What a couple of days!!
Slowly, I am getting my feet on the ground here in Paris. I’ve figured out the neighborhood around the apartment (i.e., where to find the local street market, patisserie and wine shop) and have now, at last, figured out how to get out to Le Bourget, site of the COP 21 conference. It’s about 40 minutes away by car (or subway) – a semi-daunting journey involving 3 different subway lines and a bus. I’m also learning that a ton of COP 21 happens “off-site,” in various incredibly cool locations around Paris.
Yesterday, for example, CCL’s Peter Fiekowsky presented “Healthy Climate: Moonshot for the 21st Century” in what must be the modern-day equivalent of the early 20th-century Parisian “salon,” Espace Loft Roquette. A well-lit, modern space furnished with red chairs, the Loft Roquette is dedicated to the open expression of creative ideas. Peter, an MIT-educated physicist, entrepreneur and President of Automated Visual Inspection, LLC, was in his element, speaking eloquently about the necessity of getting the concept of a healthy climate into the global conversation.
How does Fiekowsky define a healthy climate? “It is the climate similar to what we had as civilization developed over the last 100,000 years.” But it isn’t enough to have such an amorphous idea; people also need a concrete goal that can be visualized – one at which we can either succeed or fail. “If you’re managing a project,” says Fiekowsky, “You need to have a measure, a goal from which you reverse-engineer. We’ve chosen the restoration of the polar ice caps to be that measure.”
Fiekowsky believes that with this kind of goal in mind, we can create a paradigm shift as powerful as the one President Kennedy created with his declaration that we would “send a man to the moon…and return him safely before the end of the decade.”
We Americans often forget that last part. President Kennedy knew that we needed to begin with a concrete goal first – a vision towards which to work. But first, people need to be prepared for the fact that dealing with the climate crisis can be like facing a death – people go through the five stages of grief. If people are prepared for that emotional onslaught, however, and keep the goal of a healthy planet in mind, the experience can be easier. Rather than get lost in the fear, anger and despair so many of us feel, we can keep our “eyes on the prize” of restoring our planet.
“It won’t require a miracle or big sacrifices, just the will and policies to do it,” Fiekowsky believes. “We know that restoring the climate is technologically, politically and economically possible.”
The numerous climate activists in the audience Fiekowsky’s ideas were intrigued and inspired by his thinking. They asked where they might learn more – and if you would like to, have a look at Peter’s blog.
Next came the launch of the Citizens’ Climate Engagement Network, introduced by Joe Robertson of Citizens Climate Lobby and Claire Richer of Citizen’s Voice TV. Joe explained how, in the international policy environment, it is profoundly difficult to create a relationship between citizens and decision-makers. There are almost 200 countries involved in the COP talks, it’s difficult to be accredited to attend even as an organization, and even then only the leaders get to go. So, most people never get the opportunity to attend or even observe what’s going on. The best most of us can hope to do, says Robertson, is be part of a “listening network.”
What the organizers of the CCEN decided to do was create the PP Project in anticipation of COP21. They asked themselves how they could open up a global convening space, creating a something more like a representative government, where, as in real life within representative democracies, citizens could “walk the halls where decisions are made, and play a role.”
One early, concrete accomplishment of the CCEN is the extremely exciting donation by a company called Read and Note. Read and Note provides a software platform that allows people to comment on e-books and .pdf documents. The IMF, for example, uses it in their e-library for their E-collaborate, Climate and Energy Community. Due to the hard work of Joe and his team, the founder and President of Read and Note has agreed to give the CCEN a free installation, so they can put the COP21 negotiating text in this platform and have anyone anywhere in the world jump in, look at it, follow discussions, etc. A reader from Guatemala could go to page 37 and see a little post-it there – open it up, and see that a meeting happening there, live.
Just one more step to make citizen participation real.
For more information about the Citizens Climate Engagement Network, see: http://citizensclimatenetwork.org/.
Jessica Langerman is president of the board of Climate XChange. She is an active member of the Citizens Climate Lobby, and, with energy economist Cathy Carruthers, commissioned a seminal econometric study in 2013 analyzing the impact of carbon pricing in Massachusetts. Subsequently, Jessica organized Massachusetts’ first public forum on carbon pricing at Babson College, and founded and assembled the board for Climate XChange.