Climate change is complicated. So is COP21.

Shoes in Paris

The Paris march was canceled, but the marching shoes and the climate banners are on display at the Place de la République.

Here I am in Paris, huddled with the uncredentialed masses trying to figure out what is actually going on in the Le Bourget conference center. Like the effects of climate change, this event is pretty diffuse, and everyone, rightfully, can find their niche. In this way this massive, multi-faceted, distributed show is kind of organically well organized…which doesn’t mean it isn’t a little frustrating for a wonk like me. But most of the 20,000 or so “civil society” folks without credentials aren’t wonks like me. Which is good! These are the people who are going to propel change, and this event is going to give them the fuel they need to do that.

Here’s how it works: The Le Bourget Parc des Expositions, several miles northeast of Paris proper, includes the conference center where the negotiations are taking place and you need credentials to get in (the Blue Zone), and the Climate Generations Center (Green Zone) where people without credentials (estimated 20,000 of them) go to topical briefings and panels, explore the extensive exhibits space, watch videos, stand in incredibly long food lines, and hang out on their electronic devices. I cannot IMAGINE the size of the pipe that carries wifi into this vast space.

Whoever it was who wrote this week that COP21 is thousands of people groping an elephant had it right. It’s impossible to know what we’re missing! So far, I’ve hit a few high spots, which I’ll list below. In future posts I’ll explain more about how it all fits together, what I’m learning, and how you can tune in to the proceedings online.

So far, I’ve been to

  • A divestment conference featuring Kevin de León (talking up SB185) and Bill McKibben, among others

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  • A panel discussion of “Investor Actions on Climate Change,” kicked off with a rousing speech by Al Gore. Actually — I thought it would be projected from the Blue Zone to Peon Land, but it wasn’t, so I tried to watch on my computer, but there were too many people sucking up the available bandwidth, so I tried to listen later, and fell asleep. I shall get back to it. You can watch it here!
  • A session on Green Bonds where I asked Shaun Tarbuck, CEO of the International Cooperative and Mutual Insurance Federation (this is big) how the insurance industry feels about divestment (he said he “prefers engagement but it’s a personal choice.” I thought this was an interestingly mild response
  • The Global Climate and Health Alliance Summit, organized by Kathy Dervin, Linda Rudolph, and many others. Kevin de León spoke about California’s commitment to a healthy environment, good healthy jobs, and effective public policy. Linda’s presentation as part of a panel on Communicating Climate Change Through Health was really terrific. At lunch the CEO of Dignity Health announced the Catholic health system’s decision to divest from coal!

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  • A Sierra Club briefing by Elizabeth May, formerly of Sierra Club Canada and now the only Green in the Canadian Parliament, who gave us a tremendous amount of information about the status of the negotiations, potential sticking points, and the growing movement to set a target of 1.5 degrees C. instead of 2.0 — which would ultimately take us back to 350 ppm and save a vast amount of trouble
  • An indigenous people’s action at the Bassin de la Villette, an artificial waterway in Paris, with kayaks, a canoe that came up from the Amazon with a message for the negotiators, a ritual and chanting from the bridge overhead, and Bill McKibben

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Actually I got a late start and have been kind of distracted because my purse was stolen on my way in from the airport. I’ve been partly functional, but I should be better after my appointment at the US Embassy tomorrow, where I can apply for an emergency passport! It’s been a little bumpy. More news soon!