COP21- My Annotated List, Part I

While some of my activist colleagues were rallying at the French Consulate in Miami this morning, to deliver an urgent letter to Laurent Fabius, Foreign Affairs Minister and President of COP21, I decided my readers might appreciate some guidance to the information about the conference that has been accumulating.  COP21 began today in Paris, the largest gathering of delegates ever, and will run until December 11.

cop21cmp11_logo_hp_159x216As good place to start as any is Five Things You Need to Know About COP21 from the U.S. Department of State.  In case it isn’t obvious, COP21 means there have already been 21 previous meetings of world leaders to address climate change.  Or, to put it another way, we have had over two decades to try to figure out what to do about climate change, while the target has been moving at an accelerated pace.

If you’re familiar with Britain’s The Guardian (home to environment columnist, George Monbiot), you won’t be surprised that its article, Everything You Need to Know About the Paris Climate Summit and UN Talks is somewhat less upbeat than the State Department’s take.  One thing you need to know is that previous agreements on greenhouse gas emissions are about to run out, which makes agreements at this conference even more urgent. The article also inconveniently brings up the 1997 Kyoto protocols, which were signed by then Vice President Al Gore but never ratified by Congress.

Too many American politicians, including those running for president (yikes!), have tried to mask their failure to confront climate change behind the “not a scientist” statement.  Alas, recommendations from scientists on a ‘carbon budget’ to set a cap on carbon emissions do not appear to have gained any traction at COP21 either.  The New York Times’ Paris Climate Talks Avoid Scientists’ Idea of a Carbon Budget is an excellent overview of the thorniest aspects of the stalled agreements. Look also at the excellent ‘cheat sheet’: Short Answers to Hard Questions About Climate Change.

Shanghai Bund skyline landmark ,Ecological energy renewable solar panel plant
Shanghai Bund skyline landmark, Ecological energy renewable solar panel plant

I love Andrew Revkin’s DotEarth blog for its crisp, clear take on the subject, and this piece, As World Leaders Kick Off Paris Talks, Prescriptions Abound From a Carbon Tax to a New Nuclear Push is particularly insightful, albeit deeply frustrating.  We have no shortage of answers, but as has been noted many times elsewhere, relatively little public pressure or political will to act.  A tax on carbon, a idea argued for repeatedly by New York Times columnist, Thomas Friedman, and others, seems in the current political climate a complete non-starter.

OK, saving the best for last: Transition founder and champion, Rob Hopkins’ Why COP21 Matters, and Why I’m Going.  Let me quote a passage and urge you to read the rest:

…in many ways, the world is already changing, and it’s happening at pace, it’s fast and it’s deep…If you believe things aren’t changing, you’re looking in the wrong place.  More and more forms of renewable energy, such as onshore wind, are now the cheapest form of electricity in many places…COP21 is acting as the catalyst for many organisations, businesses and governments to refocus on climate change, move finance into climate change, put pressure on governments to create a stable environment within which to build a low carbon economy.  All manner of shifts and realignments are going on behind the scenes.  And the politics are changing to accommodate this new worldview…

I believe with Rob Hopkins that things can flip quickly when enough people are prepared for better alternatives to the status quo. Something is happening when BP and Shell start to worry about ‘stranded assets,’ when Pope Francis and the Dalai Lama are on the same page, and when a young Canadian premier announces to the opening session in Paris, “Canada is back, my friends, … and here to help.”

Transition and Occupy

Transition and Occupy  *  Rob Hopkins responds  *  Can We All just Get Along?

Is Transition like Occupy?  A good question can raise the stakes; inject some excitement, into any presentation. I’ve experienced this fewer times than I would like.  But last Saturday, I was the person on the receiving end during my presentation on Transition to Ashley Moore’s permaculture course at Gray Mockingbird Community Garden in Lake Worth.

SONY DSCIt’s always helpful to say, Good question! and in this case, I meant it.  The answer is, No, and … Occupy and Transition have some obvious similarities.  Both are grassroots movements; both emerged from a conviction that the economic/political system was broken; both were rooted in action: Occupy, in the physical occupation of public spaces to demand change; Transition in community projects to make change.  Occupy is against business-as-usual; you could say Transition is focused on a better way to do business.

Many in my liberal religious congregation were very supportive of Occupy.  We have a strong tradition of social justice and our own martyrs of the Civil Rights Movement.  So in no time, there arose a cadre of people willing to demonstrate regularly on the sidewalks in front of our property. We held a Saturday workshop on Occupy, including a session on Single Payer and another on songs of protest.  Protesting can produce a high, no doubt.  And, whatever happens to the Occupy movement now, we will not soon forget its identification with the 99%.

Although it’s not my thing, I have supported and/or engaged in protest actions for a specific goal:  equal rights for women, Move to amend, stopping the KXL pipeline.  So, although I agree that business-as-usual is in great need of a major course correction, I decided to remain on the sidelines of Occupy, and have happily found a home in the Transition movement.

Attempting to differentiate between Occupy and Transition led to some lively conversation and I’m very grateful that the question was raised.  But there is no more articulate spokesperson than Rob Hopkins himself in how the movements differ.  Here’s a response after he visited as a speaker during the Occupy London action in 2011.  Here are some key quotes (links to the entire article and others follow).

First, like the appreciative enquirer that he is, Hopkins gave tribute to the value of Occupy:

What Occupy is doing that matters so much is that it is holding a space.  It is holding a space where the discussions can take place on their own terms about what is broken and what needs fixing.  It is underpinned by a realisation that this is a crucial time of change where everything is on the table, where business-as-usual is no longer an option.  It isn’t making demands because that would put the power in the hands of the people in power to decide whether or not to respond to them.  It is holding the space for the conversations, and is doing so on its own terms.  I admire that.

And here were some key divergences:

You can’t … just base deep change on an analysis of what is wrong.

Transition says to people “take this model and do it where you are”, whereas Occupy suggests coming together to suspend your life while you explore, with others, the question of what’s the best thing to do now.  Transition is about building that into your own life, right now.

…what everyone can do, in a time when it is increasingly clear to anyone who thinks about it, that business as usual is no longer a runner and that new thinking is needed and soon, is to occupy, in their own lives, that sense of possibility, that space for asking the questions that matter.

You might say that Occupy suggests occupying, for example, Wall Street, while Transition suggests occupying your own street, putting up runner beans and solar panels rather than tents.

Can We All Just Get Along?

That is the bigger question.  What would it look like if we reached beyond our differences and found common cause?  Sometimes, it seems possible, see: Fissures in G.O.P. as Some Conservatives Embrace Renewable Energy.  And A Green Tea Party?

So whether you are a 20-something in a tent city demanding change in the current system that rewards wealth at the expense of everyone else, or a 70-something grandmother who believes that we have to live with less so that others – including future generations – can simply live, we have to work together.  Because putting to rest the notion that we can grow or technologize ourselves out of this unprecedented planetary crisis, is too big a job for any one movement.

A Day at Occupy London
Comments are interesting, too.

How to Engage Occupy Movement

The Green Tea Coalition

Why Transition? Five Good Reasons

Transition imageSome things are so forehead-slapping obvious, you can miss them.  (From my journal entry, Sunday, January 19.)  A year ago, I had put together a tour of Just One Backyard, Dr. John Zahina-Ramos’ amazing urban edible garden project.  Everyone who attended was excited by the possibilities.  In the interim, my core Transition group of  ‘mullers’ — that is, people who are thinking about what we need to do to launch a movement in our community — lost membership (to relocation) and momentum.  Other projects, e.g. a vegetable patch at my congregation, First UU of the Palm Beaches, the Walk for Our Grandchildren last summer, Symphony of the Soil in the fall, came my way and claimed my attention.  

Clearly, the time for a self-administered Transition booster shot has arrived.  Obvious choice: back to basics — the ideas and practical tools of the Transition Movement, shared as widely as possibly.  Yesterday I began posting direct quotes from Rob Hopkins’ The Transition Companion in the Transition Palm Beach Startup Facebook page and other FB groups to which I belong. Think of them as seed-bombs (another tool about which more in a forthcoming post).

Here are five reasons for investing in Transition that speak to me strongly, mostly quoted from The Transition Companion.  In some cases, I’ve cited the original source to facilitate tracking it down.  If you are uncertain about what the Transition Movement is, this list will help, and so will the links that follow.  If enough of us clear-thinking individuals really grasp the fact that the climate has already changed, we could stop confusing social media for action and find the thing we can do together.  

So Why Do Transition?

1. Because it’s fun! Transition is a community-building response to climate change and looming resource inequality that is “more exciting, nourishing and rewarding than not doing it.” ~ Rob Hopkins, The Transition Companion: Making Your Community More Resilient in Uncertain Times. (You could make some new friends and learn some new skills.)

2. “…because a more local economy in which assets and key enterprises are owned and managed by and on behalf of the local community, offers a better route to social justice, as well as local economic resilience than business-as-usual does.” ~ Rob Hopkins, ibid.  (Commit 10% of your purchases to your local businesses as a start.)

3.a  Because of climate change.  “It may seem impossible to imagine that technologically advanced society could choose, in essence, to destroy itself, but that is what we are now in the process of doing.”  ~ Elizabeth Kolbert, Field Notes from a Catastrophe: A Frontline Report on Climate Change.  (Kolbert is of course speaking from the perspective of an overwhelming majority of scientists.)

3.b  “It is clear that the challenge of climate change is about far more than low-energy bulbs, solar panels and slower driving speeds.  It is about a profound shift in what we do and how we do it; a complete adjustment of what we imagine to be lying in front of us, of our expectations of the future.“ Rob Hopkins, ibid.  

4. Because of economic crisis.  “Conventional economic growth and cheap oil have marched hand-in-hand for the best part of 60 years; within a few years, it will have become increasingly apparent that both are on their last legs.”  Jonathan Porritt, Capitalism: As if the World Matters.  

5.  Because it gives me hope.  “We often underestimate the power of hope – what in Transition we call ‘engaged optimism’. Getting started and making change in our lives is a hopeful activity that touches people deeply.”  Rob Hopkins, ibid.  (Change is easier in the company of friends.)

You can find more reasons and longer excerpts here: The Transition Network Sign up for Rob’s blog while you’re at it.  And check out the latest news about Transition: