Archive for December, 2009

Will Coal Plants be the Berlin Wall of the Future?

Tuesday, December 29th, 2009

I attended the Copenhagen climate conference as the Hopenhagen Ambassador, tasked with the responsibility of “spreading hope.” Unfortunately, the mood in Copenhagen was more frustration than optimism, and most people claimed some level of disappointment when the talks ended. Trying to reclaim optimism, I looked to history.

When speaking about climate change, we often talk about the next fifty or hundred years—but what have the last fifty or a hundred years been like?

I had a few free days after the Copenhagen conference and before returning to the States, so I decided to visit Berlin, the epicenter of the worst wars of the past 100 years. After the six-hour (comfortable and quiet) train ride from Copenhagen, and after finding a place to stay with a friend, I proceeded to tour the city by bike and on foot.

What surprised me the most is that landmarks from past conflicts are now just tourist attractions. During a walking tour of the city, a guide spoke about the Nazi Air Force building as if it were nothing more than a museum (it’s a tax office now). We walked over Hitler’s bunker, and as if to prove that Hitler failed, on the nearest street corner stood a gay bar and a Chinese restaurant. At the Brandenburg gate, which once sat in “no-man’s land” between East and West Berlin, I can now take a picture with a man posing like a Soviet soldier.

Deeply puzzled over how a city could have such a horrible past century, I bought a German history book, which I read on the return train ride. Reading over the past 1000 years of history, I was reminded how Europe seemed to always be at war. Wars that I had never heard of claimed large percentages of the population, and times of peace were short. Looking more carefully at just the past century, I learned that the past decade has had by far the fewest deaths from war of any decade.

I feel deeply lucky to live in an age when war is comparatively rare. Just over twenty years ago East Germany was a repressed country and many people feared nuclear war between the United States and Russia. Under such a global political environment, the leaders of the world would never have sat down and debated an environmental treaty like they did last week.

But just the past week over 160 heads of state sat in the same room to discuss our environmental future. The very fact that their concern was climate change and not global nuclear war gives me hope that we are making progress as a species.

If we make the needed investment—about one percent of the world’s economic output—twenty years from now we may look back and talk about how we have met the challenge of global warming. Maybe abandoned coal power plants will be nothing more than museums, much like the artifacts of the Cold War.

At the Copenhagen conference, our leaders did not meet this challenge, and did not make pledges that would result in the needed investment. But steps were taken that got us closer to reaching such goals, and for the first time, the world’s largest polluters, China and the United States, agreed to cut emissions. If we keep up public pressure, maybe in the next few years we will set ourselves on the right course.

Before catching a train back to Copenhagen, I biked along where the old Berlin Wall used to run. A few remnants of the wall stand along some streets. On other roads, a line of cobblestones marks where the wall was. At some points there is no sign of a wall, and only my map told me where the barrier once divided the city.

Below is video taken from my bike. Just over twenty years ago, men in towers armed with machine guns would have shot me for riding where I am in this video. Today my only threat is inclement weather and Volkswagens.

Schneider: We Got to Stay Vigilint (and Maybe Even a Little Angry)

Monday, December 28th, 2009

Here’s my most recent post on the Huffington Post:

The Most Important People Were Not in Copanhagen

Saturday, December 19th, 2009

The most powerful individuals on the planet have convened here to reach a deal. But based on the quality of the deal that emerged, I believe that the important people in the world are elsewhere.

Over the past week I’ve had the opportunity to meet or stand near more famous and/or powerful people than in the rest of my life combined. I shook hands with the crown prince of Denmark (and nervously talked about bicycling). I sat in on talks by Arnold Schwarzenegger and Al Gore, and at an event of The Climate Group I saw the governors of Wisconsin and Washington, the premiers of Ontario, Quebec, South Australia, the First Minister of Scotland, and the Prince of Monaco. I attended a number of these events with Bradley Whitford, a U.S. actor (on the West Wing) who is Hopenhagen’s celebrity promoter. Bradley and I chatted with the governor of Wisconsin as if he just happened to be some guy in the row ahead of us.


At Hub Culture, a social club, governors of two states of Brazil wandered by, and I just missed meeting the President of the Congo. Last night I had to wait an extra five minutes to enter my hotel because the Prime Minister of New Zealand was checking in. Later that night at dinner I sat next to an Obama adviser.

Now 160 heads of state are here, concentrating the world’s leaders in this small city.

But I feel unimpressed. The most powerful of them, Barack Obama, just gave a speech that made my heart sink. I watched it from the press office of Global Observatory in downtown Copenhagen.

Obama pressured the world to accept a treaty that falls far short of what we need. If we follow the proposed agreement, the earth will likely warm by more than three degrees Celsius, eventually melting the ice caps and raising sea levels by tens of meters. The emissions targets of the United States are also embarrassingly low.

Part of me sadly applauds Obama’s pragmatism, as he’s trying to get a deal that is politically feasible in the United States, and once we have a deal, we can always improve it in the future. Congress is highly unlikely to accept a target larger than Obama is proposing, and Obama would be irresponsible to negotiate a deal that the Senate would not ratify. (In Kyoto twelve years ago, Gore signed a treaty that the Senate would never ratify.)

I’m not surprised that the U.S. Senate is holding us up. Public opinion is not sufficiently mobilized around this issue. How can we expect our leader to come to a meaningful agreement when half of Americans don’t support restricting greenhouse gas pollution?

Many experts believe if we make the modest investments, perhaps as little as one percent of the world’s economy, we will solve this challenge. I actually believe it will cost less, simply because I believe in the power of humans to innovate. But we need to make the investment.

If the challenge is public opinion, as I believe it is, the important people are not in Copenhagen. The important people are your friends and your friends’ friends. They are the people who have yet to embrace the idea that if we invest heavily in clean technology and disinvest from fossil fuels, we will all benefit. They are the people who you can influence.

At Hopenhagen we believe we can build public support if we speak to people’s dreams and not their fears. We need to paint a picture of a future that people can embrace. We must speak of a future where cars make no noise and produce no pollution because they run on batteries or hydrogen fuel cells, and where electricity from solar power is so cheap and abundant that even the poorest in the world can afford it. Imagine buying energy from our neighbors instead of purchasing oil from distant lands. Imagine tropical forests and coral reefs expanding and growing instead of dying. Who wouldn’t want to invest in that world?

Despite disappointment in the deal, I have seen much that inspires me in Copenhagen–Desmond Tutu expressing hope, the energy of the youth, and even the fact that so many world leaders are convening to address climate change. Apparently the agreement reached to combat deforestation is quite good. And for the very first time, the United States is making a pledge to reduce pollution, however small that reduction may be.

But whatever the outcome of this agreement, remember that the most important people are those you can talk to. If you can inspire them, then we will truly solve this challenge.

Follow me on the Huff Post!

Friday, December 11th, 2009

My first post is up on the Huffington Post! Check it out:

You can read all of my posts at

I’m about to leave for Denmark!


On a plane . . .

Wednesday, December 9th, 2009

Flying to New York. I’m amazed – I have both WiFi and a power outlet. I feel like I’m living in the future.

I’m currently collecting stories of hope from readers. I just sent out an email to my list asking “What gives you hope that we can solve global warming.” Reply and I’ll include it in the next post.

I’m also catching up on the climate talks. I’m inspired by the youth movement – check out how student representatives from SustainUS, the Sierra Student Coalition, the Cascade Climate Network, and other American youth NGOs just stormed a climate denier conference. I’m also reading a post on Huffington Post Green written by the famous climate scientist Stephen Schneider. I used to take classes from him at Stanford, and I always find him inspiring. I’m also reading about the negotiations. As expected, the talks are revealing the enormous gulf between positions of rich and poor countries, but some of the differences have been over-hyped.

I’m sitting in this seat 30,000 feet in the air and dreaming of a future where sustainable biofuels power airplanes.

Voices from the Hopenhagen Contestant

Wednesday, December 9th, 2009

On Sunday morning, while still in bed, I received a call.

Me: “Hello?”
Phone: “David, hello, this is Katherine Goldstein with the Huffington Post. I’m calling to let you know you have been chosen to be the Hopenhagen ambassador.”
Me, jumping out of bed and running around the apartment: “WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!”
Katherine: “So, I guess you accept the position?”

After confirming that my loud monkey-like hooting was a “yes,” Katherine and I talked logistics. I would fly to New York later in the week (now today) for media training, and then fly to Denmark on Friday night, where I will be representing the citizens of Hopenhagen. (If you missed the video contest – visit here.)

Winning this contest is an enormous honor—especially because many other contestants were worthy and capable of representing you.

As the Hopenhagen ambassador, it’s my job to share your messages of hope. The goal of Hopenhagen is twofold: 1) To communicate to people of the world the importance of the Copenhagen conference and 2) To share with our leaders your hopes for a solution to climate change.

I thus asked a few other contestants, all of whom have a story to tell, for their messages. I asked the following:

1) Give a short bio of yourself.
2) What gives you hope at Copenhagen?
3) What message(s) do you want to send to the delegates?


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Vítor de Salles Brasil

1) I’m Victor Brasil, born in 1987, state of Bahia, Brazil; since I was a kid, my passions were people, music, book and environment; I clearly remember a trip to a mountain region in order to talk to an isolated black community that preserves slave traditions; there I climbed a 1.958m mountain (extreme sports is another hobby). I have made songs about going green and environmentalism, ’cause I’m sure that we’ll only win this battle against those that don’t care for the environment if we get people into it. Then I studied in UEFS Biology Institute including an etno-anthropologic research; and now I’m pretty passionate about environmental law in the Federal University of Bahia (UFBA). (Victor has two songs on youtube you can watch: “Going Green” and “Hopenhagen“)

2) I’m seeing that people has been assuming an active citizenship, they’re more conscious about their role towards the environment. This is what gives me hope.

3) My message to the delegates is: the world is crying out loud for change. Many changes. Let’s start with climate change which is something that affects every single person on Earth. Listen to them. My message to you, David, is to show in Copenhagen every little thing that you have learned in the past years with research and bike traveling. And have the time of your life.


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Graeme Somerville
1) I’m a 6th grade science teacher and 7TH grade geography teacher – Pasadena CA
Outdoor educator, environmentalist, former scientist, geographer. world traveler, mountaineer.

2) I have hope that the leaders, delegates and dignitaries understand fully the magnitude of the event they are currently attending. I also hope that they remember first and foremost that this is a message they are sending to our kids. I am hoping that they step up and go beyond expectations, and look at the world from a global perspective rather than an insular and introspective view based on politics and economics. I also hope that they will forge a commitment to a sustainable future that creates ‘new’ jobs and a healthy economy based on this.

3) I am a science teacher. I hope more than anything I can report good news from Copenhagen to my students.


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Kerry Trueman

1) I’m an environmental activist and blogger who advocates conservation over consumption

2) The galvanizing force of grassroots groups like yours–people power is the ultimate renewable energy source.

3) Industrial agriculture is the leading contributor of greenhouse gas emissions. It’s time to free the world from the fossil fuel food chain!


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Jim Killingsworth

1) I’m a 66-year-old Vietnam veteran who after returning from Vietnam became active. I was a social worker and community activist/organizer in my younger years before becoming a management consultant internally within a public utility company before starting my own company. I’m now retired.

2) That people my age are involved and getting more involved every day in environmental issues. I’m also encouraged by President Obama’s decision to shift his attendance to the end of the conference rather than the first. It will lend more credibility and American leadership to the final product.

3) Environmental interest is no longer a fringe issue with what many have believed are only “tree hugger” but is now a mainstream issue with not millions, but billions of mainstream people looking to them for leadership and answers.


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Anna Brones

1) I’m a writer and social media strategist with a love for travel, sustainable design and the outdoors. I’ve lived in Sweden, France, Guadeloupe and the Pacific Northwest and traveled extensively in Europe and Southeast Asia. I co-founded Under Solen Media, a consulting firm where we develop social media marketing strategies to positively align brands, causes and adventurers. Before that I worked as an editor for Wend Magazine, so you could say that my passion for tying adventure and activism together has been around for awhile.

2) The fact that social media has allowed so many people around the world to be connected and interact with the conference without physically being there. It’s inspiring that there’s a solid web media blitz happening right now, all focused around the conference and the debate surrounding climate change. With so many voices, it’s going to be hard for delegates to ignore the fact that the global population wants change.

3) We need solid global action in order to set an infrastructure in place that facilitates living more sustainable lifestyles. It’s a well known fact that reaching global agreements is no easy matter, but when it comes to climate change, countries need to get on the same page. This isn’t just an environmental issue; it’s a humanitarian, social, economic, and cultural one that affects ALL countries.


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Diane MacEachern

1) I am a long-time environmental activist, small business entrepreneur, and best-selling environmental author. I’ve spent over 30 years working to mobilize the public to protect the planet. My latest book, Big Green Purse: Use Your Spending Power to Create a Cleaner, Greener World, has been called “the big green bible” for the many practical but inspirational suggestions it makes to help us stop climate change, reduce our exposure to toxic chemicals, and clean up pollution.

2) The fact that so much of the discussion at Copenhagen is focused on “how” rather than “why” gives me hope. Previous international gatherings have devoted hours debating why we should act, even though proof has been accumulating for decades that we should! Copenhagen is rightly focused on how we can act to bring climate change under control.

3) The delegates will do well to keep the impact climate change has on people’s lives front and center. There will be a tendency to focus on money and politics during the talks as the delegates consider how climate change strategies might affect their business interests or political office. But the impact climate change has on people – especially on poor women and children, the aged, and those living with compromised immune systems – is reason enough to take action. I hope the delegates will be selfless in the commitments they make and fearless in the goals they set.


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Laura Robert-Niner

1) Co-founder and CEO, Ms. Laura Roberts formed Pantheon Enterprises, Inc. with a fierce commitment to shattering the myth that green technologies are less effective and more expensive. Dubbed “The Toxic Avenger” by Forbes Magazine (Forbes Article) and “tree-hugging elementary school teacher” by Inc. Magazine) Inc. Article, Roberts is the innovator and leading force behind the company’s strategic development. Following a comprehensive market analysis, Roberts co-managed development, testing and OEM approvals for Pantheon’s entire line of non-hazardous, environmentally safe chemical products. Now a global leader in the several industries including aerospace, Pantheon’s mission continues with the development and commercialization of products that promote sustainability, health and safety, and social responsibility.

2) I have hope because the U.S. and China seem to be seriously at the table. And irrespective of the fact that there is a contingent of folks who seriously doubt global warming, there seems to be consensus with most that pollution, waste and alternative energy are worthy of stern discussion.

3) It is time to lead. It is a pivotal point in history in which we need to find a way to motivate people across the globe to feel compelled to act – to rally to a common cause – and to first and foremost realize we are all in this together.

The definition of “Sustainability” should evolve and mean something closer to – the “long term health, safety, happiness, freedom and viability of the human race”…

Perhaps that is something that more individuals – from every political, ethnic, religious and business walk of life can get their head around…


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Dr. Toni Bark

1) I have a medical degree from Rush medical college in Chicago, 86, I received my LEED accreditation in 03 and started the first sustainable design and build store in Chicago and co-founded a renewable energy company with my husband, American Renewable Energy. We design and install geothermal, CHP, solar PV and wind for residential and large commercial institutions. I have been encouraging my patients to lead a more sustainable life by reducing the amounts of meat and dairy in their diet as well as avoiding all fast food chains. I was part of an initiative to have the American medical association vote on school programs having to offer alternatives to meat and dairy at school lunches. I have one son, a step son and a foster son from Rwanda.

2) I don’t know what gives me hope at Copenhagen other than people around the world are getting together to possibly come up with solutions. I just want the solutions to be real and not just talk.

3) We need to stop subsidizing the wrong kinds of farming and industries. We also need to farm in a more sustainable way.

To Copenhagen . . .

Sunday, December 6th, 2009

This morning I received a call from the Huffington Post letting me know I was chosen to be the Hopenhagen ambassador and citizen journalist. I was overjoyed, and felt incredibly thankful for the many friends who helped me in the contest. I also feel honored, as I know many of the other contestants were very deserving and would have done an excellent job in Copenhagen.

More information will be coming soon. If you have a question about Copenhagen that you want me to answer while I’m there (working as a “citizen journalist”) add a comment below and I will try to answer.

Honored / Humbled

Saturday, December 5th, 2009

I entered the Huffington Post’s ambassador contest about two weeks ago, and on Monday the winner will be announced. Some of the videos in the competition were very good, and a number of contestants would do an excellent job of representing Hopenhagen.

Yesterday, I found the video below. Jim Killingsworth entered the contest, but withdrew his video after a few days. I thought that was strange, as I liked his video. Then, yesterday, I learned that he had dropped out because he had decided to endorse me. I have never met Jim, and the fact that he saw my video and decided he should endorse me . . . well, I’m taken aback and honored. Thank you Jim. If I’m chosen, I’ll do my best.

Here is his video endorsement:

Also, a big thank you to the following websites / organizations that “endorsed” me. Even if I’m not chosen, I hope I can live up to this praise!

Ciudad HumanaRide350350.orgWattHeadFairer GlobalizationThe Atkinson DietRide for ClimateBike to BrazilGregg BleakneyThe Alliance for Climate EducationIt’s Getting Hot in HereRoz SavageFocus the NationThe Lazy Environmentalist