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.

Saturday, December 5 – ADP, People’s Climate Summit, Sierra Club dinner

This morning the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP) released its draft negotiating text. This text is basically what last year’s negotiators in Durban are handing off to this year’s negotiators in Paris for finalizing a climate agreement that starts in 2020. The text started with a lot of alternatives in brackets — for example [1.5C] or [well below 2C] — and it was the job this week of the Durban committee to wheedle those brackets down before handing the text off to Paris . They got about half the brackets decided, but many others including the choices on temperature target remain.

One controversy arose in the wake of the new negotiating text: the rights of indigenous people, which had been mentioned in Article 2.2, were removed and put into the preamble. Even worse, this was done at the request of Norway and the United States.  Indigenous groups were furious because they are among the people most affected by climate change.  Article 2 is important because it explains the purpose of the agreement and how it will be implemented.

Dallas Goldtooth of the Indigenous Environmental Network discussed this with my Citizens Voice colleague Jeremy Lent:

Here is how Article 2.2 looked going into the negotiations:

[This Agreement shall be implemented on the basis of equity and science, in [full] accordance with the principles of equity and common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities[, in the light of national circumstances] [the principles and provisions of the Convention], while ensuring the integrity and resilience of natural ecosystems, [the integrity of Mother Earth, the protection of health, a just transition of the workforce and creation of decent work and quality jobs in accordance with nationally defined development priorities] and the respect, protection, promotion and fulfillment of human rights for all, including indigenous peoples, including the right to health and sustainable development, [including the right of people under occupation] and to ensure gender equality and the full and equal participation of women, [and intergenerational equity].]

And here is how it looked coming out of the ADP:

[This Agreement shall be implemented on the basis of equity and science, and in accordance with the principle of equity and common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities, in the light of different national circumstances, and on the basis of respect for human rights and the promotion of gender equality [and the right of peoples under occupation].]

Rockstrom's original nine planetary boundaries.

Rockstrom’s original nine planetary boundaries.

Today was Action Day at COP 21.  Inside the Blue Zone, negotiators got to hear from people like Al Gore, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and Johan Rockstrom, of the Stockholm Resilience Centre, whose pivotal 2009 paper in Nature established the idea of planetary boundaries.  Outside the Blue Zone – in fact, outside the entire planet – astronauts aboard the International Space Station sent a message to negotiators.

Meanwhile I decided to visit the People’s Climate Summit and Global Village of Alternatives, a two-day festival in the Montreuil suburb of Paris sponsored by Climate Coalition 21.  For people from Columbus, imagine a version of Comfest in which everything centers around climate and environment — then translate it all into French.  There were sections on agriculture, energy, education, industry, culture, economy, biodiversity, and more covering about 12 city blocks.

This tree was held hundreds of ribbons expressing what people did not want to lose to climate disruption.

This tree was held hundreds of ribbons expressing what people did not want to lose to climate disruption.

On entering the festival, I was greeted by a large wooden tree with hundreds of ribbons in all colors hanging from its branches.  The idea was to write something close to your heart that you did not want to lose to climate disruption  on a blank ribbon. Then you would tie that ribbon somewhere on the tree and take a ribbon that someone else had left that connected with you.  My ribbon said “The creeks, mountains, and forests of Northwest Arkansas,” where I grew up and first learned to love nature. The one I took said “Sequoia National Park and all the beautiful trees in California.”

Some of the alternative living arrangements on display included styrofoam packaging that had been refashioned to grow plants, hanging art made from plastic bottles and other trash, and composting toilets that used sawdust rather than flushing with water. There were lots of food booths, lots of book booths, and lots of art.  One particularly memorable piece of art was a huge replica of the Statue of Liberty with steam coming out of her lantern and the words “Freedom to Pollute” on her tablet.

Hanging art made from trash

Hanging art made from trash

There were also interesting actions.  People on a bicycle built for four pedaled through the crowds.  The Greenpeace polar bear wandered about, at one point with little kids trying to pull his tail.  At another point, several people in mock hazmat suits and hardhats came through the streets pushing large barrels marked as containing oil.  They would try to get people in the crowd to drink the oil, proclaiming it perfectly safe and pretending to drink it themselves, but then spitting it out.

Unfortunately for me, even though the website for the summit was in English, pretty much all the displays were in French so I couldn’t get a deep understanding of what a lot of them were about.  However, there was no misunderstanding one woman who ran after me after I took a photo at her booth.  For the second time on this trip, someone did not want me to take their picture – but in this case she was worried that I might be police or some sort of spy.  When it became clear that I was just a tourist she lightened up, but told me that I needed to ask permission before taking any more photos.

This Statue of Liberty proclaims Freedom to Pollute.

This Statue of Liberty proclaims Freedom to Pollute.

After that I was not sure what to do.  In the United States, this would be considered a public event and I would have a constitutional right to take photos.  But now I was in another country that was on edge having just been through a terrorist attack.  I walked around without taking photos for awhile, then saw a woman with a nice DSL camera.  I asked her if she spoke English, and she did, so then I told her what happened and asked if I really needed to ask permission to take photos in a setting like this.  “Absolutely not,” she said, apologizing for how I had been treated.  I didn’t need the apology, but was relieved to find out the problem was one irritated person, not French law.  I ended up talking with the photographer, whose name is Chris Dyn, for about half an hour about climate, environment, agriculture, and diet, and we became Facebook friends.

summit poster

By then it was closing in on 5 p.m., and I needed to be at a dinner for the Sierra Club delegation at 6 p.m., so I started off. While riding the train back to the central part of Paris, I was checking social media only to find a post about an event that had started at 4 p.m. at the summit I had just left: Bill McKibben and Naomi Klein were holding a mock trial of Exxon in which they were calling a number of important people as witnesses, including the climate scientist Jason Box.  How had I not seen or heard about that??  I would have gone if I had known, but it was not on the event lists for either Sierra Club or Citizens Climate Lobby.

Later I found out that the mock trial had been announced through the CAN email list, but since it literally takes two to three hours to go through all that email each day, I had not seen it.  Fortunately there are a number of news accounts from Desmog Blog, Climate Home,  National Observer, Santa Barbara Independent and World Report Now. also posted a video with highlights from the event.

The Sierra Club held its Saturday dinner at a restaurant near Generator Hostel in Paris.

The Sierra Club held its Saturday dinner at a restaurant near Generator Hostel in Paris.

Once back in Paris, I went to the Sierra Club dinner at a restaurant near Generator Hostel, where most people in the Sierra Student Coalition were staying.  I had invited my Climate Reality colleague John Davis to attend, and he was able to make some connections with people in the Sierra Club.  After dinner I talked with the producer and director of a new film about fracking called Groundswell Rising.  It turned out they were staying at Place to B, so we all ended up catching a cab ride back there together.