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Sandra Steingraber: Dispatches From the Paris Climate Talks
To walk into the vast, gated community called Le Bourget, where the two-week Paris climate summit is nearly over, is to enter a surreal community.
It starts with the candy-colored sculptures of megafauna who pose, two by two, along the main boulevard just on the other side of the security checkpoint. They are larger than life (to remind us of the enormity of the task at hand?) and translucent (to signal openness and sincerity of effort?).
Meanwhile, the vaulted, transparent roof above the animal parade gives the impression that we are looking at the sky through an upside down, glass-bottomed boat.
Lord, has our arc already passed the tipping point?
In fact, there are skylights throughout this complex of outsized buildings, bathing everything and everyone in the serenity of natural light—as oblique as it is in northern hemisphere December.
Sunlight shines on the battalions of journalists at work in the press room that is, all by itself, the size of an airplane terminal. It shines into the bustling exhibitions halls where everyone with a booth claims to be part of the solution and ready to lead, including the very nice woman at Nuclear4Climate with her many pie charts.
It glints off the ubiquitous, glossy news brief that lies on every café table and writing surface, courtesy of We Mean Business, the voice of the investor community that “stands ready to lead the global transition to a thriving, clean economy” but only if the world’s governments adopt “an ambitious catalytic agreement that signals an irreversible shirt to a new global economy.”
And the sun is presumably also shining in the inner sanctum of this buzzing place where the climate treaty is being forged behind closed doors. On Monday morning, negotiators handed a 21-page draft document to the world’s ministers—as a kind of passing of a baton in a relay race that is taking place on a political high wire.
Sunday was scheduled as a day of rest for the teams of negotiators, but, in fact, they continued to toil away here in their efforts to hammer out a global agreement that is supposed to trigger rapid decarbonization of a global energy system that, currently, is 80 percent dependent on lighting carbon on fire.
In this process, the negotiators and the ministers are not sequestered away, like jurors, from the kaleidoscope of plenaries, debates, summits, announcements and media events going on all around them—and at any given hour there are multiple presentations in multiple venues—but exist in a dynamic relationship with them. They give and receive messages. They take meetings. They emerge to make announcements. They are entreated, cajoled, pressured and tweeted at. They participate in media events, attended by hundreds.
It’s the first time I’ve heard a question at a press conference begin with the words, “Your excellency...”
And because last week’s negotiators delivered to this week’s ministers a draft with many bracketed passages, indicating places where the language is contested and multiple word choices remain to be made, almost nothing, at this point, has been taken off the table and anything could still happen in the next few days.
The sense here is that COP21, as the Paris climate talks are called, could be a truly historic moment. A turning point in human history. A transformational event that helps avert planetary catastrophe.
Or it could entirely go off the rails.
La Bourget is not a cynical or hysterical place. In spite of the treaty’s many remaining unresolved issues—What’s the time scale? What’s the temperature target? Who pays? How are commitments verified?—the mood here remains cooperative, urgent and doggedly determined. For now.
As is it does at the profusion of side events going on all over the city of Paris, any one of which would be a headliner affair in any other context.
On Sunday night, I walked by past the Arc de Triumph and dropped in on the World Climate Summit. With Sustainia Awards to hand out “to the winners of tomorrow” and multiple plenary presentations, the summit brought together hundreds of investors, financiers, bankers, business leader and entrepreneurs of all kinds. Ted Turner was in the house. So was Sir Richard Branson. The price of a ticket: $1,000. (I had a press pass).
In an interview with me at the end of the evening, the hosts of the event, Michael Mathres—strategic communications advisor, co-founder of World Climate Ltd. and longtime observer of the many rounds of United Nations climate talks, had this to say about COP21: “I’m quite hopeful. This is the first weekend and it’s the first time where all the countries have signed a draft agreement on the first weekend. It’s rare to have a draft so early.”
Noting that U.S. CEOs were now on board along with their European counterparts, Marthres claimed the global business community was ready for action and was waiting only for a strong signal from political leaders that the commitment to renewable energy and a decarbonized future was deep, broad and enduring.
He was also sanguine about the provisional language still remaining in the draft treaty—“it’s matter of negotiating”—although doubtful that the final version would ultimately embrace the target temperature rises that science claims is necessary to save island nations from drowning (1.5 degrees or less). Nevertheless, Mathres thought the real value of the treaty lie not so much in the thermometer number chosen for the final draft but in its ability to kick-start investment and so create accelerating change that can be further ratcheted up in the years ahead.
As an example, Mathres pointed to the momentum of China, which went from zero solar panels 10 years ago to becoming the world’s leader in solar power today. The driving force, he said, was not a treaty but lowered technology costs and greater efficiencies.
For Mathres, who is French, the big potential obstacle in the road to a renewable, carbon-free future is not the climate denying hold-outs elected to high office in the U.S. (“you can’t count on the U.S. Congress”) but financial instruments. Especially irksome to Mathres is the fact that the Green Climate Fund—the mechanism by which developed nations help developing nations go renewable—has a budget of $100 billion in while subsidies given to the fossil fuel industry exceed $500 billion. That sends the wrong signal to business and finance leaders.
Those fossil fuels have but two faces. “Coal is dead. It’s the end of coal,” Mathres said matter of factly. As he sees it, oil and gas are the sole remaining competitors with renewables. Of these, the oil industry, he noted, had been unusually quiet at COP21, while natural gas has been speaking loudly, trying to position itself as a big player and a “bridge” to renewables.
And what did Mathres think about that? “Look,” he said. “I’m against gas. You can compensate for gas with renewables. We don’t need gas.” He also noted that promotion of natural gas would give the upper hand to Russia, which sits atop vast gas fields.
Mathres’ optimistic candor and concerns about the possible direction of financial incentives were shared by Peik Stenlund, one of 50 CEOs attending the World Climate Summit.
Stendlund told me that the 2009 climate treaty negotiations in Copenhagen—widely seen as a failure—changed his life entirely. “COP15 inspired me to devote my life to solving the problem of climate change.”
Smiling, he added, “I was very young.”
Now, the company he founded, Swedish-based Pamojo, provides electricity, via gasification of waste plus solar panels, to rural east African communities.
Stendlund’s enthusiasm for scalable business models that serve sustainable energy needs was palpable. He told me that he sees himself as an active change maker—one of many here at the summit—who is ready to ramp up. To that end, he is about to launch a foundation. “If politicians can’t agree to do something, we can do something—as long as there are ears on the political side listening to our needs,” said Stenlund.
And what are those needs? The founder and CEO didn’t hesitate. “We need the right incentives. Carbon dioxide needs to be taxed.”
Needless to say, not everyone here at COP21 is focused on how to incentivize technological innovation through pricing and financial schemes. Some delegates are more concerned about their island homes being swept out to sea. Or the tundra melting beneath their feet.
By Monday morning, back at La Bourget, indigenous groups were openly expressing alarm about the possibilities of a minimalist deal that would allow for 3 degrees of warming. “Below 1.5 to stay alive!” was the rallying cry.
Also on Monday, Climate Action Network’s daily newsletter, Eco, ran an open letter to the negotiating ministers under the headline “Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien” (No, I Regret Nothing): “The two deals are clear. We can have the no-regrets deal or we can have the 3-degrees deal. The question now becomes: Who will bring us to the no-regrets deal?”
On the same day, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon urged the ministers in a direct address, which he also shared with the media in a press conference, to be bold and do “what the science tells us … nature goes on its on way. It does not negotiate with humans. It does not wait for humans.” He openly acknowledged that, above 1.5 degrees of warming, many island nations will drown.
By the end of Tuesday, the 1.5-degree target was still on the table and rumors and reports swirled that momentum was building behind it. Sec. of State John Kerry said that the U.S. would support 1.5. But as an “aspirational” goal.
So, now we enter the final 72-hour hours of the two-week climate talks and all I know for sure is that I increasingly dislike Le Bourget’s expressionless, cartoon animal greeters, which seem to offer no clues at all about what the ultimate outcome will be. Upon which everything we love depend.
So, every morning at dawn, before heading out to Le Bourget, I jog through the Tuileries Garden near my hotel by the Louvre where the statuary is demonstrative and has things to say about nature, victory, heroism and betrayal.
Along the gravel path, under an open sky, Hercules contemplates his superhuman labors. Theseus clubs the Minotaur. A shepherd rescues a goat. A lion subdues a crocodile. Nymphs repose by pools of water. Lovers kiss.
And Cain strides naked and alone, hands over face, having just learned, too late, that, yes, he was his brother’s keeper.
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Should you skip your annual checkup? The answer would have been a resounding "no" if you asked most doctors before the pandemic.
But with the risk of COVID-19, the answer isn't so clear anymore.
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Is it Safe to Go to the Doctor?<p>If your state is open (or will end its lockdown soon), you may be able to start booking preventive care appointments, like Pap smears, cancer screenings, checkups, and dental cleanings.</p><p>But is it worth the risk of possible exposure to the new coronavirus?</p><p>Opinions vary among healthcare providers and the conditions of their patients, as well as the infection rate in their communities and availability of personal protective equipment.</p><p><a href="https://www.lenhorovitz.com/" target="_blank">Dr. Len Horovitz</a>, internist, pulmonary specialist, and director of Carnegie Medical, recommends that patients avoid delaying their annual physical or other types of preventive care.</p><p>"You will encounter problems that are best seen earlier rather than later," he said. "It is possible to provide a safe environment for a patient in the doctor's office. There's no reason for people to put off an annual exam; these are important appointments that help keep problems from getting out of control."</p><p>In an effort to curb the spread of infection, Horovitz has been following a strict set of procedures at his office, including allowing just one patient in at a time, requiring patients to wear masks and gloves, and disinfecting the examination room between every patient.</p><p>Other physicians, like Ankireddypalli, conduct a risk-benefit analysis for every patient before agreeing to see them in person.</p><p>"It is probably not appropriate to keep delaying visits for high-risk patients, like older adults or people with chronic conditions," he explained.</p>
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When it comes to recycling and recyclability, very little, it seems is straightforward — even something as seemingly simple as orange juice can present a conundrum. In Germany, many smaller shops sell drinks in cartons or plastic bottles, both of which will end up in the yellow recycling bin. But how do their recycling credentials stack up?
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Lack of Recycled Plastic<p>A 2017 cyclos-HTP study into the recyclability of conventional packaging waste concluded that a third of it was not recyclable, and only 40% of the remaining two-thirds was made into plastic recyclate. The rest was used as fuel <em>—</em> in other words it was incinerated.</p><p>"There was no economic or political pressure to recycle more than this amount," Christiani says. "The prescribed recycling quotas were met, and there were not nearly enough recycling plants."</p>
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Rethinking the Whole System<p>Although plastic is a very useful material, at the end of its life it causes many problems, EASAC environmental program director Michael Norton tells DW, adding that we have to rethink the whole system and completely change the way we use plastic.</p><p>Joachim Christiani says the packaging industry is starting to catch on. Around 70% of recycled mass can currently be generated from packaging, but that figure is expected to rise in the future.</p><p>"95% is quite feasible," says the engineer, adding that sorting facilities are currently undergoing improvements, while packaging design is also changing.</p>
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When the coronavirus pandemic hit, the future of the Cannard Family Farm—whose organic vegetables supplied a single Berkeley restaurant—was looking stark.
Building Food Communities<p>Family farms in California and across the country have been hit hard by the impact of the coronavirus on their markets. But in the health-conscious Bay Area, where celery was already one of the first groceries to disappear from the produce rack, demand for fresh local produce has shot up. The challenge is in redirecting food from farms to new customers.</p><p>Sonoma County has historically been an agricultural region. When the organic food movement sprang up in the 1970s, this area was one of its early proponents. The first farmers markets and CSAs appeared in the 1980s and flourished, but the burgeoning network was later eclipsed by an inflated wine industry, much of it owned by distant corporations.</p><p>According to a 2018 crop report, 60,000 acres have gone to grapes, with only 500 acres in food crops. Land prices have skyrocketed, the cost of labor has gone up, and increased regulations have all made it harder to run a viable business here. Many farmers had turned to "boutique" specialty crops for restaurants.</p><p>"Farmers are always in an uphill battle, especially ecological farmers," says Wiig of the Community Alliance with Family Farmers. "I often hear them say, 'I'm working my butt off and hoping for the best.'" That's even more true now, as the pandemic strangles economies the world over.</p>
Scaling Up Support<p>F.E.E.D. Sonoma, a food hub that aggregates produce from dozens of local farms, was another quick responder. When the pandemic hit, it went from serving Bay Area restaurants to building a cooperative of farmers, filling food boxes for distribution at F.E.E.D.'s Petaluma warehouse and other drop spots in the county.</p><p>"Our local food system is extremely diverse," says co-founder Tim Page, who has the energy of a visionary combined with the skills of a businessman. "We have a ton of small farms but we don't have the infrastructure to support them. That is what F.E.E.D. is trying to establish." Since converting the restaurant supply business to a CSA, it has gone from 90 boxes to 450. Ultimately, the goal is 1,800 or more.</p><p>"I grew up in L.A.," Page says. "Every single farm is gone. The same thing will happen here if the general public does not understand the importance of it.</p><p>"That understanding was on display at the Sonoma Farmers Market, which now operates with strict restrictions and safety precautions because of the virus. "We think F.E.E.D. is going to save us," said Candy Wirtz, co-director of Paul's Produce, a well-established farm in Sonoma, as she weighed out my purchases. The CSA model could be transformative for Paul's and other farms across the country.</p><p>Subscribing to a CSA is a lifestyle change for consumers, to be sure. It means eating what's in season and learning to cook unfamiliar vegetables. But it's a change that many people are making now because of the stay-at-home orders. "People just have to learn to cook again instead of eating out," says Judith Redmond, part-owner of Full Belly Farm near Sacramento.</p><p>In light of this newfound commitment to CSAs, Perrotti, of Coyote Family Farm, says: "My hope is that this solidifies instead of going back to the way things were. I hope the importance of local farming stays at the forefront."</p>
Farms With Futures<p>To help small farmers stay in business during the crisis, Community Alliance is also advocating for stimulus dollars. "Most often subsidies go to a small number of the largest farms, or to buy food that goes to food banks from far away, while local farmers can't sell their food," Wiig says. "We want food banks to buy from local farms."</p><p>This seems like a win-win. Millions of tons of food is being plowed under as 60 million people are now going hungry, 17 million of them since the pandemic began, according to Feeding America, the national network of food banks.</p><p>But it's complicated. David Goodman of the Redwood Empire Food Bank puts it plainly: Local food is too expensive. "We distribute nine and a half million pounds of produce annually," he says. "It costs about 9 cents a pound, 3 cents to transport. With 82,000 people to feed, it would be a luxury to think of tending to local needs by buying locally."</p><p>That reticence is partly because the food bank system is tangled in bureaucracy. The USDA decides what to purchase and from where. Because of the distances between sites, the federal agency has tended to favor foods with long shelf lives, such as canned and processed foods, and long-lasting produce like apples and potatoes. "If local food is what we need, there has to be a plan," Goodman says.</p><p>Such a plan might be where short-term disaster relief meets long-term resilience. Michael Dimock is president of Roots of Change, a nonprofit organization that advocates for transforming California's food system. To get serious about preparing the food system for future disasters, Dimock says, the government needs to be involved. Roots of Change is now advocating for a tax on sugary beverages to help foot the bill.</p><p>Dimock says the state needs a paradigm shift for farms to remain viable in the face of multiplying disasters to come—not only pandemics, but fires, floods, and other symptoms of climate change. "How bold will people get in the months ahead to demand real change? My hope is they will get more radical."</p><p>Food is fundamental. While farmers have yet to face the full economic impact of this pandemic, their collaborative efforts, along with local grassroots networks, could mark the beginning of a new economy laboring to be born.</p>
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Alberta Energy Minister Calls Pandemic ‘a Great Time’ to Build Pipelines Due to Protest Restrictions
Anti-pipeline protests work.
That's the implication behind comments made by Alberta Energy Minister Sonya Savage Friday on how coronavirus social distancing requirements could ease the construction of Canada's controversial Trans Mountain Expansion project.