New England sending a crowd to climate talks
Copenhagen draws region’s students, groups
Last spring, when many people were still only dimly aware of the world climate summit planned for Copenhagen, Josh Minney, a
When he departs this week - paying his way with credit cards, living out of a backpack, and sleeping at a hostel - he will be one of thousands of
Hundreds will be from New England, with its concentration of universities and environmental bent. Some are planning to sleep on floors in a city where hotels have been overbooked. Scores have received special UN designations to witness the proceedings, but most are going just to be in the vicinity of what they hope will be a historic meeting of world leaders trying to hammer out limits on green house gas emissions.
“This is the party of the century in the scientific and academic world,’’ said Minney, an international affairs student who is attending with 16 other Northeastern students and
Copenhagen is expected to be overrun with 20,000 people for nearly two weeks of talks that begin Dec. 7. Among the attendees will be President Obama and more than 60 other heads of state. Negotiations are expected to culminate in a framework to get climate laggards, especially the United States, to join a final agreement to be completed in Mexico City talks next year.
So many are coming from New England that some local observers joke the number is more than the populations of small nations.
People from at least 20 groups - among them Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business; Cambridge-based EcoLogic Development Fund, which works with poor rural communities to save forests; and Ceres Inc., a nonprofit that works with corporations to prepare for the business impact of climate change - have official observer status allowing them to attend open negotiating sessions.
Those observers have little formal role, but many are holding side events, talks, and debates, or are hoping to conduct research, network, and try to understand the confusing and political world of international climate talks.
The climate fever has sparked some creative financing to get to a city where a cup of coffee can cost $4. Tufts Fletcher School student Odette Mucha raised $300 by selling cookies. Noah Hodgetts, a College of the Atlantic senior in Bar Harbor, Maine, sent out an e-mail blast to family and friends who are now contributing more than $850 for his trip.
The fever hasn’t been cooled by the growing realization that an agreement won’t be reached.
“I am going with a lot of hope,’’ said Hodgetts.
Vermont lawyer Brian Dunkiel is going as part of the diplomatic delegation for the Pacific island of Palau, which is threatened by sea level rise. Arlington Quaker Mary Gilbert wants to lead “earth care’’ interfaith silent worships there. Baby-boomers Roger and Sue Shamel of Bedford are going because they want to let their grandchildren know they tried.
Neil Oculi, a College of the Atlantic student, will be part of the official delegation of St. Lucia, his country. Fifteen students are attending as observers from the small college and his professors urged him to ask the island nation if it wanted his help. It did.
“The St. Lucia delegation is small - only seven of us, including the prime minister,’’ he said.
Oculi, Nasser Brahim, a Yale University graduate student who is part of the Grenada delegation, and others from New England are working with islands because such places often do not have enough funds to be fully represented at climate talks. At the same time, islands are especially vulnerable to sea level rise, a consequence of global warming. Dunkiel, the Vermont lawyer who has worked for years on environmental issues, was contacted by the New York nonprofit Islands First to help Palau.
Hundreds of college students and their professors are attending - at least 79 from Yale alone. For some, the Copenhagen meetings are the subject of their scholarship.
Peter H. Liotta of Salve Regina University in Newport, R.I., part of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change - the IPCC - the leading international scientific body on global warming, will come back to lead a lecture series on the talks. Miquel Muñoz, a postdoctoral fellow at Boston University, is trying to figure out just how much is being spent on the conference. Robert Stavins of Harvard University, an expert on international climate treaties, will be working with governments behind the scenes.
Idealism is the primary reason many others are going.
“Our future is being decided, our voices should be there,’’ said Uxbridge resident Lauren Nutter, 21, of College of the Atlantic. Nutter is also representing SustainUS, a youth-led sustainable development group.
Despite the cost - and hassle - many New Englanders said they felt compelled to go for no other reason than to show the world that US residents care deeply about lower greenhouse gas emissions, despite their government’s reluctance to tackle the issue in the past.
“We want to represent the US to say we care,’’ said Sue Shamel.
Shamel and her husband run a small global warming education nonprofit organization and is going to connect to other climate change groups and offer help.
Those who have attended previous rounds of climate talks offer a caution for the novices: Confusion reigns. And, it can be hard to see your personal contribution at the talks.
“I am going with my eyes open but knowing it is like watching paint dry on the walls,’’ said Adil Najam, director of the Frederick S. Pardee Center for the Study of the Longer-Range Future at Boston University.
A lead author of the IPCC who has been to other climate talks and is going with more than a dozen BU students and faculty, Najam has gotten requests from people who have no research or other reasons to be in Copenhagen. After explaining to them it probably would not be worth the money, many opted not to attend.
Still, he said, “for many, it is a Woodstock moment. There is a sense it’s important. And you need to be at a place at a particular moment in time to say you’ve been there.’’