Wednesday: a marathon of hope and despair

There was a large turn out of people from around the globe to a World Wide Movement Against Fracking session yesterday. A woman from Kenya asked me afterwards if I had also felt that it was an emotionally moving session -- it was. And mostly because of the realization of the power of civil society and communities to work together to force governments and industry to stop this destructive fossil fuel extraction industry.

One of the panelists spoke to the fact that 10 years ago, people talked about natural gas as a bridge fuel. But it turns out we don't need a bridge; we could operate using 100% renewable energy by 2030. Rather than a bridge, natural gas was described as a rickety pier to a carbon lake.

Renowned climate change activist Bill McKibben pointed out that the American Environmental Protection Agency recently revealed they had underestimated the levels of methane emitted from Barnett shale by 90%. He said there is no way we can bring climate change under control without bringing fracking under control.

Award winning public health biologist and co-founder of New Yorkers Against Fracking Sandra Steingraber provided me with a copy of the 3rd compendium of public health risks: they could find no regulatory framework within which fracking could be done safely.

8,000 Yukoners who signed a petition against fracking already know this.

A Venezuelan trade unionist spoke even more passionately: at the end of the day, there are no jobs on a dead planet. Another panelist talked about how social movements against fracking have effectively used the Pope's recent papal encyclical during demonstrations and when people are being arrested. His remarks that faithful are not to depend on market and trading schemes to achieve economic and social justice clearly resonate with many people.

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COP21 has been frequently described as the scoreboard, not the game. The recurrent theme again today is that civil society must put pressure on governments and corporations to bring about climate justice.

That said, turning people into agents of change requires giving them both good science and hope. One of the poignant ways that was conveyed was a paraphrase of one of Annie Dillard's 'found poems' from a manual for ambulance drivers. When a paramedic is asked am I going to die? you respond you have some very serious injuries, but I am not giving up on you. Earth is that patient and we are not giving up on our planet.

The session on trade, development and climate change addressed how markets leverage co-benefits. Again, the Minister of Trade and Climate Change from New Zealand emphasized the urgency of dealing with price distortions. New Zealand has formed a coalition of 40 countries and corporations and NGOs to address radical reform of fossil fuel subsidies. The panel also discussed China's implementation of nation wide carbon pricing.

A remarkable business and innovation session in the pavilion dealt with managing the transition to clean energy in countries affected by climate change. The theory goes that sustainable development will over the long term become prevailing political ideology. Again, 78% of greenhouse gases are produced by developed countries, yet the impact is being felt by less developed countries. Representatives from Togo emphasized the importance ethical and moral dimensions of road building. Engineering, they added, is rooted in the word 'genius' so ingenuity is the key to dealing with issues like coastal erosion when planning a new road. You could say same for permafrost.

We often make assumptions about linear approaches to development. For example, that less developed countries will follow the same stages of development. In the global north, 5 years ago 'everyone' had land lines -- except they didn't in Africa and they didn't develop them. Many African nations went straight to the massive adoption of cell phones. So why assume that there must be, or force the development of, an unnecessary 'transition' through fossil fuels to renewables? This is a good discussion point for Yukon, where we do have different energy needs than other parts of our country.

So, I hope you can gather from this long and incomplete relaying of some of what I heard today that it was quite a positive day.

And then I sat in on the main discussions that convened at 8 pm. The president made it clear that there was work to do on points that still had no consensus. I am not sure what was expected when he opened to the floor. I left three hours later and there was still a long speaker's list.The divide between the countries most affected by the effects of global pollution clearly felt their collective voices had either not been heard or had been ignored.

And so, we hope those charged with the responsibility to find a way forward for our world will find a way to do so.