Thursday, December 10, 2009

Guest Post - On the Front Lines: A Student’s Perspective on the Copenhagen Climate Conference

Over the next few days, we'll be sharing some guest posts from the Stanford delegation at COP15.

The first, below, is an eloquent and reflective piece by Bill Anderegg, a graduate student of National Academy of Sciences member and Stanford climatologist Stephen H. Schneider.

I was blown away by Anderegg's expression of how he feels at the conference upon arriving -- it's powerful...


- Jon Gelbard

Guest Post - On the Front Lines: A Student’s Perspective on the Copenhagen Climate Conference
by William R.L. Anderegg

12/10/09 – Blog/Update 1 from Copenhagen COP 15

THE BELLA CENTER. Copenhagen, Denmark -- This is a world worth saving. These words continue to echo through my head as I walk the through the halls of the Bella Center, feel the buzz of energy from the thousands of people and dozens of languages that fill the air, and see the tapestry of colors of the native clothing from cultures and nations far and wide. To say there is diversity here would be a bland verbal tribute to the stunning myriad of life. To say this is a conference of complex and difficult issues would be capturing only a molecule of water in a turbulent river. To say that this entire thing is overwhelmingly chaotic would pay tribute merely to a single snowflake in a whiteout blizzard.

What brings me to the COP 15 Conference of Parties meeting for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change? I have been asking this question again and again. Each time, the answer changes, modifies, clarifies, morphs. As a student at Stanford University, I knew this conference would be recorded in the pages of history (just how remains to be decided). As a student studying climate change, I knew that this was an astounding opportunity to attend this conference. As a young person, I knew this was an opportunity to shape the world that our generation will inherit.

But somehow, expectations and preconceptions do no justice to this gathering. I descended from the plane yesterday to rainy and cold Copenhagen skies, eyelids sagging from only an hour of sleep in the last twenty. I arrived at the Bella Center and retrieved my Non-Governmental Organization Observer badge from the United Nations tables. And I strode confidently into the first exhibition hall.

My first reaction was visceral – shock. My second reaction was intellectual – “wait, there are this many people that care about climate change?” Hundreds of booths, of governments, of non-profits and environmental organizations, of corporations and start-ups, filled the entrance hall and that was only the beginning of the chaos. Streams of people moved peacefully along gray-carpet walkways. Camera-men followed reporters and microphones with impromptu interviews happening nearly everywhere I glanced. Delegations of negotiators in suits walked purposefully down the hallway. The sound of conversation in so many different languages was a background murmur like a mountain stream.

My third reaction has been immensely gradual, a response to the underlying and foundational energy that reverberates in this atmosphere – hope. We can solve this. And we must.

It may not all happen in these two weeks. We may not get it all right the first time. To be certain, the road ahead is long, riddled with potholes, and has steep uphill sections. We have a lot to learn and even more to do. But the attitude of everyone here (at least everyone who is not a delegate) is that the time to act is now.

Why am I here? The answers to this are out there, materializing like summer clouds before a rainstorm, but somehow none of them quite do justice. To learn. To see what this is all about. To make connections. To make whatever small contribution I can, as a young person, as a young scientist, as a person who cares, to starting to solve this global challenge.

I think that people are often swamped and overwhelmed by the vastness of climate change. We think to ourselves, “I can’t change the course of things. I don’t really control anything. I can’t do very little to solve the problem.” But, as my first dispatch from Copenhagen, as this first week draws to an end, as more excitement and developments loom next week, let me leave you with these final thoughts.

That line of reasoning is just as correct as it is flawed. I can’t really do a lot to solve this problem. But looking around at this truly global gathering of the people of 192 nations chatting, laughing, typing, eating together, I’m struck by one thing – we can. And the time is now.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous7:06 PM

    Such a powerful way to pass on what it is like to be at Copenhagen. I'm so proud of and happy for you, Bill!