Story Publication logo December 13, 2009

Off to a Running Start


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Planet Earths average temperature has risen about one degree Fahrenheit in the last fifty years. By...

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The Copenhagen Conference, where I arrived today, is hard to describe, because so much is happening here and the stakes of this climate negotiation are so high. Outside, a persistent crowd of protesters chanted environmental slogans. Two young Asian woman strutted in chicken suits. Many others men and women of all different races and nationalities waved placards and signs. A bus-size screen showed environmental movies. (Look at my video of one activist promoting vegetarian eating to reduce the amount of greenhouse gas produced. I believe he is correct that simple changes in our diets would be very helpful, though I can't vouch for his numbers.

Inside, I was subjected to security even tighter than the gauntlet I ran before I boarded my airplane in Boston. A bulky security man x-rayed my bags while a sober-faced agent beckoned me through a metal detector. Things got less serious after that. A pleasant attendant photographed me for an ID. Guards scan my new UN badge now whenever I go in or out of the sprawling conference complex.

The raucous protesters I saw outside couldn't get in. But their soul mates inside perform street theater on impromptu stages. The cavernous meeting rooms and crowded passageways echo with the babble of people lecturing out loud in foreign tongues about what I figure must be on climate change.I believe there must be people negotiating here somewhere, though none of the several dozen people I have met so far are engaged in such activities. Many of the men and women I've seen striding through the halls—and a virtual city of kiosks touting everything from eoc-friendly Korean pencils to the bicycle lanes of Copenhagen—are wearing the pin-striped suits and leather briefcases that suggest diplomats to me. Then again, they could also be lobbyists. I have heard that there are about 30,000 people registered to attend this event and only 400 of those are negotiators. The rest, are here influence negotiators or, like me and about 3,000 other journalists, came to observe and report on these climate negotiations.

Today, within hours after I stepped off the airplane from home, I boarded a tour bus to visit a newly built village of super-efficient houses. A representative from the Rockwool company, a multinational supplier of home insulating material—made from clay—lead the three-hour outing. The guide's institutional affiliation made me suspicious from the start. But then again, he is hawking a mundane product that we all could probably use much more of.

As I'll describe tomorrow, we were treated to a visit with a charming owner of one of these new homes. Holding his son in his arms, this man—and a representative of his city government—described the impressive performance and modest cost of these houses. I believe such initiatives will help to convince people here and elsewhere that highly energy efficient homes are not only possible but economical as well.

This story was reported for the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting as part of the Copenhagen News Collaborative, a cooperative project of several independent news organizations. Check out the feed here from Mother Jones.



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Environment and Climate Change

Environment and Climate Change

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