COP21 Green-washed Logo is a Tonne of Hot Air

Literally. Does this logo just released by the UNFCCC remind you of anything? Something that is touted as green but in reality is leading to Tonnes of methane emissions and ruining air, water, and human health around the world? 

“Natural” Gas company and project logos, perhaps? You know- that ones that make this dangerous and dirty form of energy look like it’s a clean energy source? That’s what I thought, too.

 

And of course the color scheme looks like a more infamously green-washed icon: 

 

I personally prefer more honest logos… like this one:

More on Green-washing in a bit. Just let these images sink in for a bit.

Why I’m Not Convinced by U.S. & China Climate Announcements

Is approaching the news that the U.S. and China have both come to an agreement to reduce carbon emissions with fierce skepticism an indicator that neither of these countries have proven to be trustworthy? Yes. Just because neither of these countries have shown ambition or commitment in the past does not mean that the minimal targets that have been established should be celebrated as “ambitious” or even acceptable.

I fear that this is a distraction from moving our work further. Sure,  two of the world’s largest emitters finally had a heart to heart that seemed to produce something more positive is a good start, but what is the hidden cost? Just because they have agreed to set some reduction targets (which, by the way, should not be confused with “ambition” given that they are anything but that) does not mean that this is enough to get these two countries off the hook for their contributions to climate change.

My informed guess is that they are fronting this notion of lower-emissions without factoring in the damages caused by extraction meaning that (you-know-where-I’m-going-with-this) hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking”, is likely to take the lead in energy development in both countries.

It’s no secret that both countries are already exploring the options of becoming more reliant on natural gas as a new “clean” alternative to oil and coal. In the past few years we’ve heard Obama touting gas as a way to lead into a cleaner energy future while admonishing our attachment to fossil fuels. Methinks our president is a tad confused (you’re right, that’s giving him too much leeway).

To top it off, China has been signing deals with other countries to supply the country with exports. So far they have signed a $20billion deal with British Petroleum (BP) and a $400 billion deal with Russia. So far this has prompted analysts to say that Canada, Australia, and the United States need to step up their gas export game.

All this is to say that Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) is becoming the new paradigm in global energy demand. This is the opposite of progress. This is alarming, to say the least. Following the most expensive mid-term elections of all time in the United States where industry poured over $6 billion dollars in to one California county alone to stop a fracking ban and Texas’ government overturning a democratically voted fracking moratorium, natural gas is showing that it is becoming the new big oil.

Why am I concerned about LNG? First off, natural gas may technically “burn cleaner” than coal, but that does not mean that the overall emission are less. Second, the process of exporting LNG is dangerous. Third, Fracking as a practice is ruining our lands and public health through contamination of air and water with over 600 types of carcinogenic chemicals. Fourth, the American public is being lied to by our “leaders.” They commonly speak of how natural gas production will make the U.S. more energy independent and create make energy more affordable and yet here they are wanting to export this resource and prices of gas are projected to increase dramatically(see graphic below).

 

 

P.S. Anyone heard of a little thing called the Trans-Pacific Partnership(TPP)?

TL;DR: In sum this new emission agreement is a guide for a full-on international gas (LNG)  production arms race and we need to be cautious about letting the excitement about something being called “ambitious” get in the way of our critical thinking.

I’ll close with the last sentence of the widely circulated article from the New York Times: “The announcement on Wednesday did not have the details of the projected makeup of renewable energy sources by 2030.”

Want to read more? Check out this resource.

Coaland Doesn’t Represent the Polish People

Poland is a country known for it’s coal. But what people don’t talk much about is that not all of the people in Poland are supportive of these energy projects. It was discussed at the Conference of Youth/ Central and Eastern European Power Shift that a common misconception is that all Polish people are wary of having coal-fired power plants shut down because it is a large source of economic stability for the country. However, according to two residents of Poland that I’ve spoken with, the problem is not so much that people do not want to change, rather the conceptualization of what change looks like is more difficult to understand.

On Monday evening, Polish Independence day, the COP had their opening reception at the University of Warsaw’s Library (Biblioteka Uniwersytecka w Warszawie). As in the tradition of over the top UN gatherings, the entire library was being lit by an eerie green light, servers were walking around with glasses of wine and juices, and ours d’ouevres were being offered by the tray fill. Sponsored mainly by LOTOS, a Polish fossil fuel company, there was a sense of sad irony and corporate capture among many of the youth that I spoke to. Why is the COP accepting money from the very industry that is fueling (pun intended) the problem?

COP19 Reception Entertainment

COP19 Reception Entertainment

COP Co-opted

COP Co-opted

I had the pleasure of meeting a young Polish energy engineering student at the event who was very inquisitive about the COP process who I will call L. in this post. L. told me that he thought since it seems that the coal industry and the issues covered at the COP are related that he thought it best to get himself informed. I asked him what energy source he saw himself doing engineering for in the future and he seemed a bit sheepish as he started with the statement “well, you see… there is really only one source of energy in Poland. It is awkward.” We discussed how coal controls the government in Poland (very similar to how oil controls politics in the United States). He informed me that it seems impossible to move away from coal while the individual economic interests of those in power is being supported by coal.

As we delved deeper into our conversation, I asked him what he thought would start a transition from coal to cleaner energy and he said that he didn’t know. I tried to give him examples of times when we’ve successfully shut down coal plants in the U.S. and simultaneously started to transition toward more renewable energy and he didn’t think that it was plausible in Poland. He maintained that there is not enough interest and buy in behind starting to have more renewable energy. Children don’t know, he said, about other forms of energy. There is nothing environmental in Polish education even at the high school level. It’s hard for people to grow up and see an alternative to the current system without knowing what else is out there. In addition, L. told me that something that the people of Poland do not know that they import most of the coal that they burn. For the Polish people, the coal industry is pushed as being a main source of employment, but this is not the case given that their resources come from elsewhere.

What’s worse is that, like many European countries, college is paid for (or in some cases mostly) paid for by the government by a sort of education credit system. My new friend, L., told me that the government gives a certain amount of extra credits for students who wanted to pursue careers in science and technology (also like the states), but with an even greater chance for extra credits and additional scholarship money if they studied engineering (specifically energy), which L. said was “awkward”.

It is awkward, I thought to myself, that coal has such a strong influence over society that  the very people who could be empowered to make a change feel so helpless.

Things need to change in Warsaw, I think. And after Power Shift CEE, I think that the youth of Poland are well on their way to making that change.

Fossil Funded= Fundamentally wrong.

Fossil Funded= Fundamentally wrong.

Justice is Not Just a Word: It’s Life.

Last night, I had a dream that I went to the conference center where COP19 is taking place this year in Warsaw, Poland and they let me in without checking my credentials. I floated through security after getting my bag checked. I was able to go to all of the meetings I wanted to go to, participate in a solidarity action for the Philippines, and get a lot of meaningful work done with the women and gender caucus… but that was just a dream.

In reality: climate change induced Typhoon Haiyan has torn the Philippines apart, the negotiations are opening with false promises, and the entire conference being hosted to halt climate change is being sponsored by coal. Am I living a nightmare instead?

It’s a very odd thing to be sitting in my hostel, working on homework and blog posts while the rest of my friends, it seems, are inside of the National Stadium in Warsaw watching the COP open. Due to what the convention center is claiming as a limit in capacity, only 9,000 people were allowed into the negotiating venue this year. These cut backs have severely limited many delegations, especially from civil society. This has left many people wondering: is the UN trying to limit the voices of civil society as we head towards a 2015 deal in Paris?

My own delegation started off with a little over a dozen people planning on attending the conference. As the accreditation situation became more and more restricted, we saw one member at a time drop, drop, drop from our delegation. Yesterday, my delegation (who is now a group of 8 people; with only 4 of us going in each week), heard the news that the Polish government refused visas to 50 accredited people from Nigeria. Why? (Alleged) reasons varied from “accreditation was not reason enough to enter the country” to “no proof of sufficient funds to leave the country after the conference ends”. This is very upsetting to me personally for the blatant racism, classism, and overall injustice involved in why they didn’t receive visas. Why is Poland trying to keep more participants from African countries out? Where is the justice in keeping people from countries who are not among the top polluters out of the conference, hell- out of the host country?!

As long and tiring as the process of COP is, I’m glad that myself and other people who are just that- people– are still attending the conference to remind our negotiators that climate change is a matter of life or death. It seems, however, that the powers that be don’t want those of us who are most affected by climate change (women, youth, developing countries) to speak out and to remind negotiators that we are human not just a list of technical terms and statistics.

But we won’t be silent. We’re going to fight to be heard. Justice will be had.

More than ever, we need to make it obvious that we aren’t going to stand for corrupt governments driving the negotiations away from progress. We need to make it know that we are not okay with the intermingling between our environmental agencies and governments with the fossil fuel industry (cough- coal funded COP19- cough). We need to make it known that prejudice should not and cannot be a reason why people are kept from sharing their experiences, knowledge, and opinions at the international level.

Don’t just make a wish- let’s make it happen.

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