Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Coming together, slowly

It's been a long time since I've blogged here, and this one will have to be short.

But I wanted to let you know that things have been, slowly, moving - maybe even progressing.

I said before that COP 15 might have been a disappointment, but it is not, necessarily, a failure - for it was the launching pad for new relationships, and potentially new thinking and new organisations. One area that I did not fully appreciate then is the extent that COP shifted the overall global debate - I'll try to blog about that more in the future. I also did not appreciate that the one (long) day spent with my fellow Quaker Observers would lead anywhere. We have not only stayed in contact but have formed a loose, truly ad-hoc working group (for lack of a better name) of people from different countries who are concerned about the intersection between Quakers, Quakerism and Climate Change. We've had two significant conference calls and many emails. We are concerned with a) supporting local efforts of Quaker meetings to deeply and spiritually engaged with Climate Change; b) to find ways of encouraging strong attention at national level - especially to find ways to encourage national Quaker institutions to move towards Climate Change concerns, c) what is the appropriate Quaker response at the international level - that includes international bodies such as FWCC - which is at the precipice of launching its international consultation process on global change and d) knowledge sharing - who is doing what, what does it mean, what's going on, and how can we best build our collective capacities for mitigating and adapting to climate change?

I know, I know, that's a lot. And I don't want to act like we are the only such group doing this- I suspect a lot of groups of Quakers and fellow travelers, many with international connections, are having permutations of these conversations. It may be impossible for such all of them to really listen to one another- to create a true conversation of conversations, which is Leonard's vision for QIF's Circles of Discernment. I'd certainly like to see it happen.

I dont know what this will really lead to yet. It's emerging. Certainly its a chance for us to stay connected - and to discuss some of our shared concerns, and to practice listening to one another more deeply around one of the most pivotal issues of our time. I generally feel QUakers are, for once, behind the times when it comes to Climate Change. But I also feel it is a greater concern amongst Quaker meetings and individuals than is easily recognisable. the nature of the problem often makes it difficult to spot a spade when it arises.

Our last meeting had the following intentions:

- To pursue the participation of QIF’s Circles of Discernment in FWCC’s Clusters programme and web forums.
- Explore developing a Quaker article on what major Q organisations have done in past few months and what people are doing in next 6 months in response to climate change to be published in at least 3 major Q. publications to compliment FWCC's online platform.
- spread the word on FWCC Global Change Initiative
- Further explore how Quakers can support for UNFCCC processes and international efforts to confront and effectively respond to climate change.
- Support QUNO's budding interest in Climate Change

It was also interesting to note that many of us were actively engaged not only with climate change but with issues of global change more broadly. Julian is deeply engaged with FWCC’s global change initiative, Sara is working on a literature and landscape review of responses to global change for IDS, Leonard is in the process of convening UN officials to discuss global changes and the effects on the UN system, Lindsey is part of a Global Change discussion group, Mary recognizes the connections between climate change and other drivers of global change. At the moment, it seems best to keep that ‘hat and interest’ outside this particular group, which came together around concerns for climate change at an international level (COP 15) and Quakers engagement with climate change. Maybe such an interest in global change is not too surprising - we are a pretty globally-minded group - that is part of how we self-selected to be part of COP, afterall.

But for all of that, none of us wants to loose the incredible importance of the particular and the local, that which can only be done at the ground, on the ground, with both hands dirty.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

If/when China Blocks the World

A F/friend recently brought my attention to a disturbing article in the Guardian by Mark Lynas: 'How do I know China wrecked the Copenhagen deal? I was in the room.' (

I was a skeptic of the 'blame China' narrative offered by the likes of Gordon Brown. Though I like to think of myself as someone who avoids the 'blame game,' I am more certainly more comfortable with blaming Western oil companies than a complex country which I do not pretend to understand.

I was not in the room that Lynas was in. But I believe him. And I believe that China is a very smart super power. Lynas details how China first did not do the rest of the world the courtesy of sending their top people to the discussion with the other global powers and then continually blocked any resolution that the West (ie, Obama) put forward - including the Western powers stating their own emission targets. Why? To make Obama and the Western super powers look bad - and to stop the COP process from getting so powerful that China's own economic growth would be curtailed by their policies.

International negotiations are complicated, to say the least. I do not agree with the fundamental processes the COP has in place. I support a more regional-based system, such as proposed by Larry Susskind (his blog is quite interesting: But let's say, just for the moment, that Lynas' analysis is accurate. China played a significant role in blocking the negotiations, and used certain developing nations (such as Sudan)to serve their own interests for the purpose of strengthening their own political-economic position and weakening the COP process (again to protect their own interests.) This is the same country which America is deeply indebted to, which continues to have economic growth (and with it increasing global political power, especially as other countries struggle to recover from the Financial crisis), which has increasing interest in natural resources of other countries, especially in Africa, and which many claim is becoming The Global Superpower. While I'm (again) skeptical of that, there is no doubt of the global power shift we have been witnessing in the past year. And this is a complex, quickly changing, immensely diverse and in many ways beautiful culture, one which, for many Westerners, is utterly foreign. It is also one of the leaders in wind and has a significant market share in solar - I wish the US and the UK were making the kind of investments in renewable energy and in R& D that China is.

But what do these shifts in power mean for Quakers and Fellow travelers? What does this mean for those who seek to build a strong global civil society to hold its leaders accountable, and to ensure a sustainable (survivable) future? China isn't known for its transparency. It's not known for a thriving democracy. Or a respect of human rights. Or a thriving civil society (though that is also changing, and Chinese environmental organizations are increasing). If global civil society can bring all their heads of state to the negotiation table (a significant accomplishment) and then China doesn't show up - what then? Do those immense civil society efforts count for nothing because the tiger in the room didn't feel like playing our game?

Lynas is afraid that is exactly what it means. One thing I know for sure is that we can't ignore China. Our analysis and our actions must include not only what to do to ensure shifts in Western socio-political-economy, but what can be done to shift China to be as concerned with global survival as they are with their own economic success. Which is not easy. In fact, the thought of it makes my head spin.

But I've a rather unpleasant knack for a good imagination. I can imagine technical and trade partnerships between China and the West (both the US and Europe) which could lead to unprecedented creativity, innovation, and the potential for survival. And I can imagine warfare of one kind or another between the 'West' and China (and its allies). Perhaps not immediately. But climate change invites us to tie bonds - either with or against one another.

Even as I talk about the importance of thinking East-West, I don't want to paint the world in clear binary oppositions - I don't think that's accurate, nor does it sit well with my faith. India, South Africa, Brazil, and even little states like the Maldives are shifting their roles as well. I do not think that civil society is worthless just because big superpowers such as China who care little for NGOs are beginning to flex their new-found strength.

And all of this doesn't let any of us off the hook. We need to do the right thing regardless of what others are - or are not - doing. I'd like to see the US leading by example - even if it seems like economic suicide - if the US stops buying products made by fossil fuels (a big 'if') China won't make them (or at least not as many of them). My intention here is to highlight the need to shift some of our thinking about power (and thus where and how to witness) in the global system. And part of shifting our imagination must include looking at the mirror, as well as out the window.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

We are just getting started

Climate change is not going away. It will continue to worsen.

And neither are those of us who are working to create a new normal.

The 'Tck Tck Tck' campaign, designed to draw the world's attention to the need for urgent and sustained action to climate change organized by a wide coalition of major NGOs from Oxfam to Amnesty International to Religions for Peace and Christian Aid, has, at the time of this writing, 15,243,644 signatures on their petition. Their current message: 'We're not done yet'.

My message: 'we are just getting started'.

And I say this as someone who has been learning about and working around climate change issues for a number of years (and I take my hat of to the many who have been working on this concern for decades).

We are just getting started to learn what climate change really means. We might want to invite people who have already been effected by Climate disasters and already become climate refugees - from Katrina to Somalia - to our meeting houses and our communities to hear their stories. We might want to hold working groups within our local meetings to understand the science - the largely non-negotiable science, so that we know our actions are grounded in reality. We need to consider how the organizations we are a part of - regardless of what they are - are going to need to adapt to climate change. For example, how are human rights programs, health programs, psychotherapy practices, architecture, politics, local governments, immigration policies, prisons, etc. going to be effected by climate change - both adapting to climate change and working to mitigate it.

We are just getting started to learn how to effect the United States and the oil lobby that it so often bows to. That could include QEW and QIF working closer with FCNL in the States, and enabling Quakers and other fellow travelers to lobby the US government to change its position. This includes being part of the growing US and global movement for a green economy and for climate justice in order to ensure peace and the realization of economic and human rights.

We are just getting started to learn how to build trust at the international level. Here is a place where Quakers have much experience. There has been growing support amongst those of us here at COP of the clear need for something that resembles a Quaker United Nations Office (QUNO) but located at Bonn, where the UNFCCC has its headquarters. We had a beautiful worship over this idea last week, and there was strong resonance for its potential benefit. Such an office could help build the long term trust between parties. This would be both to support the creation of an international agreement, perhaps even more important, to help support the subsequent process of realizing the ramifications of such a deal.

Climate change isn't just about conferences in Copenhagen - or, next year, in Mexico. The work that happens in between conferences is perhaps the most important work. For that, we need to form a committee to consider what is the best type of QUNO-type office to create (I do not presume it will look exactly the way QUNO currently does) to support the ongoing international process - as well as all the other ways in which we, including those of us who have been working on this for years, are just getting started.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Morning After

(by Sara Wolcott)

The morning after COP 15 dawned a brilliant blue sky. Leonard and I have enjoyed a lazy morning talking with our hosts about their perceptions of Denmark and COP and China and globalization. These 'regular' danes (if our hosts, all of whom are young and well educated and compassionate and curious are 'regular') love to sit and talk over tea, glogg (mulled wine), beer, or whatever other beverage is appropriate, and that has been a real delight amidst what has, in many ways, been a confusing, frustrating, disappointing, but not-as-bad-as-it-could have been week with some extraordinary highlights.

A few notes for this morning: I will write more later.

Yesterday, the last day, when all the NGOs were locked out of the Bella Center, we spent the entire day in an extended meeting/worship/conversation with our fellow Quakers with QEW (with the exception of Rachel who was dealing with medical emergencies, negotiations, and other challenges that can come at the end of an event.) It was the first time we have gathered together as such a large group (an entire 6 people!) representing US, UK, and Asia Pacific/FWCC. We would frequently pause in our extended conversation about ourselves, quakerism, COP, our experiences here and what we hoped for the future with worship and prayers for the 'leaders' of the world, gathering and working and talking even as we were.

From that gathering, several things emerged.

1) We agreed it was important to have a stronger Quaker presence in the overall climate change process. We also agreed that one's first COP was very much a learning experience - trial by fire. Much needs to be done to make this better/more effective for future Quakers at COPs. We were in many ways the guinea pigs (though individual Quakers have been involved in COP since its inception, as a body we have no real knowledge). Much time was 'wasted' in getting lost. I take responsibility for much of that - I had contacts I did not use effectively.

2) I would like to see more young quakers involved - mostly because the youth activism here has been INSPIRING and AMAZING, and I feel is one of the best places I have seen for young people to learn and make a difference at an international level. Not to mention the networking opportunities.

3) It would be possible to set up an ongoing space for worship/prayer/mutual care at the COP, which didn't really happen this time around. Several church organizations I've met are willing to work with us on this. The next COP is in Mexico, and it would be good to start thinking about it now.

4) There was strong resonance at the importance/value of having a QUNO-type body at Bonn, the headquarters of UNFCCC. More on this later.

5) We Quakers are in many ways behind the curve on this climate change and the COP process (with the exception of many individual Quakers). Other faith groups are much more organized. That said, FWCC is about to launch a major international consultation looking at Climate Change. This is an excellent initiative. Julian reminded us that it took Quakers 80 years to abolish slavery - movements rarely happen quickly.

I went home relatively early, opting out of the Christmas carols sing along at one of the local churches, in favor of a quiet night in to nurse the cold I have managed to develop in recent days. There, I watched some Danish television, which is disturbingly similar to British and American television. (ie, we watched 'the Gladiator', which was somehow not as far-away as I had thought it would be). In between scenes of gladiators killing one another, we switched to Danish news - which focused on Obama's Air Force One taking off (at least an hour of prime time given to this clearly momentous event - I was shocked, and our host was disgusted and slightly embarassed). But we did get to listen to Obama's press statement.

My initial reaction: a mixture of hope and disappointment. Disappointment in that a legally binding treaty that forced the US to reduce emissions was not signed. However during my time here I never saw that as a real possibility. What I am grateful for is that they did not sign a bad deal. No deal is better than a bad deal. And while Obama side stepped many important factors (not least, US responsibility), he did emphasize that we can not negotiate with science, and that we need to pay careful attention to the 2 degrees of global warming. It was satisfying to know that so many global leaders spent what is for them a great deal of time discussing this issue - it is now clearly on the global agenda in a way it had not been before.

But the work has just begun, and none of us can escape the momentous tasks before us. For the first time in my lifetime, I feel some kind of global movement around climate is possible - and necessary. Civil society must work together very closely in the next few years - and that includes working with business. And while Climate Change is a relatively new force on the global agenda, what it requires is not new - peace, cooperation, building capacity for planning, good governance, greater democracy, human rights, public engagement with science and finance, education, enhancing economic well being and human dignity - all of these 'old' fights remain necessary and imperative. And that old commandment to love one another remains as prevalent and imperative as ever. Indeed, the question, what is it that love can do, rises to the fore again and again in these climate conversations.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Big names, big talk, big action?

(by Sara Wolcott)

Not far from me, under the same roof, the ‘leaders of the world’ are gathered and gathering. Right now, Wangari Matthai is addressing them. They just heard from Prince Charles. I am watching on television, along with all the other NGOs and people who did not get tickets to get into the auditorium (I never did figure out how those tickets were distributed). Almost everyone is watching the speeches, at least with half an ear (poor Prince Charles didn’t get much sympathy from the folks around me.)

But you can’t deny that the organizers and the Queen of Denmark are doing their best to put pressure on the delegates to get a deal. It is, they assure us, still possible. Matthai reminded us of the impossibility of perfect documents and the importance of ethical and religious words such as compassion to guide us in these uncertain times. And while all of the speakers speak of the fierce urgency of now, I can’t say their speeches are fiery, or compel me with conviction. Though I am grateful to hear such consensus. And at this point, the political shame of not having a deal is going to be quite bad, but it might not be bad enough.

And at the moment, I’m feeling a bit, well, suspicious. All this talk of ‘this is our only chance’, well, it’s beginning to wear on me. Is it, really? While there is no doubt of the fierce urgency of now, I’m wondering if a global negotiated deal is the way it can/should happen. Nature doesn’t negotiate. Is there another way than this one?

Well, there are some other ways. Warfare, for one. It’s remarkable that a situation of this gravity is being discussed in negotiations and not over the battlefield – the futures of many countries have been decided that way in the past. Perhaps there has been some development. Though if negotiations fail, a battlefield may well erupt.

China talked about beyond ‘negotiations’ and into true co-operation. And at the sub-national level, cities and states are taking progress faster and with greater creativity than is possible at the national or global level.

Today, I’m not sure what, if any, real progress has been made. In the meantime, the access has gotten worse – only 20% of each organization has been let in, and even then there are lines outside for hours in the freezing cold. People have flown here, booked expensive flights and expensive hotels, and will never see the inside of the building. By Thursday, only 1000 people from Civil Society will be let in. No one speaks of Friday. I take that to be a bad sign for NGO representation. And while there are debates about how much good civil society actually does for the documents, there is no doubt that it is important.

Today, I’ve had some amazing workshops and conversations. It strated with the best workshop – so far – and the only one that wasn’t just a panel discussion. Human Rights, Climate change, and business: discuss. Out of htat came several valuable connections for both Leonard and myself, and the insight that climate change policy, not just climate change, needs to be thought of in how it is effecting human rights. And then, a chance to hear Desmund Tutu, Mary Robinson (ex president of Ireland and former HR commissioner at the UN) and the head of Oxfam during a powerful and tear-jurking ‘Climate Change Tribunal’. That was followed by missing a meeting with someone and then, almost by chance, getting into a talk by the Governor from San Paulo Brazil and Schwarznegger from California. I’ve never heard Arnold speak before, and I must say, his message of ‘individuals and organizations and sub-national groups can make a difference’ was powerful, desperately needed, and much appreciated. He might be the best speaker I heard here, which is saying a lot. After a terrible dinner, I heard the televised speech above, had a lovely chance to talk to the head of Bermuda’s Environmental Agency in Bermuda (and learned about Bermuda politics – complicated!), send an email to Hilary Clinton and to Obama to encourage a strong deal that supported Tuvalu’s proposal, and am now listening to the UN discus becoming climate neutral. They’ve started measuring everything they have emitted and looking at offsetting their flights – 2009 is the 2nd year they are doing it. That is being followed by the ‘vikings go green’ talk. As I write, heads of state are landing left and right. The Danish government is, to say the least, stressed. On top of all the other challenges here, multiple heads of state requires immense coordination. It’s not easy – and we’ll see how useful it will be.

I’ve heard more famous people today than I have in the past few years. It’s great to hear everyone talk about ‘my’ issue. But I’m still looking for way to open – and wondering what would happen if there was some real Silence amidst all this noise.

Sunniva finds hope in Copenhagen

(Originally posted by Sunniva Taylor on the Quakernomics blog (

My name is Sunniva. I used to work for Quaker Peace and Social Witness in London. I travelled to Copenhagen with the Christian Aid campaign team, to take part in the 'street' action and to prepare to write an article for the Friend.

Yesterday I arrived back from Copenhagen, where I was participating in the mass of civil society actions taking place in the city, as the negotiations for the next climate change deal continue. On Saturday I was one of 100,000 people from around the world, including the global south, marching on the Bella Centre - where the economists, scientists and politicians are gathered. We were calling on them to deliver climate justice, and asking them to ACT NOW to make a Fair, Ambitious and (legally) Binding (FAB) agreement. On Sunday, I attended an uplifting eccumenical service during which Archbishop Rowan Williams reiterated, again and again, that 'perfect love casts out fear'. He called on leaders not to be so paralysed by fear and selfishness that they cannot save the planet, and asked us to ask ourselves and one another how the commandment to love and to live in joy and respect for the earth is reflected in our lifestyles and policies.

The papers and many NGOs are talking about how Copenhagen is 'our last chance to save the world', and 'our only hope'. But I think that this is dangerous. What happens if they don't reach agreement (and it's unlikely that they will agree to a legally binding one, or one that gives enough money to developing countries, or that actually commits to great enough emissions cuts)? Then, are we all doomed? And if global leaders do reach an agreement, are we off the hook?

No! Because as contributors to this blog know 'saving the world' is about much more than agreeing carbon emissions reductions. They will only be achieved if we reassess and re-gig our whole way of being in the world - our economies, structures, and attitudes. And, at the end of the day, I think that whilst an agreement in Copenhagen is incredibly important, the agreement itself will not lead to these changes. They have to follow. And it will be global citizens - that's, me and you - not only economists, scientists and politicians, that will make these changes.
Being in Copenhagen was an extraordinary experience not because of what was happening in the negotiations - in actual fact we knew very little about that because we had no access to English language papers! But, because of what was happening outside of the centre. People had gone to incredible lengths to be there to add their voices to the protests and the atmosphere and feeling of unity and hope was fantastic.Whilst it may not seem like it sometimes there are a lot of people out there prepared to stand up for climate justice.'

Get on the phone. Now. Thursday: Fast.

(Reflection by Sara Wolcott)

I can not emphasize how infuriating it is to be at COP 15. I am surrounded by brilliant people all calling for change and strong leadership, but I do not see the results that we need to ensure that the people in small island states, and, eventually, in New York and San Francisco.

PLEASE CALL YOUR SENATOR/CONGRESS PERSON/ MP/ ELECTED REP and tell them that you will not vote for them again if they do not ensure that Obama/etc. give business, ngos, and people around the world the chance to survive. Then ensure that everyone you know and everyone you meet before Friday does the same. The importance of putting pressure on Obama can not be overemphasized - especially around making financial commitments (which I hear there is greater likelihood than other issues).

And - if COP 15 'fails'(very likely), please do not despair. You will know you have done something. This is only the beginning.

And - consider doing a fast: