Monday, November 30 – Opening Day of COP 21

Members of Climate Action Network watch the opening of COP 21.

Members of Climate Action Network watch the opening of COP 21.

Today was a lot calmer than yesterday but no less busy.  It was the opening day of the 21st Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, known for short as COP21.  Because of all the security measures, Le Bourget, the converted airport north of the Paris city center where COP21 is taking place, was closed to the public.  So I went with several members of the Citizens Climate Lobby delegation to the hub for the Climate Action Network, or CAN, a network of organizations from around the world working on climate change.  The CAN hub is about a 10-minute walk from my hostel at Place to B, but my phone got confused at an intersection where several streets came together.  Eventually I found it, and several of us congregated in two rooms to watch the ceremonies, which were being livestreamed on the Internet.

After the so-called “family photo” of all the visiting world leaders, more than 150 country presidents, prime ministers, and other heads of state were scheduled to speak at the Leaders Event starting at noon.  Even though each leader was only given three minutes to speak, there were so many of them that speeches ran in two rooms simultaneously and still went on into the evening.

President Obama speaks at COP 21.

President Obama speaks at COP 21.

President Obama spoke about 12:45 and gave what I thought was an excellent speech.  He called the Paris climate conference a “turning point … the moment we finally determined we would save our planet.” “I’ve come here personally, as the leader of the world’s largest economy and the second-largest emitter, to say that the United States of America not only recognizes our role in creating this problem, we embrace our responsibility to do something about it,” Obama said.  He talked about his recent trip to Alaska and called for an ambitious and transparent agreement.  He talked about how this is life or death for island nations and said he was meeting with their leaders tomorrow. He also mentioned the multibillion-dollar investment fund in clean energy research and development to be launched by Bill Gates and others today.

You can see video of Obama’s speech here and read statements by all the world leaders here.

My CCL colleague Chuck Lynd leads the Global Climate March in Columbus.

My CCL colleague Chuck Lynd leads the Global Climate March in Columbus.

While I was listening to the various leaders speak, I was also paging through my social media accounts and saw that my CCL colleague Chuck Lynd had pulled off quite a march for climate in Columbus. As I was trying to avoid arrest at Place de la Republique in Paris, Chuck and others had gotten over 100 people to come out as part of the Global Climate March organized by  I was amazed because before I had left, only a handful of people were signed up.  In less than a week, Chuck got the word out to environmental advocates across Central Ohio, and they turned out in droves, resulting in a great photo in the Columbus Dispatch.  That made my heart sing.

See video of the Columbus march from Carolyn Harding and photos from David Roseman via the Sierra Club Central Ohio Group.

On the frustrating side, the keys on my iPad stopped working.  I had planned to live tweet the Leaders Event, and even posted that I would on my Facebook page. but was unable to.  This was a cause for some panic, as I had not brought a laptop to Paris but was relying on the iPad to do the heavy lifting.  I was worried it had crashed even though it was only six months old.  Perhaps the blog posts and photos from yesterday had worked it too hard.  I wasn’t sure what to do, so I sent out a query through the CAN-talk listserv asking if anyone had a laptop I could borrow.  Most people recommended that I take the iPad to an Apple store in Paris, which I finally decided to do.  One was about a mile away, which gave me my first chance to truly walk around the city.  Once I got to the Apple store, it took awhile to figure out the system for getting some help, but when I finally did, the technician simply told me to call Apple support.  Well, I could have done that from the CAN hub!  But unfortunately I did not buy international minutes from Verizon.

Then I noticed that the operating system for the iPad needed to be updated.  I prayed that would solve the problem and pressed the button.  It was an entire new install of the IOS operating system and took a long time to work. After that, I sat at the store playing with the keys again for awhile.  Eventually I decided the iPad was indeed fixed, though I considered buying a new laptop in France anyway. Posting blogs and processing photos is so much easier from a laptop, and I will not travel to an event like this again without one.  But not only is the electrical outlet on French laptops different, the keyboard is different — it is not a QWERTY keyboard but AZERTY.  So I decided not to.

Members of the Citizens Climate Lobby delegation meet in Paris.

Members of the Citizens Climate Lobby delegation meet in Paris.

Finally tonight I ended up at the dinner and meeting for Citizens Climate Lobby.  Both took place at apartments that CCL members had rented out for the conference through Air B&B.  I’ve never used Air B&B, but after seeing their apartments, I decided to try it next time I am traveling internationally.  Their setup looked much more comfortable than the hostel, which is basically a dormitory, and they have access to full kitchens so they can cook their own food.  This is cheaper than buying every meal out as I have to do.

The highlight of the CCL meeting was hearing from Joe Robertson, the global strategy director, about the launch today of the Carbon Pricing Leadership Coalition.  CCL’s entire platform is carbon pricing, specifically a proposal called carbon fee and dividend that would tax carbon at the source of extraction and return all proceeds to American households.  There is a lot of talk nationally about a carbon tax, but a formal discussion of pricing carbon was taken off the agenda for COP 21 in October.  Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the UNFCCC, said at the time that countries had too many different carbon pricing schemes for them to be reconciled into one document.

Even so, the launch of the CPLC on the first day of COP 21 put carbon pricing front and center in the conference. Consisting of 15 national governments (including Canada, Germany, and France), five subnational governments (Quebec, British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario and California), and more than 60 businesses (including BP, Enel, and Shell), the CPLC has a goal of adding carbon pricing to all national strategies by 2020 — only five years away!  And they just may be able to do it.  At the launch was a powerhouse of leaders: World Bank President Jim Kim, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Chilean President Michelle Bachelet, Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, Philippines President Benigno Aquino III, and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto. Joe saw the entire thing inside the Blue Zone.

CCL has two blog posts about the launch of the Carbon Pricing Leadership Forum, one by Peter Joseph, leader of the Marin County Chapter, and one by Jessica Langerman, a volunteer from Massachusetts.

CCL National Conference

Last month I traveled to Washington, DC, for the 2015 meeting of Citizens Climate Lobby, for which I am a co-leader of the Columbus chapter.  The conference was absolutely inspiring.  The plenary speakers included:

  • Katharine Hayhoe, climate scientist at Texas Tech and CCL board member
  • James Hansen, former director of Goddard Institute for Space Studies and CCL board member
  • Bob Perkowitz of ecoAmerica, a climate opinion survey and communications group

I met several people in person who I have become friends with through the Global Warming Fact of the Day group on Facebook.  I got to know several of the other leaders of CCL chapters in Ohio.  And most empowering, I got to meet with four different Ohio representatives, all Republicans, to talk about CCL’s proposal for carbon fee and dividend.

Although I have lobbied my state and federal legislators before with other groups, CCL has probably the most effective lobbying strategy I’ve experienced.  People are assigned to groups of five or six for each legislator meeting, and each person in the group gets a role.  I led the group meeting with my representative, Steve Stivers, OH-15, while for other meetings I did time keeping, told a personal story, explained the basics of the proposal, made the ask, or did follow-up.  Assigning each person in the group a role and knowing what your role was allowed you to concentrate on doing that one thing well while not stepping on the toes of others as they did their part.

After I got back, I sent a letter about the meeting to the Dispatch, which I was happy to see given prominent space in a Saturday paper.  Here is the text:

Carbon fee, dividend good for air, economy

Recently I joined a group of Ohioans who, along with 800 volunteers from Citizens Climate Lobby, traveled to Washington, D.C. to meet with more than 500 members of Congress. Our 13 volunteers from Columbus, Delaware, Springfield and Cincinnati met with aides for 16 of Ohio’s 18-member Senate and House delegation.

We were there to ask our members of Congress to consider a new proposal for addressing climate change: carbon fee and dividend. The proposal has three parts: first, place a steadily rising fee on the carbon content of fossil fuels, collected at the point of extraction and entry into the economy; second, return 100 percent of the fee equally to American households in the form of a monthly dividend check; and third, enact a border adjustment on goods coming in from countries that do not have a similar carbon fee to discourage U.S. companies from relocating jobs.

A study by the nonpartisan Regional Economic Modeling Inc. finds that by 2035, a carbon fee and dividend would provide $396 a month to a family of four, add 2.8 million jobs, increase gross domestic product by almost $1.4 trillion, lower carbon emissions by 52 percent and prevent 227,000 premature deaths. REMI also found that the Great Lakes region, which includes Ohio, would benefit more than any other in job creation, economic stimulus and cleaner air.

Most congressional offices we met with were Republican, and most of the aides we spoke with had not heard of carbon fee and dividend. Most started off cool to the proposal, but gradually warmed up as we explained its benefits. Everyone knows that something must be done to address climate change. The debate isn’t about the science but about finding a solution acceptable to everyone.

To find out more about carbon fee and dividend, visit



Columbus chapter

Citizens Climate Lobby

Costa Rica – Day 7 – End of home stay, ecolodge, hot springs

Our group with the Laureles farm family.  From left to right: Becca, Leesha, Fernando, Lidia, Carla, me, and the Laureles grandson in sunglasses in front.

Our group with the Laureles farm family. From left to right: Becca, Leesha, Fernando, Lidia, Carla, me, and the Laureles grandson in sunglasses in front.

My preparations the night before paid off, as I slept really soundly and not worrying about bugs. The whole thing with the dogs must have bothered me more than I thought because I dreamed that I was walking by a busy street in back of the UNC campus (where I did my undergrad) and found two dogs in different places who had been hit by cars and were lying by the road with broken legs. In the dream I scooped them up and was taking them to get medical care when I woke up.

A howler monkey brought her baby out to see us.

A howler monkey brought her baby out to see us.

I got up before dawn, and three of us (Carla, Leesha, and me) went to watch the sun rise over the farm. Just as at the beach at Tortuguero, the sun didn’t come up in a ball like we are used to seeing at home. It just got light. Fernando’s cattle were mostly sitting down (which cattle here seem to do a lot) or grazing peacefully. Leesha tried to make friends with one of their horses in the pasture, but he was shy and didn’t want to get too close. On the way back we stopped by the howler monkey trees again. The monkeys had been very active just before dawn howling to greet it. They were still active getting their breakfast when we stopped by the trees. We probably watched them for a half hour. At first they hid, but after a bit a few came out where we could see them, including a mom with a baby on her back. She sat watching us for a long time, and I got a ton of pics.

Fernando showed Carla how to milk a cow.

Fernando showed Carla how to milk a cow.

Then we went back to the farm where we got to help Fernando milk the cow. That was fun – Leesha was a natural, and I got the hang of it but am glad I don’t have to do it every morning. Fernando put the calf into a separate enclosure while we got a bucket full of milk. When we were done, he let out the calf, who made a beeline for his mom. I’m glad they let the calf stay with the mom.  The mother-offspring bond is the strongest in nature, and to talk the calf away so that we can take the milk does not seem right. It was enough to make me switch mainly to almond milk, though it’s hard to avoid dairy entirely. While we were milking the cow with Fernando, Lidia came out with a glass that we filled up straight from the cow. She then used that to make some of the very best pancakes I have ever eaten, which we had along with eggs, juice, and of course rice and beans.

<Optional thoughts about the book I was reading>

While the rest of the group walked for a swim at a river spot with difficult access, I got some reading done in This Changes Everything. Naomi Klein makes the case that climate change will require us to abandon unregulated free market capitalism to enact the collective solutions needed to address carbon emissions. She thinks it is a great opportunity to reshape human relations to be more just, equitable and fair, to enact protections for workers and poor people around the world.

It’s a compelling argument, but I’ve also read some interesting critiques. Basically the critiques say Klein was anti-capitalism before she started writing about climate change – she wrote about clothing factory workers in South America and about disaster opportunism, in which big companies use the opportunity of a disaster to make a windfall profit. The critiques think her current book is more of the same vein, and that she doesn’t give enough credit to some of the market solutions being proposed such as a price on carbon.

Klein says we need a mass social movement to force governments to take the steps needed to address climate change. I agree with that, but I think we need market solutions too. A carbon tax, preferably with the proceeds being returned equitably to everyone in the form of dividend checks or tax cuts as proposed by Citizens Climate Lobby, is a must. Klein thinks this idea is okay but not nearly enough. I think it’s just a start too, but it’s a vital one. We have to disincentivize fossil fuels and incentivize renewables if we want people to make the switch.

Klein seems to talk mostly about mass movements but decentralized control with communities taking charge of their own energy, transit and food systems. I would love to see that, and mass movements are important. That’s what stopped the Keystone pipeline, which is of huge symbolic value, and having participated with the Sierra Club in the People’s Climate March in New York City, I feel like the march helped provide immediacy and momentum to the UN talks that week.  It was shortly after that when Obama announced the first-ever agreement with China to lower emissions. Of course none of this is enough and the work is not done, but you have to start somewhere.

This year will be huge for climate agreements leading up to the talks in Paris in December where everyone is hoping for the first time to get a binding agreement across all nations. That will be a tall order. Klein is right that social movements will make a huge difference in the climate debates, and she is right that control needs to come down to the local level.

I’m pleased to live in Columbus, which has a very ambitious green plan.  But this leads to my critique of Klein’s focus on social movements.  As important as they are, in the end it is governments, whether local state or national, that will decide if, when, and how we address climate change.  This is why I’m studying public policy. I’m not exactly sure where this course of study will lead, but climate change is the most important issue not just in my lifetime but maybe in of all human civilization, and I want to be in a place where I can help address it.

<End of thoughts about the book and back to the trip>

Becca made friends with a rescued deer fawn.

Becca made friends with a rescued deer fawn.

So most of Friday afternoon was spent on the bus driving to the Villa Finca Tina ecolodge in the mountains, then to the Baldi hot springs. I’m pretty sure this will get changed up next year, since we didn’t make it to the hot springs until after 9 p.m. so had less than an hour. They were absolutely amazing though, as was the lodge which had several rescued orphan deer and even planted special grasses for the deer to eat.

In Ohio it is against the law to rescue orphan deer. I understand about wildlife rehabilitation needing to be licensed, but we should allow people who care – and most people do – to help animals that need help. Even if those orphans go to a sanctuary to live out their lives, that’s better than being killed just because they were unlucky enough to lose their mother. In one case, a police officer and his wife rescued an orphan deer whose mother had been hit by a car.  When the authorities came and take it, the couple claimed the deer had escaped the day before and showed their torn screen door. In reality I’m thinking they probably found a sanctuary out of state to take the deer.

It’s a ways until retirement, but it liked the ecolodge area and hot springs so much, I would give serious consideration to retiring there. The community seemed to have a lot of natural healing practitioners, and as of now it’s affordable. I’ll have to come back with my husband and investigate this idea more thoroughly before making any decisions, but this is now a possibility on the list.

Environmental policy in Costa Rica

It’s been a long time since I’ve been outside the country.  In high school I did a school trip to Mexico to see various archaeological sites.  Between college and my first round of grad school, I did a six-week visit to Europe.  Half of it was spent visiting a friend and traveling in Germany, and the other half on one of those “If it’s Tuesday, it must be Belgium” trips.  It was exhausting but I did see a lot.

For one of my journalism jobs I attended a conference in Windsor, Canada, and later I visited my brother who was working at McGill University in Montreal.  I don’t really count Canada as leaving the country, but at least you need a passport.

Now that I’m in a degree-seeking program at Ohio State, I decided to look at study abroad opportunities.  Because of my job I needed something short term, and I wanted something related to the environment. So I picked a spring break service learning trip to Costa Rica, to find out more about what makes this country a leader in sustainability.

Here are some points about Costa Rica’s environmental policy:

  • Almost 30% of land in Costa Rica is in protected reserves, and the country produces more than 90% of its electricity through renewables such as hydroelectric, geothermal and wind. The government has long provided cash incentives for reforestation and sustainable timber projects.  As a result, forest cover grew from 21% in 1987 to 52% in 2005. (source pdf)
  • In 1997 Costa Rica passed a carbon tax of 3.5% (pdf) on all hydrocarbon fossil fuels. It was one of the first countries to pass such a tax.  The revenue goes toward the Payment for Environmental Services program, which offers incentives for property owners to practice sustainable development and conservation.
  • In 2009 Costa Rica set a goal of being the first carbon-neutral country in the world by 2021, though that has now been extended to 2025. The plan is to promote biofuels, hybrid vehicles and clean energy, and to offer a carbon-neutral label through which industry and tourists can pay $10 a ton to offset emissions.  The money would be used to fund conservation, reforestation and research in protected areas. I would definitely pay this for my flight there and back and my time in the country.

One interesting thing about Costa Rica is its Biodiversity Law.  The country is considered one of the Top 20 in the world for biodiversity.  It has more than 500,000 species, or almost 4% of species estimated worldwide.  Part of what makes this possible is its array of ecosystems from coasts to rainforests to mountains.  The other part is the legal framework.

The Biodiversity Law passed in 1998 set up the National Commission for Biodiversity Management (CONAGEBIO), which works with the National System of 11 Conservation Areas to administer the country’s natural resources.  The National Strategy for the Conservation and Sustainable Use of Biodiversity was created in 1999 to guide this management through a highly participatory process on the local and national levels.

One issue that has come up repeatedly is intellectual property rights.  International pharmaceutical and seed corporations want to come in and collect samples of Costa Rica’s biodiversity to use in drugs or crops that they can patent and sell.  Without property rights, they can’t make money, which is what they say allows them to develop and distribute these products.

Costa Rica’s Biodiversity Law, however, gives communities control over this intellectual property.  Communities don’t want to give up this knowledge to international corporations because then they feel they have lost control of the resource for very little compensation.  They think intellectual property rights don’t need to be granted for commercialization to take place.

However, this runs up against the WTO agreement which Costa Rica signed, which does allow corporations from other countries to take its biological resources.  It’s hard to see how this conflict can be resolved to the satisfaction of all.

A final point about Costa Rica: It has no standing army.  The military was abolished in 1948.  For a country that sits next to some places with pretty high levels of violence (Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala), that seems like an odd choice.  But Costa Rica hasn’t had a coup since, and it has spent the “peace dividend” on education and the environment.

The country does have a pretty strong police force, which it needs to deal with a drug trade moving north from South America.  It also has an ongoing border dispute with Nicaragua. But its spending on national defense is zero.

Maybe all of this – biodiversity, environment, and education – is why Costa Rica was recently named the happiest place on earth.