30 November 2014

One Day to Go Till the Lima Climate Conference - We Know How to Save the World

Well, there's only a day left before the UN Climate Change Conference in Lima, Peru (COP20) begins.  I'm not a betting woman. I prefer to work a little magic. So let's, instead of taking wagers, conjure up the best possible outcome. 

Let's manifest that all the delegations from the laggard nations, developed or developing (you know who you are, Canada, Australia, Japan, the Netherlands!) never make it off the runway due to freak snowstorms and heat waves, or get lost en route along with their luggage. (Or maybe someone simply locks them in their hotel rooms in Lima.) They just don't show up and therefore can't stall the proceedings.

Then let's manifest that the big industrialized nations all shake hands with China and the USA, congratulating them for their hokey little historic pact. At least they're finally recognizing that Houston has a problem (translation: that there really is a climate change emergency). So we've got the two biggest emitters on board, and their cronies (Europe, Russia, etc.), wanting to bask in the accolades, jump on board, too. (Reminds me of my father, a 3-pack-a-day smoker, who quit smoking because of all the attention we gave my mom when she quit!)

Then the big players, who have found their hearts and their conscience, decide to listen to the little players. You know, the countries where people are already losing their lives, their loved ones and their livelihoods; their food security and their water sources; their homes and entire homelands, all due to climate disruption and chaos. They listen to the stories and the pleas of the G77, the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), the Least Developed Countries (LDC), the Africa Group ... all negotiating blocs that have basically been ignored until now. 

Next up is a little international fireside reading of a very grim (get it? Grimm?) storybook: the IPCC's AR5 Synthesis Report, which "leaves no doubt: Climate change is set to inflict 'severe, widespread, and irreversible impacts' on people and the natural world unless carbon emissions are cut sharply and rapidly." SHARPLY and RAPIDLY, as my hubby points out, means at the least adopting the IPCC's best-case scenario, RCP2.6. "We have a rallying cry," he says.

And then, all together, these nations -- their negotiators and their leaders (who have just jetted in for the last couple of days) -- decide to lend an ear to the members of Climate Action Network (CAN) International, who have come up with the best-ever civil society emergency response to the climate change crisis

  • Start the decline in emissions next year. 
  • Get to zero carbon by mid-century. 

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the simple magic that can save our world. Abracadabra!

23 November 2014

One Week Until Lima ... Copenhagen Redux - A Message to All the Women Attending COP20

It was five years ago that I sent out this heartfelt request to all the women who were going to attend the Copenhagen climate talks. Today, I send it again, to all the women, mothers, daughters, sisters, aunts, nieces and godmothers who are attending the climate talks in Lima, Peru (COP20). And to all the mothers, daughters, sisters, aunts, nieces and godmothers of all the men who will be attending the Lima climate talks. Please ... speak up for all the children, of all species!

A request to all women attending the climate talks

Please inject some life into the talks — wear the colours of flowers and forests and sunsets and fresh fruit and children's smiles.

BE A MOTHER OR A GRANDMOTHER FIRST. Believe in your power! The "powers that be" need to hear that all the mothers of the world want what's best for the children of all species. Please represent all the mothers and grandmothers around the globe. Even if you don't have your own biological or adopted children, you are still a mother of all the children, everywhere. Speak up for them.

REMEMBER THAT CLIMATE CHANGE KNOWS NO BORDERS. Try to forget that you're in Lima, Peru representing your own country. Think of the planet as one nation, under one atmosphere that knows no boundaries. Speak for all human beings, as well as the rest of nature, which has no seat and no voice at the talks.

LET COMPASSION BE YOUR COMPASS. Remember that prosperity and a thriving economy are impossible if the natural environment is ailing. We must get our priorities right! If a decision doesn't have the Earth and the children's future at heart, then that decision is not a compassionate one.

CALL FOR ZERO CARBON ALONG WITH SOME URGENCY IN ACHIEVING IT. Try to rev up the imaginations of world leaders and negotiators of all ilks (even the heartless, uncreative ones). Help them envision the Golden Age of Renewable Energy that we should be quickly heading into.

LET COURAGE GUIDE YOU. Women are courageous in so many — often unsung — ways. Courage in Lima, though it won't be easy, will be simple. What a privileged position you are in! Please take advantage of it and be brave enough to speak up for all those who have so little — now and in the future. Be the peaceful warriors who safeguard the children.

REMEMBER THE GREAT WOMEN WHO HAVE ALREADY DEMONSTRATED THEIR COURAGE, women like Rachel Carson, Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, Biruté Galdikas, Patricia Wright, Donella Meadows, Hazel Henderson, Sylvia Earle, Erin Brokovich, Sister Dorothy Stang, Severn Cullis-Suzuki, Lois Gibbs, the women of the Chipko Movement, Beatrix Potter, Wangari Maathai, Julia Butterfly Hill, Betty Krawczyk, Vandana Shiva, Starhawk, Sheila Watt-Cloutier, Hildegard of Bingen, Harriet Nahanee. Stand on their shoulders — and be climate heroes in Lima!

16 November 2014

A Big Step in the Right Direction: China and the US Agree to Do the Right Thing on Climate Change

Several years before I started hearing about climate change (and way before I morphed into a climate change activist), I made a childhood dream come true by travelling around the world. I took a leave of absence and my plan was to be gone for a year, but China's capitalist economic development had other plans for me.

My date of departure was carefully chosen. I left my home in British Columbia, Canada on the gorgeous September morning that I would normally have been heading back to school as a teacher.  The first stop on my trip was more random. The airline I booked with was about to start flying to Beijing. It seemed as good a first stop as any. I was on their inaugural flight. 

I hadn't thought it through very well. At my very first destination, I found myself completely illiterate and quite helpless. I quickly learned the character (or hanzi) for women's washroom, I can tell you. And I only found out later how blessed I was to spend my week there in sunshine. The Gobi desert didn't want me taking its sand home, and the streets were still filled with buses and bicycles, not cars.

Anyway, I had lots of adventures in China (and a few misadventures), but what I really want to share with you is what I witnessed there: the rapid rise of Chinese capitalism. And it was not a pretty sight. I met two doctors, married with one child, who were making the equivalent of $30 per month between them. They made me an absolutely delicious (and delightful) dinner, and when I suggested that they could open a restaurant, their food was so good, they admitted that they'd wanted to do that, but didn't know who to bribe in order to get the permits.

I wrote in my journal, "The Chinese are adopting all the very worst aspects of capitalism so fast that it's annoying." They just didn't seem to get that I was not going to buy their souvenirs on my way UP the Great Wall, no matter how much they accosted me. 

Not only that, but the Chinese economy was heating up so fast that with my Lonely Planet Guide for China only a year or two old, I spent three months' worth of my savings on only two weeks in China! That's how much the prices had soared. 

All that to say that it makes complete sense to me that China would want to make a commitment to fight fossil fuel greenhouse gas pollution. Over at ClimateProgress, Kiley Kroh explains:
"Late Tuesday night [11 November 2014], the U.S. and China announced an historic agreement to combat climate change, a major step forward from the world’s two largest greenhouse gas emitters. Not only does the agreement hold the two nations to taking additional steps to bring down the carbon emissions that drive climate change, but China just pledged to deploy a tremendous amount of clean energy."
Of course, it's not enough. Not by a long shot. Neither country is talking zero (carbon emissions) or 100% (renewable energy), but Obama is finally doing what he should have done in 2009 for the Copenhagen climate talks. And China ... well, much of China can barely breathe, so they couldn't hold out much longer either. 

Congrats to both President Obama and President Xi Jinping for taking this step in the right direction. Now, if they could just drag Australia's prime minister Tony Abbott and Canada's prime minister Stephen Harper along, kicking and screaming, we'd really get somewhere.

09 November 2014

The Importance of Creativity -- and Clarity -- in the Fight for Climate Justice

I just finished reading Roger von Oech's A Whack on the Side of the Head: How You Can Be More Creative. (Yes, I have a life that is totally undirected at climate change at times. I read this book to help my students understand what innovation is, and how to innovate around different challenges we're facing in our school garden.)

von Oech explains that there are four roles our minds need to play in order to be successfully creative:

Explorer: Seeks the material ("facts, concepts, experiences, knowledge, feelings," etc.) needed to build a new idea. "During the course of your searching, you'll poke around in unknown areas, pay attention to unusual patterns, use different senses, and seek out a variety of different information." 
Artist: Takes what the Explorer found and gives it a new twist to come up with a new idea. "You experiment with a variety of approaches. You follow your intuition. You rearrange things, look at things backwards, and turn them upside down. You ask 'what if' questions and look for hidden analogies." In other words, innovation doesn't come out of thin air. There's some artistic work to be done. 
Judge: Helps evaluate the new idea, "critically weighing the evidence, looking for drawbacks, wondering if the timing is right. Unfortunately, this is the stage that many people start at (did school teach us creativity skills and mindset ... no, probably not), which explains why there is so little innovation in the world. 
Warrior: Brings your innovative new idea to fruition (without implementation, it's just an idea floating around in your head, waiting to be stolen by someone else with more guts or wherewithal). You "develop your strategy, and commit yourself to reaching your objective.... You may have to overcome excuses, idea killers, temporary setbacks, and other obstacles. But you have the courage to do what's necessary to make your idea a reality."
von Oech's book focuses on the first two roles, guiding the reader through numerous fun and evocative creativity exercises. He explains the importance of ambiguity, for example, in helping us to "think something different." He quotes American General George S. Patton, who said, "If you tell people where to go, but not how to get there, you'll be amazed at the results." von Oech explains that posing a problem in an ambiguous way [gives] more people's imaginations more freedom.

When we think about all this in relation to the climate change crisis, we can see that our lack of progress truly is a crisis of imagination and creativity. Children have great imaginations, but it's like a muscle that atrophies if not exercised. 

But there's something else that's important when trying to create a compelling vision of a zero-carbon future for people -- and that's clarity. Back in 2009, I wrote about a learn-in during which I asked people to close their eyes and picture a future of 350 parts per million of carbon dioxide. They couldn't do it. That concept doesn't create a clear image in the mind's eye. Here's what I wrote:
Now try this. Picture a zero-carbon world. A world where we no longer burn fuel to create energy. A world of wind turbines and solar panels, tidal energy and geothermal installations to heat or cool our homes, to run our appliances, to move the public through transit infrastructure. [...] 
Once we can picture that zero-carbon world, it's easy to discuss and picture how to get there: a zero-carbon economy that subsidizes renewable energy and taxes carbon and other forms of pollution; moving towards self-sufficiency in our food and energy production; giving up meat as a gift to our grandchildren; staying closer to home and taking 100-mile vacations; doing all this out of compassion for the people already horribly impacted by climate disruption in Africa, the Arctic, the small island nations, and, increasingly, all those depending on water sources that are drying up, even if just seasonally.
General Patton suggested that we have to clearly tell people what the destination is -- in this case, a carbon-free world. (We're not even doing a very good job of being clear about that!) Now, let's use our creativity and our imaginations to innovate our way out of the Burning Age as rapidly as possible.

02 November 2014

Putting My Money Where My Roof Is ...

This blog is often a place of lament and, dare I admit it, whining about the lack of global action on the climate crisis. Today's post is going to be more positive -- and practical. 

Yesterday I attended a workshop on solar power and solar technologies that was put on by Heartwood Folk School here in my community (disclosure: I am on their board of directors). Despite a time conflict with the all-candidates meeting for our local elections, dozens of people turned up. 

We heard about solar thermal energy for hot water systems. We heard about solar photovoltaic for electricity. (As someone who lives in the shade -- my hubby is sun sensitive -- I've never considered these to be viable for my house.) Next we heard about heat pumps (that technology sure has improved over the years). And then we heard from a friend of ours, Ian Gartshore of Shore Energy Solutions, who is a dealer/installer for the SunPump™.

Suddenly the workshop went from "interesting and informative" to "Oh my gosh, that's a possibility for my roof!" Imagine one hybrid system that is solar thermal (hot water), solar photovoltaic or PV (though I might skip that component due to our shade), and heat pump for home heating. 

The SunPump™ works in the cold, in the rain and in the dark as well as in the sun. That's because the roof panels are filled with refrigerant (not water or glycol) that transfers the heat even if it's -25ºC (-13ºF) outside.

The system is about 50% more efficient than a regular heat pump. Plus it turns out the system costs less than installing these technologies separately -- BONUS!

I'll admit that I'm electrically illiterate (did I ever tell you that I was hit by lightning as a child -- maybe explains a few things about me! -- and I've been afraid of electricity ever since), so I'm going to have to count on Shore Energy Solutions to walk me through the process of getting the most bang for my buck. But it sounds like this system will provide a much more comfortable home while also heating our water -- allowing me to join the Solar Age even while living amongst the trees. 

Never have I been so excited about what's happening on my roof.