Direct from Copenhagen, Denmark - 15th United Nations Climate Change Conference - (8 – 18 December '09)

Acting as the official High Tide COP15 envoy, distinguished ecological artist Aviva Rahmani will be immersing herself in the burgeoning eco-political activism in the city and sharing her experiences with us via this daily blog.

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Produced in association with FACT

Monday, 14 December 2009

Bad news, good news

The bad news is that most NGOs will be kicked out of Bella by Wednesday and that means I may not get in for my scheduled press conference Friday, because I will need a secondary badge, almost impossible to come by. I went off to the press office for clarifications. The word is that of all the thousands of observers, only 1000 will be let in Thursday, only 90 on Friday. The mood at Bella is very angry, as am I- well, really frustrated and anxious. One reason we are all being bumped, is the size of the entourage with each leader. Most (but not all) press, had I gotten credentials in time (November 30- but no one had any idea this would be an issue then) will be allowed in. They have refused my credentials as submitted too late.

More bad news: Andrew Revkin's last day at the NY Times as their premiere environmental science reporter, will be Dec 21.

The good news is that the EPA just announced in session that it will start enforcing the Clean Air Act, enacted but not enforced under Bush. This means emissions standards can be reached far above the 17% level officially announced. Congress can then go on & debate legislation but emissions sources will be shut down: an end run around conservatives.

Drought and Floods: our responsibility

Adaptive management techniques for drought in South America, extreme precipitation in West Africa with disaster relief agencies: soap, blankets, visas to cross boundaries: launched plans 6 wks before floods rather than after calamity. Red Cross/ Red Crescent co-ordination to dialog with forecasters.


Create climate sensitive societies
Accelerated urgency requires working together

ACMAD ( since 1987 responding to Africa droughts (African Center for Meteorological Development) despite minimal planning (presenter delayed in security line, being represented by another panelist).

Obviously, more & more in COP15, I'm seeing that agencies, scientists & volunteers are doing lots about adaptation. But what is emerging more & more is the self- centered apathy of many individuals in the Northern developed countries about demanding legal, regulatory changes. Policy makers can't be blamed any more if the electorates doesn't care and make their concerns known to legislators.

Gaps need to be bridged between people on ground & policy makers. Some case studies encouraging but big divide remains. What is the actionable strategy to get the best results? How prioritize research? How to make allocations? Co-ordinated action can reach scale (as usual, art not included).

Asked why, when discussion is about outreach, there isn't more outreach to contemporary artists, who are very concerned about these issues and can do this bridging of gaps? Response from Italian- engaging a filmmaker from NYU, Parsons School of Design. Pablo Suarez, from red Cross, said, "we have no $ but would be interested in what you'd propose."

Day 8 Copenhagen Day 8 COP15 Notes on energy and coastal impacts

Day 1 of my 3- (half) day workshop on "Trigger Point Theory as Aesthetic Activism," in the world Culture Center in Copenhagen. Making progress with participants on exercizes to identify and locate primary conceptual and physical concerns in relation to global warming and hope to build on these ideas over the next couple days.

Went on to Bella Center. Protestors have swelled to about 5 different groups and about 500 people on the way in. Lines long for those still registering. Inside, it's like a NY subway of packed people. More protestors inside. Most moving was the silent line of young people holding flags from every nation and the signs: "We Stand With Africa." Got lunch, in a packed cafe area and spilled my roll on the way out trying to navigate the crowds. Space has become hard to negotiate at the Bella Center: an analogy to the coming world populations overload an migration pressures away from coastal regions? I'm waiting for a session on US coastal community impacts of global warming. Most of the reports from island nations so far, have been from southern nations that will be entirely subsumed. North, aside from the issue of impact on LDC, effects are less dramatic.

Now sitting in at the US Center on roadmapping future energy sources & developing smart grids to capture various natural energy resources, as solar from Africa but even carbon emissions. Representative from Sweden saying 60% of energy is lost in transport and can be used more efficiently by addressing the systems, Connecting the education of women in Least Developed Countries to more efficient fuels. China lobbying for coal. India confronted as only 29% efficiency. Asserting their goal is 60%. Italian lobbyists for biofuels: sugar cane (most destructive crop to habitat).

Moderator asking panelists to name biggest obstacle to greenhouse gas emissions. No one responding. Finally Italian saying we need a framework of common rules to work together. Chinese asking for more innovation. UK: act on 400 options. Sweden: we're stuck in old thinking; see possibilities. Norway: must address deforestation & step up energy efficiency do alongside carbon storage. Germany: efficiency of developed countries and economies of scal to bring LDC.

John Strickland from Dept of the Interior with EPA & NOAA, Tom Armstrong senior advisor Dept of Interior. Overview: climate change coastal impact internationally: biodiversity, human population. Need better tools to fully know impact. Using adaptive management, helping American Indians & Alaskan Natives- playing catch up after many years in absentia (Bush). Dept Interior: manages 1/5 USA, manages 500 Mil acres surface land, half protected. USGS carbon storage analysis: 90 bil tons stored in plants & soil (deforestation issues). Goal: do no harm.

Protection = preserving buffering vs development. co-ordinating information and science, responding to a Secretarial order for regional centers, landscape co-ops at ecosystem management. Off-shore waters critical. Fast-tracking solar & wind projects. Managing intercontinental shelf first regs permitting wind power off shore in East. Carbon footprint reduction part of strategy. Coast from upper Maine to Baltimore relatively low. Cape Hatteras, however, very vulnerable. North Carolina washing out. Developing landscape scale restoration of Everglades task force: significant progress (65 threatened species). Important daylighting in "river of grass" to restore natural tidal flushing, fresh water.

What is striking me is how much they accomplished below the radar even while Bush was in power & how quickly Obama has moved forward with environmental mandates without much attention.

United State Geographical Survey (USGS) on Gulf of Mexico: loss of dune barriers for barrier islands, making restoration efforts: Gulf Coast Restoration Strategy. Major loss of wetlands: 34 sq miles for past fifty years due to channelization & flood protection vs tidal flushing. Now trying to reverse, starting with mapping to focus efforts at implementation. 56 mil acres held in trust for Native Peoples; acknowledging special knowledge & working with. With melting ice, larger waves, exaggerating erosion.

Goals are trying to share knowledge- wildlife without borders, tech assistance, collaborating on mitigation with ocean pollution, wetlands loss. USGS shared internationally to monitor losses working w/ West Africa, ie., Senegal reforestation w/ "Whispering Pines (what about monocultures?)."Monitoring mangroves in India.

Skypeing in from Washington DC John Wilson & Jeremy Martinich US EPA on estuaries. CRE case studies (we keep losing the phone connections but they were persistent). Looking at Baltimore- challenge of diversity: rocky highlands, beaches to swamps. Invasion of changes of life cycles, intenser storms net loss TK & economies regardless of emissions: retreat. Still can't predict timing & certainty; lack of adequate co-ordination. Relying on past inadequate to planning for future because of rapid & unpredictable change due to climate change. Inadequate $ support. Lessons learned previously from- 28 estuaries (NERR) programs. Climate change must be integrated into all other decisions. Must be locally directed based on priorities from each community- scale of individual properties. Start with existing priorities. communicate & support for adaptation essential- part of planning & implementation- start as early as possible. Rapidly evolving.

I have too many questions to ask all of them- for example, how direct local planning if local residents deny importance?

Jeremy on adaptation in estuary programs: Casco Bay, Maine vulnerability in Oyster Bay, New Hampshire. Comprehensive adaptation & stakeholder communications- lobsters- listening sessions & establishing priorities. Most support around icons, as lobsters. Ice disappearance (ice out change of 2-3 weeks on Lake Sebago). Involving public in listening sessions (answer to my question about engagement?)

Stormwater infrastructure problems, ie in New Hampshire. Mapping reveals inadequacy and trying to retrofit infrastructure. Economic issues in Delaware- costs of protections, ecosystem services lost. Prioritizing what to protect, value as salinity moves up estuaries= modeling & habitat equivalency- changes in spatial distribution, cost of restoration vs cost of replacement. Cost benefit relationships to conservation & adaptation. Charlotte Harbor, Florida. Punta Gorda protecting sea grass, xeriscaping, comprehensive plan, restricting fertilizer use, green building & drought protection. redesigning shoreline to account for habitat migration, ie seawall levels: Read: "Synthesis of Adaptation Options," "Climate Ready Estuaries: 2009 Progress Report."

Dr. Batton: Climate Change adaptation & mitigation for humans & wildlife co-ordinates all agencies. Interagency & deep marine resources organized by Obama ( despite Republicans apparently). In Calif. dealing with fresh water loss: levees- soil lost 25'- reintroducing native wetlands to raise soil surface 4' & sequester carbon (what about impact of water irrigation from Colorado River & Mexico?).

Dr. Armstrong on scientific assessment projects (SAP study 3.4, 4.1) re: sea level rise on east coast. Exacerbated by glacial subsidence. Significant changes similar to So Pacific. Not just thermal dynamics but tectonic subsidence, geomorphology, tidal surges, plant types & buffering capacity. Challenge of scale on local level.

My question (only one they had time to answer: what about species migration (lobster)? Strickland gave example of monitoring/ controlling Pika species migration paths in West- didn't really answer my question. Took his card after session, to ask about policy & be directed to technical people.

Just spoke with someone from Shell: formerly working for their sustainability program, quit so they can look at themselves in the mirror (minimal progress, 30-33 people killed annually, stupid, selfish choices re: developing countries.) Asked not to be identified,