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Midwest state and local government elected officials are among the thousands who have converged on Copenhagen, Denmark to urge the leaders of 192 nations to come together to tackle climate change. Governor Jim Doyle of Wisconsin is the highest ranking midwestern elected official with a public role here, giving a key address. "Why would someone fight to maintain an energy system that basically imports all of our fuels (from outside of Wisconsin)?" Doyle asked. He intends to meet with the largest American manufacturer of wind turbines, General Electric and the largest Danish maker of wind turbines while in Copenhagen.

Des Moines Mayor Frank Cownie is a local government delegate representing not only Des Moines but also local governments around the world as a member of the executive committee of the U.S. Board of Directors of the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives (ICLEI). "While the rest of the economy is struggling, clean energy jobs are a real bright spot," according to Minnesota representative Jeremy Kalin (North Branch), national chair of CLEAN, the Coalition of Legislators for Energy Action Now working with the White House and the United States Senate." Action in Copenhagen and in Congress is critical to scale up the job opportunities."

"Our dependence on oil is a serious threat to America's national security, which is why both young people and veterans have called on making America more secure by taking control of our energy future," said Representative Alex Cornell du Houx (Brunswick, ME), an Iraq war veteran in Copenhagen with the Truman National Security Project. "The world is looking to the United States to lead again on climate solutions," said Representative Kate Knuth (New Brighton, MN). "We don't want to replace our dependence on Middle East oil with a new dependence on solar panels from China. It's all about jobs. We need wind turbines, we need electric cars that are made in America, supporting American families."

Knuth is also attending the conference as a policy mentor to the youth delegation of 12 emerging leaders from the Midwest, the Expedition Copenhagen project of the Will Steger Foundation. According to Will Steger Foundation executive director Nicole Rom, "Our delegates are the leaders of the future in business, environment and public service. I have no doubt we have a mayor, or Congressional member or governor among them."

Jamie Racine, a Steger delegate from Racine, Wisconsin, asked a panel of state and local government leaders a tough question about Midwest dependence on tar sands oil from Alberta, Canada, a question neither the Governor nor other panelists directly addressed. Doyle is, however, pressing for a binding treaty that would require nations to reduce global warming pollutants. "You cannot get to major carbon reductions without a cap and trade system that brings them down over many years," said Doyle.

Cownie, Kalin, and Knuth joined nearly 100 other young elected officials from across America in signing a statement calling for urgent action from President Obama and the U.S. negotiators. They must work for a bold and binding agreement that is just and consistent with the science, the statement urges.

"We, young elected officials of the United States, believe freedom, independence, and self sufficiency are at the heart of America, and should be at the heart of our strategy for energy independence in the 21st Century. As elected representatives with a personal stake in our future, we believe it's time for a bold, new vision for America's future. We call on Congress to start investing in new, safe energy technologies like wind and solar power that will rebuild our manufacturing base, create jobs, and grow our economy. We need to put millions of Americans back to work refitting our homes and buildings for energy efficiency with jobs that can't be shipped overseas. The United States can lead once again by forging a bold, binding, and just agreement in Copenhagen that will secure a safe and abundant world for future generations of Americans."

[Reposted from Fresh Energy Blog]

Monday, 28 December 2009 14:35

Young Energy in Copenhagen

CopWhat an honor it was to be invited to participate in Expedition Copenhagen of the Will Steger Foundation! In 10 days, often running 18 hours--even 21 on occasion--I had the chance of a lifetime to join the convergence of humanity that was Copenhagen. While the negotiators, the heads of state will get 90% of the press, for me the real story of Copenhagen was the coming together of youth, who built cross cultural networks, soberly asking the negotiators in a sea of orange T-shirts, "How Old Will YOU be in 2050?" Our team of youth delegates was a diverse and wicked-smart bunch who came from 7 states across the Midwest--MI, WI, MN, IA, IL, ND and SD.

I cannot generalize about them, because each of them has an amazing background and accomplished remarkable things while in Copenhagen, witnessing the first global conversation on the fate of the Earth.

My ten days were full of their energy and their joy, their exhaustion and even their sadness. They became unified with youth delegations from many of the 192 COP15 countries, bringing some chaotic ideas for how they'd impact the course of history, but some brilliant ones too. There were too many highlights to mention, but my job every day was to use my contacts, my experience, my knowledge of public policy, media and campaign strategy to help the Will Steger delegates make the most impact possible.

I resisted efforts to do other things that might have been useful, like going to dinners at the hotel where all the foundation grantmakers were staying, or sitting through the direct COP negotiations, or working my own Fresh Energy press and PR angles. I really spent the time trying to give these kids my all, because they came to give it all up for a successful agreement at Copenhagen.

Our day began at 6:30 sharp, with hot coffee and fried potatoes, all sitting in a cramped apartment after converging from four apartments within short walking distance. A facilitator chosen the night before ran a tight agenda, and if the conversation strayed, a timekeeper asked insistently if this item should get more time than alotted, or if the discussion could be held separately.

The meeting covered the day, obligations across the city, and opportunities from the official negotiations,  hundreds of side events and press conferences, and civic events and "actions" too numerous to count. The meeting was kept short, so that the delegates who were travelling to the Bella Center could hit the train or the bus by 7:15, beating the tie-up and long lines that began by 8. The security at the Center was tighter than an airport, with your photo ID dangling from your neck and your bar code was scanned as you entered and left.

It's very hard to select just one example of what these young people experienced and what it meant, because in truth, I probably know about 20% of what they actually did every day. They were all in motion 18-21 hours every day.

One evening, Holly Jones, an impressive delegate who serves as chair ofthe executive committee of the Sierra Student Coalition was thinking out loud about her blog posting for that day.

Along with a small group of representatives of 500+ US youth in Copenhagen, she had been invited to a briefing by the lead US negotiators. Presumably, she learned that the final agreement would not be legal, binding, sand that whatever deal would come about, it could not guarantee that the worst consequences of a warming world would be avoided.

Her concern was that she did not want to break trust with Todd Stern and Jonathan Pershing who offered the meeting on the condition that it was off record. What Holly wanted to blog about was the reaction of her peers---a deep sadness quickly displaced by a renewed determination to build public support for urgent action.

Her blog posting that night cannot help but move you.

[Reposted from Fresh Energy Blog]

Monday, 28 December 2009 14:33

Will Steger and me

CopWill Steger, the most accomplished and skilled polar explorer alive today, led Expedition Copenhagen and included me as a delegate to provide support and mentorship to 12 carefully chosen young leaders seeking to help tell the story of Copenhagen in the Midwest. I have known Will well now for 5 years, but during 10 days in Copenhagen, we really formed a close bond. He says I am a "good sleeper."

Here we are on the Midday program for Minnesota Public Radio, listening to the internet feed of the program while Jonathan Foley and Representative Kate Knuth were interviewed.

Will and I were able to share a long Saturday evening together and I asked him the details and stories of survival in weather 60 degrees below zero in the Arctic Circle. He told me stories that would make you wonder about how human beings can survive the conditions he saw. He spoke about food, and hunger, and exhaustion and the human drama of people living too close for too many days, when lives are on the line. He told me that he has slept more than 1400 nights on pack ice inside the Arctic Circle or in Antarctica. I imagine the final push to the North Pole in 1986, when an error was made and the whole day was spent travelling to the West, not to the North. I think about these things that humans have accomplished with a clear plan, focus and the determination that comes from the necessity of survival.

I think Will Steger's expeditions are a metaphor for humankind's mission to quickly wean itself from dumping fossil fuel emissions into the atmosphere.

Nearly impossible to conceive that we can do it, but absolutely necessary to survive.

[Reposted from Fresh Energy]

Tuesday, 01 December 2009 14:30

Copenhagen, Footprints, and Evolution

CopIn just a few days, negotiators and leaders from across the globe will meet in Copenhagen in an attempt to clamp down on the gigatons of greenhouse gases we're dumping into our atmospheric "bathtub"every year. The longer we fail to act, the more we risk crossing dangerous climactic tipping points, endangering global food security, and creating climate refugees.

Recognizing the immense scale of climate change can be disheartening. Hopefully Copenhagen will deliver the equally immense global commitment this issue requires. But what can a single person do? It's easy to feel helpless. Consider this: the average American emits 20 tons of CO2 every year. That's a lot of CO2 (check out the CO2 cubes project to see what a ton of CO2 looks like). But many coal plants emit more than 20,000,000 tons of CO2 every year! On the South Dakota - Minnesota border, a combination of poor credit markets and concern about climate change led to the demise of the proposed Big Stone II coal plant, but Minnesota still burns tons of coal every day to meet 60% of our state's energy demand.  The global picture is far more daunting. In China, as we often hear, a new coal plant opensevery ten days.

Feeling discouraged? Wait! If we all do our part to save energy, won't we make a big impact? True, but the key is: "if we all do our part". Unfortunately, as Todd noted in his post, the general public's willingness to tackle climate change has been waning. Plenty of people really just don't care, and some actually vehemently oppose action (think "Drill, Baby, Drill"). So until policy creates strong financial incentive structures to motivate these individuals, why worry about lowering your carbon footprint? I believe the answer is clear: Even if the Chinese coal plant coming online tomorrow will emit more CO2 in an hour than you'll save by riding your bike to work for the next 20 years, your personal actions (bike riding, energy conservation, lowering meat consumption, etc.) are immensely critical for catalyzing others to act and thus establishing consensus and societal norms. Strong consensus is extremely necessary for gaining the political will to pass climate legislation in the Senate and strengthening the legislation in the years to come. Finally, I believe such consensus at home could help catalyze international agreements to cut emissions - like the one we hope to see in Copenhagen.

My reasoning behind these statement stems from some conversations I had with classmates of the Santa Fe Institute's 2009 Global Sustainability Summer School. Most of our conversations about sustainability eventually led to discussions of human nature, and I was fortunate to learn about Sam Bowles' work on the evolutionary origins of altruistic behavior. Bowles' interdisciplinary research suggests that intragroup cooperation within groups evolved (through group selection) as a result of intergroup conflict. In other words, humans are extremely good at cooperating with those that are within our particular group, partly as a result of being under attack by other groups. But when it comes to climate change, humanity is all in the same boat (although clearly the poorest in the world will suffer the most). We're under attack by our own actions and our own history, and all nations must work together to solve this problem on the scale it deserves. Thinking of the situation as us (Americans, developed world) vs. them (Chinese, Indians, developing world, etc.) only heightens our tendencies for intergroup conflict and obstructs cooperation. But if widespread consensus builds and societal norms are established, perhaps we could break through and make real progress on protecting our climate.

So ride your bike, take a staycation, and eat a few less steaks. Yes, you'll be saving CO2, but you will also be catalyzing global action!

(photo credits: olgite via Flickr)

[Reposted from Eye on Earth Blog]

Thursday, 10 December 2009 14:28

How do we feed the world without destroying it?

The world population is growing by 75 million people each year. That's almost the size of Germany. Today, we're nearing 7 billion people. At this rate, we'll reach 9 billion people by 2040. And we all need to eat. But how?

That's a critical issue the Institute on the Environment tackles in our first "Big Question" video. We hope the video will help launch a much bigger, national dialogue around agriculture and sustainability, so check it out and share it with your friends!

[Reposted from Eye on Earth Blog]

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