Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Thank You

It has been more than a week since the end of the UNFCCC Conference of Parties 14 in Poznan, Poland. As I rejoin my family and friends for the holidays I can look back to those two weeks and make some comments about how successful the overall conference was, how effective the youth presence was there, how I contributed to the process, to my SustainUS delegation, and to the International Youth Delegation.

Why I Care About Climate Change (but Eric, sea-level rise won't affect you)

It's simple. Go right to Martin Luther King Jr.; “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”. As an American who contributes most to this crisis, I feel a responsibility to put my country on the front lines of this fight. By electing Barack Obama, the youth of this country have shown that they can elect a leader (more 18-30 year olds voted in this election than did Americans over 65) that will move us away from dirty coal, and other fossil fuels that would derail the clean energy revolution that a large majority of Americans are calling for.

As an Oklahoman, I feel even more responsible to confront this now to prevent environmental and human destruction in the future. Most Oklahomans know that climate change is a real threat to our livelihoods. Many farmers around the state are already taking the lead by switching to no-till crop rotation, not to be a leader on climate change, but to make a few extra bucks by saving fuel and selling carbon credits to rich, urban polluters. As Oklahomans, it would be truly shameful to forgo the lessons of the past and not do what we can to prevent environmental and human destruction brought on by climate change.

The Dust Bowl brought unprecedented destruction to our state and region, stripping families of children by filling their lungs with dust, sending thousands of us to California to be treated like animals, and our soil into the sky. Scientists say that if we do not begin to significantly reduce our greenhouse gas emissions in the next ten years we can easily see the same kind of destruction on a scale hundreds of times that of the Dust Bowl.

This is the great moral challenge of my generation. Our grandfathers went to war and defeated fascism, in two theaters of war. Our parents fought for civil rights, women in Mississippi picked their own teeth off the pavement, younger people than me sat soaking wet in cold southern jails after being hit by high-pressured fire hoses. My generation has the opportunity to safeguard the survival of mankind on this planet. Who is standing in our way? Not the Third Reich, or racist sheriffs or the KKK, its ourselves.

I'm confident that we will act in time. The question is whether or not we will include those who have been left behind in our society. We need green collar jobs to build the clean energy economy in those communities hardest hit by poverty, by pollution from fossil fuel production (overwhelmingly communities of color), rural communities, and areas hit by the recent economic downturn. Then we can think about saving the polar bear.

Get to Poland already, I thought thats what this was about

As someone so emotionally charged and ready to tackle climate change, the glacial pace of talks at a UNFCC Conference of Parties can make you pull your hair out. What was surprising to me was how the UN governmental process was much like our countries government. These two systems rarely are able to act quickly on any issue. The UNFCCC itself, came out of the Rio De Janeiro Earth Summit in 1992. They've been trying to confront climate change for over 16 years now.

Myself and others clashed with other youth that pointed to our designated two-minute speech as the chance to show our true youth voice. The problem is we've been giving speeches on the urgency of this issue for 16 years and nothing has happened. The compromise was the rally you can see pictures of further down in this blog.

As a youth, I represented a majority of this world's population, the largest stake-holders in the fight against climate change. The good news is that I believe this generation has already become the leader on climate change. The call for an 80 percent reduction of emissions by 2050, widely adopted by those in government and the media, was pushed by students all across America. My university joined our organization at OU in calling for this reduction on our campus, joining thousands of other campuses across America and the world. We also understand that this is first and foremost a moral issue, an issue of human rights, and a threat to the fabric of nature that is able to support 6 billion people.

Poznan was a midpoint. Last year in Bali, delegates agreed on a two-year roadmap that many think will ensure a deal next year in Copenhagen. Some say enough was done in Poland this year to ensure that, but many countries could stand in the way, including our own. Its our job in the US to ensure that we have the two-thirds vote necessary to ratify a treaty in a little over a year and that we pass some domestic legislation on climate change that the US state dept. officials we talked to said would make it a lot easier to reach an agreement in Copenhagen. Let's go ahead and say that we've got 99 senators to win over; you can probably guess who I've already taken off the list.

I haven't decided if I'll be going to Copenhagen. It will be an incredible experience for anyone, the stakes will be much higher and I'm sure that youth and other interests will be there in a much greater force. I'm not a international climate policy expert, I went to Poznan to contribute to strategy development, grassroots outreach, and on the ground actions. There are hundreds of organizers across the country that could do just as good, if not a lot better in Copenhagen and deserve that opportunity (another reason I'm confident we'll beat climate change).

I was really proud of the job my SustainUS delegation did in Poznan; I learned a lot from them. There was Ben Wessel of Middlebury College in Vermont who after some drop outs became the focal point of our media strategy. John Doyle, a native of upstate New York and a student at UMBC in Baltimore, who headed up our grassroots efforts back in the states. David Sievers and Whit Jones, who I respect more than anyone in developing strategy and winning campaigns. Marcie Smith from Transylvania College in Lexington, KY who independently worked with governmental delegations from Madagascar and the Democratic Republic of the Congo on issues of deforestation. So many others in our delegation I'd love to mention, and would if you asked. My delegation trusted me when I came to them with the action plans I had been working on with other international youth for three straight nights of four hour meetings over beers in bar basements all over Poznan and SustainUS probably had more participants in the final action than any other delegation.

There are incredibly intelligent, passionate, and devoted young people from all over the country working to secure the stability of our climate and our world. Most of them are volunteers, putting in hours of work without pay in their own communities to build this sustainable, clean energy society. Those of us in SustainUS were so honored to have a chance like this to put pressure on governments to take action internationally. It was the opportunity of a lifetime and one I will cherish. And when we look back after we've built this clean energy economy full of green jobs and healthy, sustainable communities we can say that this generation did rise to the challenge, first working with those in power, then taking the power when it was time, and making the decisions that ensured this future.

The support and love I felt on the ground in Poland and in Oklahoma inspire me to work towards my dreams everyday. I am so lucky to have such an incredible community of family, friends, faithful, activists, advocates, and dreamers backing me on this journey and whatever comes next. I'm in the position to do good because of you, I'll do my best and you will to and we'll build the future we want to see for our children and our grandchildren.

Thank you & Happy Holidays


Friday, December 19, 2008

Lasting Images from Poznan

Friday, December 12, 2008

More Coverage of Today's Action

cross-listed at


Youth frame the conversation at the UNFCCC in Poznan, Poland

Young people from around the world made their voice heard today at the UN Framework Convention on Climate change in Poznan, Poland. After an inspiring speech from Al Gore, over 200 young people from India to the U.S. to the Congo held a spontaneous action inside, with banners that read “SURVIVAL IS NON-NEGOTIABLE.”

The demonstration was the next step in our “project survival” - inspired by a speech earlier this week by a representative from the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), stating that current emissions targets set by powerful countries condemn their nations to extinction. In the last two days youth have mobilized to get over 80 country delegations to sign a pledge to “safeguard the survival of all peoples and nations.” Youth organized actions, tracked down delegates in the halls, lined the entrance to the plenaries, and knocked on meeting room doors to push their countries to sign the Survival Pledge. This morning our text has been adopted in the official UN Ministerial declaration document emerging from COP14, the COP President’s text on long-term vision. Heads of state referenced our call in major speeches. “It’s been an amazing success,” said Amanda McKenzie, of the Australian Youth Climate Network. “Hearing Australia’s Climate Minister Penny Wong commit to ’survival’ yesterday had me cheering in the halls. Now, it’s time to make sure she delivers.”

Actions like the one that happened 15 minutes ago aim to create the pressure to do just that. At the end of our action (after engaging with some angry UN people) several delegates and dignitaries came to thank the Youth for their action. A woman said “I am in a very high position in my government in Norway. Youth doing actions like this makes my work easier. Thank you.”

We’ve had an exciting victory, but we know we must continue to organize to make the implications of that statement meaningful - we know that any targets less than 350ppm will not insure the survival of all peoples and nations, and we know that any solution that is not equitable and just, is no solution at all.

Click below for more photos and reflections.

BREAKING: International Youth Gather in the Main Hall and Chant "YES WE CAN" & "SURVIVAL IS NOT NEGOTIABLE" as delegates & others leave Gore's Speech

By the time you all read this you are waking up in America, we will be wrapping things up here in Poznan. These two weeks have really flown by, and trust me, a conference like this is the only thing that could make anything fly by during Polish winters. We've had 4 sunny days, lots of fog, drizzle, and rain...sunset at 4PM.

Gore spoke today around 1PM. He was optimistic, but serious in tone. Recognized China as a new leader in the efforts to combat climate change. Particularly referring to China's 600 Billion dollar climate package and the largest reforestation/tree planting efforts in the history of mankind. I honestly can't say how I felt about Gore's speech today. I guess I've just heard so many voices in this movement that need to be heard (many are youth voices). He did mention successful efforts in stopping the construction of new coal plants in the US, and the 800 or so local communities that had independently signed Kyoto. The coal comment in particularly got US youth fired up, particularly after the huge victory against the financing of mountain-top coal mining we saw earlier this week.

Right after Gore's speech the youth created a flash mob of about 100 youth delegates. Unfurling banners with our messages and allowing some of our most gifted speakers say a few words. Tons of press, chanted those things that were mentioned in the title of the post.

The only thing left today is a meeting with the US State Dept.'s #2 negotiator Daniel Reifsnyder. He's the one that chewed SustainUS out last year in Bali. He's known for getting emotional. Earlier this week someone innocently asked all the state dept folks during a briefing which ones of them would want a job in the Obama administration. Reifsnyder responded by saying something like, "sorry to be emotional about this, but some of us have been here a long time (career people), and we are just hear to serve the administrations that are elected by the people." The interesting part about the meeting is that Mr. Reifsnyder is definitely in the running for top negotiator in the Obama administration. When I asked the state dept officials the other night, I started by thanking them for their service to our country (even though some of them are all Bush). Anyway, it should be an interesting meeting tonight...

Look for some HUGE wrap up posts, with some special commentary and thank you's!!!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

BREAKING: Over 50 Countries Sign-on to Youth Statement on Survival & Possible Meetings with Gore and Kerry Tomorrow

In addition,

4 environmental ministers mention our statement in speeches, including Australia.

Paper Placards that say survival with our statement were distributed with numerous countries placing their placards next to their official UN placards.

US Youth Meetings with Gore and Kerry being discussed with staff schedulers.


...governments following the youth in Poznan

BBC Environmental Analyst Sends a Postcard to His Son

A postcard from Poznan to my son

The UN climate talks in Poland are at risk of faltering, with accusations from Green groups about Europe's failure to show the leadership it promised. BBC environment analyst Roger Harrabin has been following climate politics for more than 20 years. Here is his postcard from Poznan, addressed to his 10-year-old son.

My Dear Son,

It's cold and sunny in Poznan - a handsome old place fortified by towering buildings with tiny slits for archers to rain arrows on the invaders. You'd like it.

I am sorry our parting was a bit of a scramble, with the computer refusing to print your evaporation homework. I think we should do that experiment again because we can't be sure no-one slopped the salt solution.

On Monday a bunch of young people shut Stansted Airport complaining that my generation had failed them.

I am writing this postcard for you to read when you're 50 in case things go badly and you are wondering why we let it happen.

There was a lot of uncertainty in the early days. We're still not exactly sure in 2008 how the clouds or oceans or forests or soils will react to us doubling CO2 in the atmosphere.

Nor are we sure whether or when we'll hit tipping points which throw the planet into runaway warming, like the melting of the Arctic permafrost.

And there are still some economists who think we shouldn't be spending money on this climate stuff when there are still millions without toilets and drinking water.

But a lot of the arguments are mainly resolved and they are getting boring.

I tried to persuade one of my editors to run a climate change piece in a top slot on the radio. His eyes rolled back in his head, he slumped on to the desk and he almost drowned in the froth of his cappuccino.

New villains

This year, people are getting annoyed with the Italian and Polish governments, as well as others from Eastern European states, who are making the EU wobble over its policies to cut emissions by at least 20% by 2020 from 1990 levels.

You may remember that the same governments have acknowledged that, in order to be confident of a stable climate, rich nations do need to go much further - they need to cut between 25% and 40%.

You'd probably ask me why I didn't keep reminding everyone that it's the wrong target we're aiming at.

That's fair point, but I would say in my defence that the public is confused enough anyway with all the numbers.

I realise that by the time you are 50, the planet might be showing you that this argument was a bit pathetic.

But one thing you really cannot underestimate is the difficulty of an effective global deal. The world has never had to deal with a problem like this - trying to sever the link between our wealth and the fossil fuels that have brought us that wealth.

Hard to swallow

The financial crisis has made it worse. Some of the delegates here are furious at seeing trillions being stuffed into the accounts of firms who borrowed too much, when these sums are out of the question for stabilising the climate.

Environmentalists are also upset to see US politicians supporting their big car firms who lobbied successfully against laws to make their engines more efficient. Polluter paid, not polluter pays.

But if America plunges into lasting recession, there will be no cash to invest in the sorts of clean technologies we need to bring us energy without the greenhouse gases. So these decisions really aren't easy.

Now I've just had a Polish ham breakfast with three experts on carbon trading. They are fretting about certified emissions reductions verified additional under the Marrakech Accords.

They are right to fret - the system is not working. But I can't make carbon trading sound interesting and important… and their discussions are bogged down in detail too.

Some people here are optimistic about two things.

One is President-elect Obama who is set to throw cash at clean technologies and energy efficiency - but this will produce results much too late to meet the demands of the official scientists.

And there is a desperate and so far unfounded hope - that the Chinese might break the diplomatic superpower carbon stand-off, by making a unilateral offer on emissions that shames America into deep and sudden cuts.

I'm putting this card in an envelope to be read on your 50th birthday. I think it is a bit grim for a 10-year-old to cope with.

By the time you read this, I suspect you'll be taking the environment really seriously. Maybe.

Lots of love,


My First Run-in with Inhofe Staff

That's right!

After I came in on the last bit of a meeting SustainUS members were having with a group of Senate staff I sat down with Andrew Wheeler, Senior Senate Environment and Public Works staff for Senator Inhofe.

We talked a little OU basketball, I was cordial, I said that while we disagree completely on climate policy Senator Inhofe has an incredible opportunity to develop the renewable energy tax incentives that will ensure the future of a clean energy economy.

The response was that Sen. Inhofe wants all options on the table, including coal and nuclear. Not surprisingly.

Then we talked about baby sea turtles...