Posts in: EC385

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)

Peace Corps: Togo

Today we had the opportunity to talk to sociology professor Gail Murphy-Giess’s daughter, Patty. After spending two years in Togo with the Peace Corp, Patty returned to the United States in August and came to our class to discuss her experience.

Togo is a small country in the north west of Africa, wedged between Ghana and Benin. With only 8 million people, Togo has over 40 ethnic groups, with two making up the majority. The main conflict going on in Togo currently regards the political sphere. Midterms did not take place as planned, and though elections are supposed to occur in 2020, it is likely that they will not take place due to the intention of the current president to extend his terms. So, in the face of these conflicts, what is the role of the Peace Corp Volunteers?

Patty told us that volunteers are supposed to stay neutral, but that this is impossible. Patty was living in a small village with only a few thousand people. The official projects in the village included health and malaria prevention, english education and gender equity, and agriculture and food security, the latter on which Patty focused. In working on these projects, Patty formed close relationships with the villagers and found that they wanted to know her and, by proxy, the United States opinion on the happenings in Togo. When friends and villagers asked her opinion, she was inclined to engage, rather than stay neutral as the Peace Corp suggests. Patty also found that people had a great interest in the US in general. People felt positively towards the US, but were often misinformed on US intentions and policies. That said, the US was widely perceived as the land of opportunity, and everyone wanted to go there. This was especially true in the villages, where people were less inclined to protest, as they would in the big cities, and more apt to accept society as it is and hope for a better future in the US.

Patty also spent some time expressing concerns about NGOs. Though Patty, as a recent Peace Corp volunteer, comes from a very different background than the other speakers that we have had in this class so far, we found that her concerns lined up with the others that we have heard. First she talked about the concept “biopolitics,” which refers to how people view resources, who has power, and how agency is practiced. Because of NGOs, Patty said, biopolitics have shifted. NGOs often take the role of the state by providing, for example, teachers and health care. This creates a cycle of dependency, and takes the pressure off the state to provide for its people. Furthermore, NGOs often do not listen to what people actually need, but instead are motivated by outside interest. In other words, their work is funder-based. In contrast, the Peace Corp focuses on community based development and, because it is funded by tax-payers, does not have to succumb to external pressures for project.

So was her experience with the Peace Corp in Togo a success ? In many ways and in many places it can be seen as a success, and in others, a potential detriment. A crucial element in this discussion is impact evaluation. This is a fairly new idea. The Peace Corp, Patty explains is working on evaluating their human impact by standardizing methods of collecting data and using a needs assessment in every location. Patty admits that the process of impact evaluation is new and flawed, but essential to understanding how the Peace Corp can make the most change.

Brendan O’Donghue: The Private Sector

It took a second for the Brendan O’Donghue’s face to appear on the monitor, and when it did, we couldn’t hear him for a minute. The whole class was sitting in the Economics Collaboration room, eating Jimmy John’s and eagerly awaiting our conversation with O’Donghue, who was skyping with us from Nigeria. In a few minutes, the internet connection became stronger and O’Donghue’s face and voice game through.

A friend of Neal’s from Afghanistan, O’Donghue was online today to talk to us about development work through the private sector. O’Donghue works for a company called Zipline, which is based in Silicon Valley. Zipline has technology to operate drones that deliver life-saving medication in hard to reach places. The algorithm, which takes into account speed and ease of delivery, operates with incredible speed and accuracy. The drones get life saving medication to the person in need within 15 minutes of being requested, and drops the medication via parachute within two parking spot spaces of the exact GPS location. Right now, Zipline has operations all over Africa and Southeast Asia. It contracts directly with the government, under the assumption that the partnership will save the government money by decreasing health care costs. Right now, it takes the company about three months to set up an operation, but O’Donghue spoke of the companies goal to set up in a day or two. At that rate, Zipline’s technology could be crucial in combatting the effects of natural disasters.

O’Donghue’s professional background is interesting. After graduating from Hamilton College, O’Donghue had experience working on Wall Street, for government, and in the non-profit world before transitioning to the private sector. This diversity of experience gave him the ability to discuss the pros and cons of each sector. While Wall Street provided financial stability, O’Donghue felt like he wasn’t making a difference. He transitioned to the non-profit sector and government, but found both to be corrupt. Governments were especially frustrating, as the high-stakes of governmental decisions make them very risk-averse, which make it hard to get anything done. O’Donghue has had a positive experience in the private sector so far, especially in a Silicon Valley company. The company is risk-loving, which means he can work with speed and flexibility, make mistakes, and still be a success. Zipline is also a socially conscious for-profit company that hires almost entirely local staff in order to be sustainable. For a class of people who are interested in rebuilding economies after conflict, hearing his lived experience in each sector was really helpful.

Zipline has come out with really exciting technology. While they are currently limited to emergency medical supplies, they hope to expand that. Who knows? Maybe one day a Zipline drone will drop your to-go food order on your doorstep.

Major General William Hix

Major General William Hix walked into our classroom last week wearing a brightly colored, button-down shirt and a dark green suit jacket. He is older, soft-spoken, and upon first glance, you would not assume his extensive experience with the US army. Upon speaking with him however, MG Hix’s humble expertise became evident. 

Having graduated from the US Military Academy in 1981, MG Hix has a Masters Degree of Military Art and Science. He currently serves as the Director of Strategy, Plans, and Policy, Deputy Chief of Staff G-3/5/7, Headquarters for the Department of the Army. He is responsible for developing strategies, plans, and concepts that shape the geo-strategic security environment, inform army decision making, and for anticipating and providing forces for national security. Previously, he spent time in other strategy and planning assignments, as well as on operational assignments with both command and staff positions.

Though MG Hix is quite busy, he is a good friend of Neal’s, and graciously took the time the speak with us. One of the most interesting parts of our conversation with MG Hix was his perspective on the global economy. MG Hix referred to the economy as a geopolitical force. He went on to explain how the economy plays a crucial role in shaping the geopolitical climate because it can give people the resources that they need to fulfill greater objectives. He described the world economy as a pie: you can either split it up, and while you might hope that everyone gets an equal sized peace, this will not happen. Or, you can make a bigger pie. The goal, Hix explained, should always be to make a bigger pie.

One part of the growing world economy that Hix explained was China. When asked how China’s growth would affect the world economy, Hix said that he expected the focus to shift East. He chalked this shift up to two main concepts: complacency of Atlantic nations and growth in technology. The former is related to aging. Hix talked about how, in Europe especially, Western nations are failing to see how their aging populations will negatively affect economic growth and present unforeseen challenges. In terms of technology, Hix expressed concern that Europe was not using automation to grow like China is. Rather, in Europe, which has some of the some of the most revolutionary robotics companies in the world, China has a large percentage of the shares.

The opportunity to discuss something so crucial and complicated with MG Hix was wonderful. He gave us plenty to think about, as well as a whole list of books to check out, and, with a nod to Neal, one final piece of advice: always find people smarter than you, and get them on your team.