Posts in: Block 4

Farewell

As everyone else on campus prepares for Fourth Week, EC385 has scattered. The COP is over, though at the moment there is no formal rulebook (the entire point of the conference). While negotiators from throughout the world continue to work, everyone else observing the conference has left.

While most of my posts have had a negative tone, I would like to formally state that does not mean I had a bad time. Quite the contrary, while some moments were hard- it was an incredible experience to be able to attend such an international conference. We were told before we left that the COP would be an emotional rollercoaster, though it’s difficult to know what that means. A conference? You think, no way could that be emotional. And yet, being confronted with the realities of climate change for 10 hours a day, reckoning with the vast inequalities, trying to determine what is true in all the noise, and experiencing sensory overload is emotional.

My Freshman Year Experience class at CC was called: “It’s Getting Hot in Here: the Science and Politics of Climate Change”. I have been thinking about climate change since my literal first undergraduate class and that has not changed since. I think the first paper I wrote was called “No One Gives a Shit About the Environment: Why the Economy and the Environment are Uncoupled in the American Mind.” Yes I swore, yes that’s who I am as a person. I am now a double major in Economics and Environmental Policy because I do really believe that solving climate change stretches the boundaries of typical areas of academia. That belief was cemented at the COP.

I know that each other student on this course has such an academic and personal reason for wanting to attend as well, though I only know my own story.

It was hard for all of us to know how to move forward from this experience in a meaningful way. I think that all we can do is pressure the institutions of which we are a part to be better.

The Colorado College Student Government Association passed a resolution last week urging the administration to sign the “We Are Still In Pledge.” This is a group of businesses, higher education institutions, states, and cities that are committed to meeting the goals of the Paris Agreement, even as the United States has pledged to leave it. This is a good first step but we can do better as an institution- more meat-free meals in the dining halls, pledging to not only be carbon neutral but also fossil fuel free.

So what can you do? Plant trees, go vegan 2 days a week, write to your city councillor, ask your family to buy you carbon offset credits for the holidays. What you cannot do is give up hope, because as soon as we stop believing that we can have any effect, positive change stops. Stay hopeful. Stay vigilant. Stay angry.

 

Director of Sustainability- Ian K. Johnson. Photo by: Adam Holliday ’19

COP’s Representation Problem

This morning, I went to a panel in the #wearestillin pavilion regarding the U.S. midterm elections and how they relate to advancing the climate agenda. This was essentially about the ‘blue wave’ that swept the states one month ago, flipping the house from red to, well, blue. These elections were remarkable in many ways- there was the highest voter turn out in a midterm election since 1966, we now have our first muslim representatives-elect, and an unprecedented number of women and people of color won hard-fought elections to take the house. This panel was remarkable in a different way, all 5 panelists were middle-aged white men in suits. As they rode the blue wave, a wave of irony hit me– demographically, it was not them who won this battle, not their rights on the line every day in Washington, and yet here they were sitting pretty talking about how we could now advance a climate agenda in Washington.

The COP, as a conference, suffers the same problem. Climate change will affect disproportionately people of color, people of low socioeconomic status, and women. And yet white people and men fill the panels and the hallways. The United States is most represented country per capita here at the COP. This is largely due to the fact that the bulk of the non-governmental organizations badged at the COP are from Western Europe and North America. It costs a load to get here, Katowice is no international hub, and then even once the barrier of arrival is met, the accommodations are expensive. This is not to mention the lack of accessibility of language here, almost every event is in English.

This is symptomatic of the larger negotiating process, developed countries ask for clemency in their past emissions, and then continue to emit. Developing countries bear the brunt of climate change and are often, by lack of economic resource, denied as large a seat at the negotiating table as developed nations and their constituents.

Solving climate change cannot be done on the backs of the poor and disadvantaged. If that is what happens, it will simply continue the same structural catastrophe that landed us here in the first place. Solving climate change requires a reckoning with structural inequality and systems of power. The first step towards this is giving developing countries a seat at the table, sitting back, and listening.

 

 

Bad News From Katowice

Late last week our delegation was joined by President Tiefenthaler, Provost Townsend, and one of the Colorado College Trustees, Marc St. John. Their presence at the COP underscores the importance of climate change for CC. We had a wonderful time leading them around to events and chatting with them about our research projects. A hearty thank you to them for taking time out of their busy schedules to come to coal-y Katowice and attend this important conference.

You may be wondering what we do from day to day so I’ll give you a quick rundown. We wake up, hop on a free(!) tram to the venue, which is quite like a giant temporary airport, breeze through security, and start attending events. Events range from attending the technical negotiations of the Katowice rulebook (called Plenaries) to going to a wine tasting centered around the effects of climate change on the wine industry. In addition, there is an entire building filled with country and business pavilions, think Epcot for climate change professionals. Each country has a small area decked out with their flag where they hold events, providing seating for conference goers, and share their perspectives on climate change. (I am sitting in the Austria Pavilion right now where they have outlets (a rarity inside the venue) and free hazelnut wafers). We attend events for 6-10 hours each day.

The COP is an emotional rollercoaster, something I neither anticipated nor understood before coming. As all the countries argue about the technicalities of the Rulebook (which really feels like the last hope for combatting climate change on an international level), there are hiccups. On Saturday, the United States, Saudi Arabia, and Russia stalled the discussions when they said they would not support a clause “welcoming” the UNFCCC-requested Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) special report on the effects of 1.5 degrees celsius of warming. This refusal stopped an entire meeting and radically changed the broader mood around the conference from one of tentative hope to one of hostility and despair.

There is some hope yet, as the conference does not end until Friday so there will still be progress.

Water Bottle as Social Capital

As I walk throughout the conference venue, I am identifiably from the United States, probably for a couple of reasons. First, I smile at everyone I see, second my water bottle. 5 days into the COP and six people have commented on my beloved teal nalgene coated in climate-related stickers. It’s a great conversation starter and has earned me a few business cards.

Water bottles, at least at CC, are a way to make a quick non-verbal statement regarding your passions. It’s a powerful visual to represent your ‘isms’: environmentalism, anti-racism, veganism, High Mountain Institute-ism, and the list goes on. What the water bottle fails to do is bely any action behind its claims. Mine reads: “keep it in the ground,” regarding coal. But what am I doing to help keep it in the ground? I don’t know.

Being at the COP requires me, as an individual, and especially as an American, to reckon with how my actions contribute or detract from climate change. My wish for you, reader of this blog deep within the CC website, is ask yourself these same questions. How are you taking the messages on your water bottle and enacting them?

 

 

Hello from the COP

“If we see climate change destroying entire countries, and we know we have the technology to stop this, what is stopping us from taking the necessary action?” – UN General Assembly President María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés”

This question, from the opening session of the COP weighs heavy on my mind, and the mind of every attendee, as we move into the two-week Paris Agreement Rulebook negotiation period. The principal task of COP24 is finalizing and creating the aforementioned rulebook. Since COP22, negotiators have been working on creating the rules, guidelines, procedures, and institutional mechanisms through which the Paris Agreement contributions will be implemented. Without these rules, the commitments made under the Paris Agreement will be practically meaningless. The tenor of this COP is underscored by the recent IPCC report showing what would happen if the world only warmed 1.5 degrees Celsius (the Paris Agreement ceiling is 2 degrees). Many, including myself, feel that the Paris Agreement is our last chance to make a meaningful dent in climate mitigation, which makes this COP and the ensuing rulebook of utmost importance.

Attending a COP is a hopeful experience, it is the largest international initiative for climate mitigation and adaptation- a refreshing change from the flat out climate denial in Colorado Springs. Seeing people from all over the world come together to solve humanity’s greatest issue is reassuring and satisfying. That being said, within this venue is both incredible selection bias and incredible privilege. People are here precisely because they understand the dire nature of climate change and to some extent it is a giant (UFO-shaped) echo chamber. Unfortunately, those who will be most adversely affected by climate change are not here.

While the COP feels hopeful, it is tinged with a sort of horror. This is the 24th COP and even throughout all the partnerships and agreements achieved over the past two decades, we are still on track to overshoot even the 2 degree goal set by the Paris Agreement. This anecdotal quote from an ex-greenpeace employee who has been to every COP sums it up:

“I’ve been here long enough to be complicit”

 

Our class plus Watson Fellow Theo Hooker outside the COP24 venue

 

Arrival in Katowice

After a class-combined 3 days of travelling, we all arrived safely in Katowice (pronounced cat-oh-vee-cha) and have spent the past 24 hours exploring and getting oriented to our home for the next two weeks.

Last night, we all went to explore the downtown area, ate perogies, and bought towels. While Katowice is a small city, the town center is lively and bustling with buskers singing, men selling fruit, and Christmas carols blaring out of speakers. It is very evident in the city that the COP is coming. Banners are hung on buildings, new bus routes have been created, and every single hotel room in the city is filled.

This morning, we headed to the COP venue to get our badges and it was a surprisingly seamless process. Getting badges (the only means to get into the conference) for this class has been difficult. In years past, the host cities of the COP have been far larger than Katowice, and therefore able to accommodate more conference goers. This year, the number of available badges was significantly smaller than it has been. Through a lot of tenacity on the part of our professor, we were all able to be badged for at least some portion of the conference.

While getting our badges this morning, we met up with CC’s Watson Fellow, Theo Hooker. It was nice to catch up with him and hear about the incredible things he has experienced so far in his travels. Some of us headed to the Christmas market where we went ice skating and then explored some polish cuisine. Tonight, a number of people will go to a string quartet concert at the Katowice National Symphony.

COP events start tomorrow and we have our first full-delegation dinner. I will keep you all updated!

EC 385 Prepares to COP

Hello, and welcome to the block blog for EC 385 “International Economics: the Economics of International Climate Policy,” my name is Lily Weissgold, I am a junior double major in Economics and Environmental Policy and I will be blogging for our class while we are abroad. Our class will be traveling to Katowice, Poland this Thursday to attend the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Conference of the Parties (COP).

This is an incredible opportunity for learning, networking, and critically engaging with the strongest existing international effort to mitigate the effects of and adapt to climate change. One that would not be possible without the flexibility of the block plan. Throughout the semester, including this week, our class has met 11 times to discuss readings, learn UN terms, and even learn how to cook pierogi!

I will be updating this blog regularly, so check back to hear about what we are up to on the ground of the COP. Until then, pozegnanie! (farewell in Polish)

A Mild Case of Stendhal Syndrome

As my adventure in Florence comes to an end, I circle back to the discussion around what makes art so impactful. Though most works, especially those from Renaissance, are static, flat, and unresponsive, I find them personally meaningful. In psychology, the inner stirring that art can inspire is called “aesthetic experience”: a feeling of sublime, and overpowering awe. At the extreme end of the aesthetics spectrum is Stendhal Syndrome (also known as “Florence Syndrome”), which describes the symptoms that sometimes emerge in travelers overcome by artwork.

Stendhal’s Syndrome seems to manifest differently across people, with some victims enduring bouts of severe dizziness, fainting, and heart palpitations, and others experiencing elaborate hallucinations. This year, upon seeing Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus, one man undressed completely, and struck a Venus-like pose, before he was dragged off by museum security. Though clinicians disagree about whether or not this slew of symptoms represents a discrete medical condition, the bizarre somatic reaction known as Stendhal Syndrome is not uncommon amongst travelers to Florence. 

What causes some people to be so completely overcome by artwork? Though the answer is still unknown, we discussed two possible explanations. The first is that people tend to to rush through art, especially in Florence, because there is so much to see and so little time. Many travelers, trying to “do Florence”  in a couple days, do not have the energy to process the art as completely as they need to. Rushing from the Uffizi to the Medici Palace to the Boboli Gardens, travelers are ultimately buried in unresolved feelings that the works of art evoke. Because these emotions remain unprocessed, people’s bodies shut down, so that they are forced to slow down and acknowledge what they are feeling.

The other explanation is that art evokes an outflow of emotions repressed in everyday life; and because people are not used to such intense feelings, they are overcome by them. We live in a world where the full expression of emotion is not socially accepted. If we saw someone throw down their plate when the restaurant service was slow, or weep deeply when they had a hard day at work, or skip through the halls when their daughter passed her test, we would think they were crazy. Because display rules don’t allow us to experience the full extent of our emotions, we learn to suppress much of what we are feeling.

Yet we have this visceral, often unacknowledged desire, to feel those feelings we have shoved down, causing us to seek out stimuli that will emotionally activate us, like art. Through art, we are allowed a brief outlet for our emotion, empathizing with the subjects in the pieces. In some cases, we actually see our own experiences in the work, inspiring a sort of meta-empathy with ourselves. In other words, our ability to connect with the subjects depicted in art, while retaining some distance from the work, allows us a novel perspective into our own lives. This perspective leads some people to have almost spiritual “aha!” moments of understanding and connectedness upon seeing art. It is possible that this sudden insight and intense emotion overpowers travelers, especially those without an outlet for expression and reflection in their everyday lives, causing Stendhal Syndrome.

Whatever the explanation, and whether we pass out, stay conscious, or get naked, art can be incredibly powerful. Though it is inert and inanimate, art has the capacity to move us. In fact, I think I might be coming down with a mild case of Stendhal Syndrome myself.

A Talk With a Cell

The majority of this week has consisted of learning about proteins, one of the most complex, necessary, and incredible things that make up our bodies and the world around us. Forgive me as I go off on a bit of an absurd tangent – I blame the astonishing nature of cells and proteins for skewing my mind off topic. But I thought, why not share my weird thought digression – after all, it was prompted by something pertaining to class…

Yesterday, a classmate said something like, “you’d think these cells have brains… it is amazing that they do this all without even knowing it”. I thought it an interesting thing to say and started to fantasize on the idea, pretending it was in fact true. In this dream world, I pretended cells did have brains and they were listening, like a visiting student, in our class. I came to possess a great desire to ask a cell (as if it were so easy to pick one out) what they thought about what we were saying about them. I wanted to know if they would be impressed, or outright embarrassed for us. Yes, there is an incredible amount of proof as to the behavior of the cells within our bodies, but having this perspective, just for a second, made me pretend to be an uneducated fool, and think how much we just may be assuming – how far we were stretching our facts. I guess this doubt in our (referring to the collective human race) knowledge was created through a close correlation of two things: the first thing being (ironically) all the things I had just learned to be true (specifically about how cells form proteins). The second being my provisional acknowledgment of the things only cells know and we do not. As a result of this shifted perspective, I realized the incredible intellect and ignorance that human beings possess. From this, I came to the conclusion that a cell would both be impressed with and ashamed of our knowledge.

So, let me share some of the knowledge that took my breath away, but would probably put a cell to sleep… After covering the basic concept of protein folding (that a protein is a chain of amino acids that essentially fold up on themselves), we zoomed into that chain of amino acids and discovered interactions of energy which significantly affect how proteins fold and the structure at which they eventually arrive. Because these energy interactions happen on the cellular level, everything we learned about the specific behavior of cells brought me back to the idea of personifying a cell. We first discussed the concept of energy minimization (the natural tendency of objects to seek to minimize their energy by sharing it equally with their surrounding environment). Cells are so generous with one another! Although not everyone may be so kind and generous on the outside, always take the compliment that they are still sharing their cellular energy with you and their surroundings! I’ll take it.

This thought, though, was shot down after our professor told us that energy minimalization is connected to a theory about the death of our earth… not so encouraging.

Another concept I could not help but to personify is that of miss-folded proteins. A protein gets miss folded if it arrives at and gets stuck at an energy level higher than its native state (its lowest energy level). A protein gets stuck in this local energy level because it does not possess the excess energy to pop itself out. Thus, it is like someone who has become complacent – one who is content with their position or state of mind yet knows they possess a higher potential they have not yet put forth the energy into accomplishing. But is this necessarily a problem they can control? Is their success entirely up to them or partly determined by their environment?

Since these are quite personal questions, I decided not to ask the cell. So, the conversation ended there.

Taking a step back, this dream world, while quite absurd, allowed me to interact with something I would have otherwise never interacted with. Although not physically there talking with me, this theoretical subject was able to challenge and expand my thoughts without me even knowing it, just as is keeps me alive, just now I have a glimpse of how it does that!

 

 

Aesthetics

Today, we talked about the concept of an aesthetic experience. When I first heard the term, my mind immediately jumped to the visual factor. Given that this is an art-heavy class and Florence is renowned for its visual beauty, this felt like a fair assumption. As the philosophy major in our class explained, however, the feeling we get when looking at a particularly breathtaking view or painting can be generalized to all kinds of situations. This might seem obvious, but in some ways this was a bit of a revelation for me. An aesthetic experience is one where you are speechless, and your mind is overcome by the thing you are beholding. It overtakes all else, and you feel like you are, for just a moment, one with whatever is being observed. It can be something you see, a piece of music you hear, or even a captivating idea.
The three facets of an aesthetic experience are: novelty, complexity, and a challenge to our capacity to understand. Each of these factors is fascinating in its own right.
Novelty means that the thing is new to you, but that does not mean you cannot feel in awe of something even if you’ve seen in 20 times. Maybe you notice something new, or maybe you relate to it in a different way than you did before. In a way, the variability of daily events we experience means that even if you do the same thing over and over, each day it’s a little bit different. Even recalling a memory in a new context can shed new light on an old experience.
Complexity puzzled me. It sounds like it’s saying that the more complex something is, the more aesthetic the experience will be. How can this be if something as simple as an entirely blue canvas can inspire shock and awe (as anyone who has been to a modern art exhibit can observe)? Tomi-Ann explained that complexity works as a bell curve. If something is remarkably complex or remarkably simple and pure, you will be more likely to have an awe inspiring experience.
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, is the challenge to one’s capacity to understand. This, to me, feels the most human. It takes a mind capable of knowing what it does and doesn’t know to consciously be dazzled by the wonderful mysteriousness of an awe-inspiring masterpiece. The Grand Canyon was formed by a river, yes, but it truly feels beyond our ability as humans to fully comprehend the process of canyon carving. The millions and millions of years and gradual change is hard to wrap the mind around. The same can be said of a work of art. To have this aesthetic experience, you must be blown away by the sheer mystery of creation of whatever is being observed.
Lastly, today in class we discussed Stendhal Syndrome. Although questionable in its scientific merits, Stendhal Syndrome is the anecdotal occurrence of feeling positively overwhelmed by something, typically a work of art, to the point of getting dizzy, fainting, or even hallucinating. The symptoms have been reported in places like Jerusalem and Florence, where the rich history, beautiful elements, and wonder of the location combine to overload a person’s ability to experience. Now there are a lot of reasons this might happen, most notably are the stresses of travel and the preexistence of mental health issues, perhaps leaving an individual tourist more vulnerable to this type of “overload.” Regardless, I enjoy thinking about Stendhal Syndrome. I like the idea that an aesthetic experience can be so incredibly powerful that someone simply cannot handle it, and faints. The beauty and the history and the context are just too much, and your brain crashes, like a computer. It’s nice to think that someone is capable of creating an item so astoundingly shocking and remarkably beautiful that tourists collapse at its sight. I don’t know why that idea captivates me so much, but as I said earlier, it feels so viscerally human. It speaks to the innocence I feel one should pursue as a tourist in a new place. To allow one’s self to be so open to the novelty, complexity, and incomprehensibleness that you literally faint is a mindset we should all strive for. I hope that I never stop feeling awed by beautiful paintings, or architecture, or mountain views. There’s just something so lovely about being able to be astounded by beauty.