Climate change is a vast and expansive topic, and for someone like me who has not been directly affected by climate change, it is hard to grasp the experience on an individual level. Bill McKibben, founder and president of 350.org spoke passionately to a room full of people to spread the message that the world’s carbon level should be at 350 parts per million (ppm). As McKibben spoke a slide show was playing and scrolled through pictures of the actions people have been taking all over the world to get their voices heard. What struck me is the universal language of a single number, 350. That number has the power to determine the survival of earth has we know it. It has the power to save lives. It gives people a goal, which fuels their motivation to act. People all across the world were seen in these pictures with the number 350. The pictures showed a face and a goal. The faces seen represented entire nations and the number represented survival. People suffering from climate change are choosing to fight for survival and they are fighting because they have already seen the effects of climate change. A single Iraqi woman was pictured holding the number 350. She had to cross four US Army borders to get her message across. Hundreds of people were seen in India, a country that is one of the highest CO2 emitters and also a country that has been effected by droughts and floods. And just this past weekend thousands were seen marching in the streets of Copenhagen. The leaders of the some nations have not seen their neighbors suffer from drought, they have not heard the stories of their brothers and sisters losing homes, jobs and lives due to flooding and disease. The leaders of the industrial nations are speaking from their wallets and not from their hearts. I have not seen the effects of climate change in my backyard, but I have seen the faces of those who are suffering. Those faces are my brothers and sisters of Mother Earth who do not have the resources to survive, let alone develop. The countries most effected did the least to harm the planet, yet are being punished and they are the ones speaking out but not the ones with the voices.
President Mohamed Nasheed of the Maldives, is the voice of those countries and the voice of the globe. He spoke just after McKibben and shared his country’s story. Nasheed’s answer to climate change is political in nature. People must let their leaders know how they feel and it must be clear that reelection is not an option if climate change is not addressed. Furthermore, let businesses know they are not supported by not purchasing their products. There is a difference between show and tell. Nasheed showed us climate change with his underwater conference and the leaders can be shown what their people want through these actions. Nasheed is the voice but we are the faces and 350ppm is what is needed.
The past couple of days at the conference, when entering an area there have been inflatable gates set up and people must choose which one to walk through. One is green and labeled “Vote for Earth” the other is red and supports climate change. I have yet to see anyone walk through the red gate, but I have heard from a representative from the Nordic Region who presented a positive side to climate change.
The representative spoke on behalf of Iceland and Greenland both countries are known for the long, cold winters. Due to climate change the countries are now having more productive farming and vegetation seasons. The climate has become more suitable for sheep farming, which helps to produce local foods and goods, along with creating jobs. Furthermore, cattle have been brought over to the land. The benefits of cattle are similar to sheep, however, cattle can be left outside during the winter which also brings agricultural benefits. It has been predicted that a portion of the potatoes consumed will soon be able to be produced locally, and other crops can now be introduced because the climate is more hospitable. As the climate warms up, ice layers are continuing to melt. Due to the greater amount of water and the warmer temperature cod have returned to Greenland.
It is assumed that most people at the conference would walk through the green gate, however, some people are benefiting from the change in climate. I would assume that this does not mean the people of Iceland or Greenland, or any country that is experiencing benefits, would want to see the planet fail for their benefit. I took this information as simply another side to an ongoing saga. The planet is with out a doubt changing, and will continue to do so if no legislation is passed. The people of these countries have seen the benefits and those will remain stable if climate change can be stopped soon, but if not, those people will see similar effects to what others are seeing now, and then it may be too late.
Assuming that every person will walk through the green gate is assuming that there is only one side to the problem, when many situations need to be considered. Simply having a red gate and a green gate does not sum up the situation, but rather simplifies a problem that needs to be explored.
The literature I received from the representative is Climate Change and the North Atlantic – www.nora.fo
A 30 minute train from Copenhagen rests the self-contained housing sect of Augustenborg, part of Malmo, Sweden. Years ago, Malmo’s economy was based on the factories that provided jobs for the residents. In the 1950s Augustenborg was built to house many of Malmo’s working class families. The building contained numerous 1 and 2 bedroom apartments, and was considered to be the finest housing for working-class people; mainly because of the indoor plumbing and refrigerators. Roughly 30 years ago, Malmo’s factories closed and the economy began to decline. The city bought Augustenborg and began work to change the area into a sustainable community. Doing this provided jobs to the residents and created a more habitable environment. At one point the unemployment rate was as high as 65% and it has currently dropped to 45%, with some help due to creating a sustainable community.
On a brisk and cloudy Tuesday I rode the train 30 minutes into Malmo, Sweden and went on a guided tour of Augustenborg. I was truly inspired by what I saw. The city of Malmo poured money into a working-class community to better their lives and further better the city. The first building I visited in Augustenborg, I went onto the roof to see the green roofs of the community. The original 1950s residential buildings were not fit to hold green roofs, but most other buildings did. The purpose of these roofs were to absorb the water from the rain as well as heat and cool the buildings. The cost of the green roof was 500-900 Swedish Kroners for every meter, which would translate into 5,00-9,000 American dollars. The cost is reasonable if the benefits are considered that a green roof heats the building in the winter and cools it in the summer, which saves a considerable amount of money. The green roof can cool a building 2-3 degrees in the summer, helping to decrease air-conditioning use and increase the money that is being saved. Furthermore, it provides an area for food to be grown in a city, which cuts carbon emissions produced by transportation. More than the money being saved, the sustainable community demonstrates a possible immediate solution to climate change. Any community could invest money into creating green roofs, canals, and providing solar panels and recycling centers to decrease their carbon footprint. What I admired most about Augustenborg and the city of Malmo was that the investment was made in a low-income community, which provides these people with a sense of worth and dignity, leading to the residents taking a sense of pride in their community and helping to keep the area in shape. An economic recession, that could have had grave affects on the city was really a blessing in disguise. I think that many cities in the United States and across the world could benefit economically from creating sustainable cities while also helping the environment.
For more information visit: www.malmo.se/sustainablecity
The definition of success in Copenhagen is changing as the task to create a global deal becomes more daunting. This past Sunday, November 15, 2009, the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) met over breakfast in Singapore. President Barack Obama made a surprise visit to the meeting, and White House deputy national security adviser, Mike Froman, said President Obama spoke about achieving success in Copenhagen. After Danish Prime Minster Lars Lokke Rasmussen told APEC leaders that a solution is unlikely to come about from next month’s meeting in Copenhagen, world leaders are endorsing a two-step process and plan on using Copenhagen as a step in the right direction. Rasmussen dubbed the process “One agreement, two steps,” saying that the first step would be to have all 191 countries sign a document in Copenhagen and the second step would be to create a binding deal pertaining to cutting carbon emissions. The APEC nations are still ambitious and plan on working towards a full deal at the Copenhagen summit. President Obama has said that he supports the two-step process, but has yet to say if he will be attending the summit next month.