Wednesday, December 9 – Fracking action, Exxon trial

Now that the conference is starting to wind down, I am trying to get the most out of every day I have left.  Today I decided to spend the day back at the Climate Generations space to see a few panels that looked especially interesting.  After a nice breakfast at a little cafe near Place to B (I’ve given up on the hostel breakfast), I got on the train to Le Bourget at about 10 a.m., hoping to arrive by 11 a.m. for an 11:15 panel with Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the UNFCCC, and Laurent Fabius, French foreign minister who was functioning as president of COP 21.  Since this was the first panel of the day, security lines were out the door, and I almost didn’t make it there in time.

Panelists for  "Beyond 2015: Transforming NAZCA Commitments into Action"

Panelists for “Beyond 2015: Transforming NAZCA Commitments into Action”

The subject of the panel was “Beyond 2015: Transforming NAZCA Commitments into Action” – NAZCA being Non-State Actor Zone for Climate Action – in other words, city and state governments, corporations, and the like. This was the only time I had seen when Figueres and Fabius might be out of the Blue Zone.  Unfortunately neither of them made it out.  I’m not sure what was going on with negotiations, but apparently they were busy.  Instead we heard briefly from Ségolène Royal, French minister for ecology, sustainable development and energy, and two officials from the United Nations.  Then was the main part of the panel: Katherine Neebe, director of sustainability at Walmart’ Jeanett Bergan, of the Noway investment fund KLP; and Ralph Becker, mayor of Salt Lake City.

The mayor was the best of the three, declaring openly that we need a new Congress before the Senate will do what needs to be done regarding climate change.  He also discussed everything Salt Lake City is doing regarding climate.  Neebe said Walmart has set goals for zero emissions and zero waste, which is great – but when asked during Q and A she dodged questions on whether Walmart would commit to supporting the COP21 agreement with conservative senators and whether Walmart would commit to phasing out plastic bags.  The KPL representative was equally disappointing.  She said the fund has divested from coal but decided not to divest from other fossil fuels due to financial concerns.  I don’t know what those could be: Research shows that 80 percent of known fossil fuel reserves must stay in the ground, which will result in a lot of stranded assets.

Art in Section C of the Green Zone.

Art in Section C of the Green Zone.

Once the panel got out, I needed to get lunch. Lines at the restaurants were not as long as the first day, but still long.  I got into the line for crepes and waited. By the time I got my food, all tables were occupied. I ended up sitting next to a woman from a nonprofit called Population Media Center, which works on the issue of overpopulation – but has a very creative way to getting their message out.  They work with the producers of TV shows, specifically soap operas and shows aimed at teenagers, to get messages about birth control and not having children into the script.  Apparently this effort to lower birth rates has been done since the 1970s — and there’s lots of evidence that it works.

By the time I finished lunch, the next panel I wanted to see had already started. It was on “Keeping fossil fuels in the ground: the international movement to ban fracking,” featuring Bill McKibben of  I headed over after hearing from my CCL colleague Michael Holm on Facebook that McKibben was speaking, and managed to catch the last 10 minutes of his talk.  I haven’t followed the anti-fracking movement closely, so I didn’t know most of the other panelists, but they were all good: Kassie Siegel, Center for Biological Diversity; John Fenton, farmer from Wyoming;  Sandra Steingraber, New York biologist who writes about fracking; Wenonah Hauter, Food and Water Watch; Liesbeth von Tongeren, Greenpeace Netherlands; and Joaquin Turco, fracking activist from Argentina.

Panel on "Keeping fossil fuels in the ground: the international movement to ban fracking"

Panel on “Keeping fossil fuels in the ground: the international movement to ban fracking”

After the panel was a 3 p.m. protest against fracking near the columns outside the main venue for COP 21.  Rally organizers had managed to get a 30-minute permit for the event from the French government, and the rally took place under the watchful eye of the police.  Speakers included several people from the indigenous community, including Kandi Mossett of Indigenous Environmental Network, and Casey Camp Horinek of Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature.  There were also speakers from the Netherlands, Scotland, and Argentina, and for the first time I realized that the movement against fracking is truly global.  The rally ended with a beautiful women’s warrior song led by Horinek.

Once the rally dispersed, I found the Sierra Club table in Climate Generations  and traded stories of the panels I had been to with people there.  Steven Sondheim had gone to a panel that touted nuclear power as the solution to climate change.  This is a matter of hot debate among climate activists. James Hansen and three colleagues  say nuclear power is essential to transitioning off fossil fuels because it provides a lot of energy with no carbon emissions.  Others point out that nuclear plants take a long time to site and build, partly because no one wants to live near them; that while accidents are unlikely, they can be catastrophic; and that no one wants to accept the radioactive waste which must be stored forever.  The Sierra Club and most environmental organizations have long been anti-nuclear.  Citizens Climate Lobby does not take a position.

Title slide for "What Exxon Knew and What It Did Anyway"

Title slide for “What Exxon Knew and What It Did Anyway”

At the Sierra Club booth I also met another national board member, Michael Dorsey, who teaches environmental policy at Dartmouth.  Michael told me has been “going to COPs since before they were COPs,” and has made climate justice a central part of his research.  Michael, Larry Fahn, and I were all headed to the same evening event, so we took the train together to Gare du Nord, then caught a cab to the event: a legal panel on “What Exxon Knew and What It Did Anyway,” discussing the prospects of a RICO case against Exxon and other fossil fuel corporations similar to the case brought by the Department of Justice against the tobacco industry.

Matt Pawa presented a RICO case against Exxon.

Matt Pawa (right) presented a RICO case against Exxon.

I was not allowed to videotape the event, probably because the attorneys who presented understandably do not want details to get out to the opposition.  But I can post some basic information.  The event was introduced by Antonio Oposa, an environmental lawyer from the Philippines who has won several landmark cases to protect topical forests and clean up Manila Bay.  Then U.S. environmental attorney Matthew Pawa presented a case against Exxon for violations of the RICO statutes based on documents that have recently been made public through blockbuster reporting by Inside Climate News and Los Angeles Times.  Pawa has already won cases against Exxon over groundwater pollution in New Hampshire, and against AEP over greenhouse gas pollution.  Finally a panel of experts responded to the case and took questions from the audience.  These included Naomi Ages of Greenpeace; Richard Harvey, British human rights attorney; Ken Kimmel of Union of Concerned Scientists; Michael Gerrard, director of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at the Earth Institute, Columbia University; and Carroll Muffett, president of the Center for International Environmental Law, which organized the event.

Michael Gerrard (standing) and other panelists at the Exxon Knew event.

Michael Gerrard (standing) and other panelists at the Exxon Knew event.

Having missed a similar event with Naomi Klein and Bill McKibben on Saturday — Bill McKibben was in the audience for this — I was especially glad to catch this event, which featured some of the very people who will likely be involved in an actual case against Exxon if it ever goes to trial.  But by the time the event got out, I was past ready for dinner.  I walked back to Place to B with the idea of dropping off my heavy backpack, then finding a nearby restaurant.  However, upon arrival, I was beckoned into the bar area and offered a free vegan dinner.  I don’t know which group was responsible, but there was a huge spread of vegan food, and it was all free.

A much-needed vegan dinner

A much-needed vegan dinner

I gratefully accepted, filled a plate, and headed to the back room for a seat.  As soon as I opened the door, I ran into Steven Sondheim, the Sierra Club volunteer from Tennessee, who invited me to join his table.  I felt as if I had run into an old friend and was happy to find a place.  One of Steven’s tablemates was an anti-fracking activist from Scotland named Maria Montinaro, and we talked for a long time.  She told me that she had previously held a low-level job at the Bank of Scotland but had been fired for her fracking activism.  Although there is an official moratorium on fracking in Scotland, the government is allowing test drilling ro be conducted near major cities, which has led to a series of protests and resistance actions among citizens.  The government is supposed to decide in 2017 whether to lift the moratorium or make it a full ban.

As the evening wound down, we all agreed to meet up again Thursday night for a showing of Groundswell Rising at Generator Hostel.  Naomi Klein would be speaking at the same time, but the plan was to show the movie once, then hold a discussion, then show it again for those at the Klein event.  With that I wished everyone good night and headed to bed.

Thursday, December 3 – Vandana Shiva, Climate Generations, Sierra Club

Today I woke up with another headache, but this one not as debilitating as yesterday’s.  Still it was off to another slow start.  Fortunately I did not have to be anywhere immediately, as my first event was at 1 p.m. at Place to B – a press conference about Monsanto with environmental and agricultural activist Vandana Shiva.  I am falling into a routine of catching up on news and social media posts in the morning before actually going out to do things in the afternoon.  That’s okay until I have to be somewhere early.

Vandana Shiva speaks to the media at Place to B.

Vandana Shiva speaks to the media at Place to B.

Before the event Vandana Shiva held her own press conference, and at 1 p.m. she took part in a press conference with several others on an International Tribunal Against Monsanto for Crimes Against Humanity, an activist event planned at the Hague in October 2016.  Both events were packed, and I could barely get a spot.  While GMOs are a fact of life in the United States – almost all of our corn and soy are genetically modified — they are effectively banned in France.  The audience at Place to B was very receptive to the message of this press conference, and many Europeans seem genuinely concerned about the safety of their food and biodiversity in their farming.

Monsanto tribunal press conference at Place to B.

Monsanto tribunal press conference at Place to B.

Taking part in the press conference were:

  • Marie-Monique Robin,  film director and writer, author of the movie and book Le monde selon Monsanto (The World According to Monsanto), sponsor of the tribunal  (introduction)
  • André Leu (Australia), president of  IFOAM – International Foundation for Organic Agriculture – (about the consequences of Monsanto on health and biodiversity)
  • Dr. Vandana Shiva (India), general director of the Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology (the consequences of Monsanto on farmers and food sovereignty)
  • Dr. Hans Rudolf Herren (United States), president of the Millenium Institute of Washington (the consequences of Monsanto on climate change)
  • Ronnie Cummins (United States), international director of Organic Consumers (about the impact on the political and regulatory institutions)
  • Dr. Olivier de Schutter (Belgium), former Rapporteur on UN Right to Food, professor of international law at Université catholique de Louvain (legal tools of the Tribunal)
  • Valérie Cabanes (France), spokeswoman of End Ecocide on Earth (towards the recognition of ecocide as a felony).

About half the speakers spoke in French, half in English.  This was a gathering that you would not likely see in the United States.  Although the event they are planning for the Hague will not be an official trial, the speakers said it is more than symbolic, as their goal is to establish ecocide as a crime and show that Monsanto is guilty.  Among other things, they argued that Monsanto promotes an industrial model of agriculture responsible for 1/3 of greenhouse gas emissions and the depletion of soil and water resources, and that its highly toxic pesticides have damaged the environment, harmed species, and sickened or killed millions of people.  Shiva pointed to the rash of suicides among Indian farmers who went into debt buying seeds and pesticides for GMO cotton.  Cummins discussed Monsanto’s influence on regulations in the United States and abroad.

You can watch the entire press conference posted by Place to B (French speakers not translated), read anti-Monsanto stories here, here and here; neutral stories here and here; and a pro-Monsanto story here.

After the Monsanto press conference let out, I headed to Le Bourget for more time in the Climate Generations space.  Again it took almost an hour to get there from Place to B, so I didn’t arrive until after 3 p.m.  I spent some time hanging out at the Sierra Club booth, then doing a more thorough walk-through of the booths in the C section.  I had wanted to get to the A and B sections too, but didn’t make it there, as I had promised to record a presentation on “Plastification of the ocean” starting at 5 p.m.

CG entrance

Unfortunately it turned out that every speaker on the plastics panel spoke in French.  Those in the room could wear headphones to get the translation, but there would be no translation for my video, so I did not keep it.  However, I did learn some interesting things.  Most of the speakers were people who had led or taken part in various ocean voyages to study and document the amount and types of plastics in the ocean.  There is now so much that they have a word for it: the plastosphere.  Most people now know about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, which is a whirlpool of plastic pollution twice the size of Texas in the Pacific.  However, there are five such whirlpools across the planet, and there is plastic everywhere.  One mission was simply to study it in the Mediterranean.  Most of it is not large pieces but microplastics broken down into tiny bits.

Anne-Cécile Turner (second from right), director of Race for Water Foundation, speaks on a panel about plastics in the ocean at COP 21.

Anne-Cécile Turner (second from right), director of Race for Water Foundation, speaks on a panel about plastics in the ocean at COP 21.

One thing the speakers emphasized was preventing plastic from getting to the ocean in the first place through laws like plastic bag bans.  But they did not seem all that enthusiastic about projects to clean what is there up, such as this invention by a teenager from Holland.  That surprised and disappointed me.  Perhaps they don’t think the amount of plastic now in the ocean can be cleaned up.  Or maybe they think if people believe it can be cleaned up easily, they will keep on discarding it.  Either way, I don’t see how we can not try to clean up the amount of plastics we currently have in the ocean.  It is causing untold suffering to billions of sea creatures, and it’s not ethical to allow this.  Of course we need to pass laws to prevent it from happening in the first place, but in my opinion we also need to figure out how to clean up what we have put there.

The presentation was in the last time slot of the day, and when it let out everyone in Climate Generations made a beeline for the shuttles to head back to Gare du Nord.  My next stop was a meeting of the Sierra Club delegation.  There besides going through events of the day and getting an update on negotiations from Fred Heutte, we heard from Sena Alouka, director of Youth Volunteers for the Environment, in Togo, and his colleague, Mavis Mensah.  Their organization provides education about climate and environment to schoolchildren.

A group from the Sierra Club catches dinner at a pizzeria in Paris. Clockwise from the lower left are Mavis Mensah, Youth Volunteers for the Environment, Togo; Fred Heutte, Federal and International Climate Campaign; Glen Besa, Virginia Chapter; Sena Alouka, Youth Volunteers for the Environment, Togo; Tyla Matteson, Virginia Chapter; Nicole Ghio, International Campaign; Cathy Becker, Ohio Chapter; and Steven Sondheim,Tennessee chapter.  Photo by Katherine Muller.

A group from the Sierra Club catches dinner at a pizzeria in Paris. Clockwise from the lower left are Mavis Mensah, Youth Volunteers for the Environment, Togo; Fred Heutte, Federal and International Climate Campaign; Glen Besa, Virginia Chapter; Sena Alouka, Youth Volunteers for the Environment, Togo; Tyla Matteson, Virginia Chapter; Nicole Ghio, International Campaign; Cathy Cowan Becker, Ohio Chapter; and Steven Sondheim,Tennessee chapter. Photo by Katherine Muller.

Afterward several of us walked to a pizzeria that Fred knew, where I got a great dinner and enjoyed even better company. Besides the two guests from Togo, we had Glen Besa and Tyla Matteson of the Virginia chapter, Fred Heutte of the Federal & International Climate Campaign, Nicole Ghio of the International Campaign, Steven Sondheim of the Tennessee chapter, and a new person, Katherine Muller from South Carolina.  Steven told me she knew how to work a room, and he was right.  She talked to every single person there, got their stories, and told us hers.  I ended up there late looking at all the photos on her phone and finding out what she did that day.  Turns out she had visited the sites of the terrorist attacks, and the photos were so amazing that I decided I to go myself the next day.  By the end of the night I felt as if I had encountered a long lost friend.

Tuesday, December 1 – Green Zone opens

Now that the Opening Ceremonies and Leaders Event for COP 21 are over, the facility has opened for the rest of us.  There are two main parts to the conference headquarters. First is the Blue Zone, where the actual negotiations take place.  You have to have a badge to get into the Blue Zone, which I do not have. In the past, I am told, the United Nations has been pretty generous in issuing badges to observer organizations such as Sierra Club, but this year they were not.  Sierra Club had about 70 members coming to Paris, but they got only 10 badges.  This meant that only certain staff members and the highest-level volunteers could get in.  Citizens Climate Lobby had badges only for Joe Robertson and the global strategies advisor Sarabeth Brockley, who works for the United Nations.  Climate Reality had no badges for anyone but Al Gore and president Ken Berlin.

Wind trees create power from wind near COP 21.

Wind trees create power from wind near COP 21.

I knew going into the conference that getting into the Blue Zone was unlikely barring a last-minute miracle. For example, a couple of times someone posted on the CAN listserv that their group had an extra badge, but invariably it was snatched up within minutes.  Even knowing this, I decided to go anyway. I was on the fence until the Sustainability conference in October at Ohio State. Among the speakers was Andrew Light, staff climate adviser in the Office of Policy Planning for the U.S. Department of State.  Light had acted as a negotiator at several COPs, so he knew first-hand what it was like.  He told me that watching the actual negotiations was incredibly boring, and that most of the action was in the civil society section of the conference.  He described the hope he felt walking through the enormous civil society section which housed organization after organization working on some aspect of addressing climate change.  That made me decide that even without a badge to the Blue Zone, I could get a lot out of attending.

Entrance to Climate Generations.

Entrance to Climate Generations.

The civil society section of COP 21 was called Climate Generations, also known as the Green Zone.  That is where the Sierra Club had a booth set up, so today I set out to see the Green Zone and meet the people at the Sierra Club booth.  Getting to COP 21 from my hostel was pretty involved, but there were people in green jackets at the Gare du Nord train station to provide directions.  First I had to buy tickets for Line B of the regional train, known as RER, which were more expensive than regular metro tickets.  I had to take that train to the Le Bourget stop, then catch a free shuttle to the COP 21 headquarters.  Once I got off the shuttle, I had to walk over to the Green Zone.

Once arriving at the Climate Generations space, I had to go through airport-like security screening. They had about a dozen lines, and I didn’t get there until the afternoon, so lines were short.  Finally I was in the Green Zone.  It was a huge building, the size of an airline hangar, with all the facilities set up just for this conference.  Coming in there was a coat check, a station to recharge electronics, and an area of tables to meet at.  Down most of one side was a large auditorium and a series of seven meeting rooms.  These would be filled every day with panels, discussions, and other events.  Then there were various performance spaces and three different areas for civil society booths.

Sierra Club booth

Sierra Club booth in the Climate Generations space. From left to right are President Obama (in cardboard anyway); Glen Besa, Virginia chapter; Jim Dougherty, national board; and Tyla Matteson, Virginia Chapter.

I was wondering how to find the Sierra Club booth when I happened across area C, which housed about 50 booths, and saw that its map included the Sierra Club.  So I went in to say hi, and met several of the people who I would become friends with during the course of the trip.  These included Glen Besa and his wife Tyla Matteson from the Virginia chapter, Jim Dougherty who is on the national board, and Steven Sondheim from Tennessee who was in charge of staffing the booth.  These four were the mainstays of the Sierra Club booth and ended up doing the lion’s share of work staffing it.  Beside the booth was a life-size cutout figure of Obama, which people kept wanting to get their pictures with.

I had not had lunch, but lines at the restaurants were so long that I decided to skip it. My Sierra Club colleagues told me that this is how it always works the first day — the vendors just don’t seem to be able to handle the crowds.  Lines for food were at least an hour and sometimes two hours long. Tyla shared some of her croissant with me, and we all decided in the future to pick up food at the train station and bring it with us to the Green Zone.  I did walk around and get some photos around the building, and I located the all important bathrooms and water filling stations.  As a souvenir each booth got COP 21 water bottles to hand out, and I accepted mine gratefully.

James Hansen surrounded by media after his talk at Place to B.

James Hansen surrounded by media after his talk at Place to B.

Tonight was an important event at Place to B.  Each night from 6 to 8 p.m. the hostel has programmed special guest panels for a feature called Place to Brief, and tonight’s panel included Naomi Klein, author of This Changes Everything, and former NASA scientist James Hansen, known for testifying about climate change before Congress in 1988.  I knew the CCL people would be there to see Hansen as he is on the CCL board.  I wanted to see both, as did others from the Sierra Club.  Steven and I left the Green Zone a little after 5 p.m., but transportation took so long that we didn’t get to Place to B until right at 6 — and the downstairs area where Place to Brief happens was completely full.

James Hansen and Sustaina Claus at Place to B.

James Hansen and Sustaina Claus at Place to B.

Fortunately the hostel was live streaming the proceedings on TVs in the workspace upstairs.  Unfortunately a lot of people in the workspace would not stop talking, even though others were trying to watch the event.  I set up my GoPro video camera and taped the panel from upstairs, which meant that I was basically taping a TV show, but it was better than not taping anything at all.  The sound quality was poor at times, but we were able to catch most of it.  Later I discovered that a Facebook friend, Paul Beckwith, had also gotten into this event, taped Hansen’s entire presentation, and posted the video on his blog.