a circle of a dozen young people from all around the world chatting and sharing kava together.

In the chaos of the conference center, with negotiators working tirelessly to agree on words and phrases that could determine the fate of millions, this circle of youth was one of momentary bliss—the eye of the storm. In our corner of the building, next to the Indigenous Peoples Pavilion that was holding its South Pacific Day, I felt a glimmer of joy: a glimpse of the future we were all, from our far corners of the Earth, working to build.
Singing and sharing kava with dedicated activists from around the world. (Photo credit: Charlie Jiang)
One activist from Tokelau, Mikaele, brought out a banjo-like instrument and started strumming and singing, smiling mischievously. He started to play a song we all recognized, and as the chorus came around everyone started singing along.

“Country road, take me home, to the place I belong. West Virginia, mountain mama, take me home.”

As the first week of negotiations drew to a close, a series of announcements buoyed the hopes of negotiators and activists. First Germany, then France, then Canada and the United States signaled their support for mentioning the 1.5-degree goal in the agreement. Some called it a game-changing revelation that showed developed countries were starting to listen to developing countries’ needs. Others challenged the announcements as empty promises without the mitigation and finance pledges to back them up.

Both arguments, I believe, are right. Although more work has to be done to ensure we can actually meet the 1.5 degree goal, the show of support by developed countries for the needs of the most vulnerable nations shows a revival of the cooperative spirit that we need to challenge the status quo of inaction.

The negotiations are scheduled to end Saturday—one day after the original deadline—and an agreement (barring disaster) is expected to be passed. Some will call the outcome a success; others will call it a failure. In the end, though, it doesn't really matter. What matters is that people leave Paris determined to continue fighting, determined to revive the human spirit to solve this problem, and determined to work together across borders in a level of cooperation never before seen, but dearly needed.

Meghan and I asked Isso why he came to Paris, why he was making kava for a group of strangers.

“We are here to share our culture,” he explained. “We want people to join us so we can solve this together.”

Later that afternoon, President Anote Tong of Kiribati came to the Indigenous Peoples Pavilion to speak. Afterwards, he gathered with the Pacific Climate Warriors and members of the Kiribati delegation for pictures.
Dignitaries, artists, and young activists join together to fight for their islands. (Photo credit: Charlie Jiang)
As a crowd of people from all over the world looked on—people connected only by a common purpose—the President and his fellow islanders raised their fists, looked directly into the cameras capturing the moment, and chanted:

We are not drowning. We are rising.
—By Charlie Jiang ‘16, Engineering Physics