Donkeys in the Stable – Monday

Time for some head work after all the leg work last week. Ewan headed off to the official COP23 NGO venue where he could flash his shiny badge and mingle with the nearly great and good, whilst Euan and I made our way to The People’s Climate Summit workshops in various venues.

Ewan will report on here and/or facebook in due course or come and give you his impressions in person if you ask us. Meanwhile here’s my day before I forget it.

This photo is unfair as it makes it look like a powerpoint talk – it was far from it. That was the only slide and it was only up for a couple of minutes.

We started with the morning session on “Behind the Numbers” which was run by a group of postgrad researchers at Cologne University in various climate related disciplines. Their aim was to provide some tools to help non-specialists understand the basic science behind the climate change CO2/Temperature over time graph. It was a great session involving much interaction in groups as we discovered how global temperatures are measured and what they mean (pun intended), how climate models work and why they may differ, and which of the four main greenhouse gases we can affect and why they are a good thing in the right balance.

If you want us to come and do it for your group then do invite us, we’ll be delighted. It was a great set of activities for getting people to engage with the science rather than just being told the facts by a man in a white coat.

It was also great that the session was being run by a group of young early-career researchers obviously deeply committed to communicating the implications of the latest knowledge in their various fields to a much wider audience. Respect to them. Not a boring old fart to be seen, and even the audience of climate activists who “know” it all having heard all the facts so many times found new understanding.

After the lunch break Euan covered a workshop on Geo-engineering and I went to the one on Activating Citizens to Drive Urban Decarbonisation which turned out to be less workshop and more presentation.

Despite that there was some good stuff in there. Camila Gonzalez from Barcelona started by raising the question “who exactly gives permission to pollute?” talking about cars in cities and the transformation from walkable open streets to walkers being corralled on pavements and made to wait. Then going on to talk about citizen involvement in officially supported attempts to reclaim the streets and neighbourhoods for the people who live and work there.

The essential point being that we and they must move from technical solutions to human-centred strategies. Something that the people of Bodmin (recent victims of an imposed technical solution) and Launceston (whose traffic problems are deemed insoluble because there is no affordable technical solution) might appreciate. In the later case a human centred solution might be to simply ban all traffic over say 5 tons except buses from using Newport Square. Let the hauliers sort it out another way (which yes might involve a 50 mile detour until they pay for a north-south link to the east of town) and give people back their air and street quality.

She also talked about “tactical urbanism” to bring life back to reclaimed spaces. She was talking about cities, but I reflected how in a densely settled country like the UK there is really no such thing as rural space, there are just degrees of urbanisation. And if you protest that CornWallLand is rural,  try cycling through La France Profonde hoping to find somewhere for lunch.

She also had several pointers for effectively involving a community :

  • Information alone is not enough to change behaviour, there must be an emotional connection. This can even trump information as a motivator.
  • Make things simple – simple to understand and simple to do.
  • Make doing the good thing the default behaviour.
  • Deal in concrete not abstract.
  • Use pre-conversion – eg if you give people pre-credit for not polluting and then debit them for polluting behaviours that works better than simply trying to credit them for good behaviour after it is done. People value something they have above something they might get.
  • Never mix financial and emotional incentives – both can work but mixing them reduces their power.

She was followed by two former Architectural postgrads from Berlin who had moved to an infamous “informal settlement” (the proper and less derogatory term for a shanty town) in Medellin, Colombia. Recently the most dangerous place in the world for murder and crime (that honour now belongs to Caracas) their Urban Lab Medellin/Berlin has already achieved some amazing results by working within the community.

An interesting side note for me was to see that of the 12 community leaders involved, ten of them were women. As with the involvement of a new younger generation of activists, I am noticing here than there seem to be many, even a majority of,  women in the activist arena. Both of these trends I regard as tremendously hopeful, and slightly shaming. Come on guys – we must start taking our lead from the womenfolk, we are failing them.

Euan will talk about the geoengineering workshop in person when we come to visit you. As well as the formal workshops there were, of course, a lot of side conversations finding out where others had come from and what they were doing. To pick one at random a shout out to Anna from Hamburg working on political science and an analysis of the disconnect between the positions of governments (in one of her cases Indonesia) on the international stage signing up to the Paris Accord and their actions back home supporting the coal industry for short term political and financial reasons. As always the depressing answer is money.

As for the evening there was a Green Drinks networking session with music and art in an incubation space conveniently near the digs. Beer was drunk. Drums were beaten. Vocal chords were exercised. And so,  tired,  to bed.