Governor, Jalisco, Mexico
Regional Governor, Ucayali, Peru
Governor, Cross River State, Nigeria
Premier, British Columbia
Governor, Amazonas, Brazil
Climate One went on the road for a tour of the UN Climate Summit in Paris. We began in the diplomatic compound on the outskirts of Paris, the “Blue Zone,” where the official negotiations took place amid tight security. It’s like a world’s fair for political and business elites, flags of many nations waving outside and pavilions displaying how various countries are greening their economy.
The nearly 200 nation heads at the summit are getting all the press, but well before 2020 hits, some provinces, states and cities are already on the way to greening up. We sat down there with California Governor Jerry Brown, Washington Governor Jay Inslee, British Columbia’s Environment Minister Mary Polak, Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson, and Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf.
The conversation started with asking Governor Brown about business groups that say his campaign to stabilize the climate hurts the economy. He said “bigger businesses are more climate friendly…Google, Apple...but it’s still a battle.” It’s harder to get through to those in the House and Senate who are still skeptical of climate change, Brown says. But Paris could change all that, “because there's a lot of people here who are not on the left, who are going to be signing this agreement. And I think that idea will get through to these knuckleheads.”
Food and agriculture took on a more prominent role than at previous summits. “This COP [Conference of Parties], much more Buzz about agriculture,” said Frank Rijsberman, head of an international agricultural research group and a former director at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. “In 80% of national reports, Ag shows up as part of commitments countries want to make.”
Most experts agree that small farmers are among those hardest hit by climate change, especially those in poorer countries. Sudarshan Chaudhary, 33, is a member of the Taru indigenous people of Nepal. His family has been farming in Nepal for more generations than he can count, growing mangoes, bananas, papayas, and a long list of seasonal vegetables. He has come to realize the importance of cow dung, which he calls “diamonds for the soil.”
Besides revitalizing the soil on the family farm, there’s another surprising use for all that cow manure – as an energy source. “We make biogas,” he says, which they use for cooking, heating water and other things. Still, he says climate disruption is impacting farmers all over the world. Sudarshan came to Paris to talk about the importance of biodynamic farming and of involving youth in combating climate change.
Don McCabe is President of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture. “I farm corn, beans and wheat in southwest Ontario,” he says, adding that climate disruption is hitting him hard. He compared notes with AG Kawamura, who has created a working farm on the former El Toro Marine Base – which prior to that was the largest lima bean farm in North America. Both have felt the effects of climate disruption – whether to frost, flood or drought, they say, all farmers have felt the pain of losing a crop.
Hundreds of corporations joined the call for climate deal in Paris, including Apple, General Electric, IBM and other icons of American industry. Bill Gates came to announce he is partnering with Richard Branson, Mark Zuckerberg and other billionaires to create a new fund to invest in breakthrough technologies.
Companies striving to create those cleaner forms of energy gathered at the Sustainable Innovation Forum at France’s National Soccer stadium, site of one of the Paris terror attacks. Norwegian entrepreneur Auden Time, of Sky Mining, displayed a carbon-negative fuel “puck” made from elephant grass, which he claims grows quickly, and “sucks carbon from the air,” transmitting it into the ground through photosynthesis. When the Elephant Grass is harvested, Sky Mining processes it into a fuel that can be burned in furnaces built for coal. The whole process, he claims, results in a net absorption of carbon from the air to the soil.
Pat Brown is another innovator building a business aimed at reducing carbon. Motivated by the negative effects of the beef industry on both human health and the environment, the former Stanford medical professor wants to disrupt the global food industry with a plant-based burger that looks and tastes like meat. He’s convinced big name investors – Bill Gates, Vinod Khosla, and companies such as Google and UBS – that he has a chance with his innovative recipe. And he may be right – nearly everyone who sampled his wares, from vegan to carnivore, was enthusiastic.
Diana Donlon, Director of the Cool Foods Campaign, says people don’t need to give up beef to help the climate – but they should be more thoughtful about how cattle are raised and fed.
Outside the aircraft hangars where the negotiations are happening, there is a global village for advocates, think tanks, and artists. The Green Zone is open to everyone. Step inside and you’ve entered a world of eco-excitement on every level. A DJ booth pumps out beats, powered by a row of willing volunteers on stationary bikes. A group of monks circles the perimeter, heads bowed, in silent single file. Youth demonstrations erupt in the main lobby. People are here to be part of this moment, to shout, to sing, and to share their stories. Tirisa Siagatonu and Isabella Borgeson are two winners of the Spoken Word for the World competition.
Isabella returned to her village of Titalaita in the Philippines not long after Typhoon Haiyan. She describes the loss of friends and family, the basketball court turned mass grave, and her mother’s new-found fear of the ocean. Her little cousins, she says, are so traumatized from the devastation of Typhoon Haiyan that they cry when they see rain.
Tirisa found poetry was a way to both connect with her family and to express her feelings about what’s happening to her community. She says, “I channel my ancestors...and I know I have a responsibility every time I open my mouth.”
Isabella, Tirisa and others in Paris are just part of the growing youth movement around the world that’s speaking out – and acting out – about the perils of climate change. And they hope the negotiators, hammering out their world’s future in the Blue Zone next door, are listening.
Producer: Anny Celsi
Assistant Producer: Talia Schmitt