Kids to Climate Delegates: Stop Talking. Start Planting

In 2007, a German fourth grader, Felix Finkbeiner prepared for a school presentation on the climate crisis. While researching on the internet, Felix was inspired by the Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai and her “Green Belt Movement” in Africa.

After his presentation, Felix spontaneously said to his classmates, “let’s plant one million trees in each country” and  Plant For The Planet was born. The children’s message to the politicians is a simple one, “stop talking and start planting.”

Today, over one million trees have already been planted in Germany and around the world children in over 90 countries are participating in the campaign.

COP16 Plant a tree for the planet event

This week in Cancún, Democracy Now‘s Amy Goodman spoke with Felix and Alessa from Plant-for-the-Planet as Ecuador’s president Correa joins them to plant trees outside the Moon Palace, the COP16 climate negotiation venue. Their interview is below.

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Bill McKibben on US Bullying Climate Talks, COP16 and 350

Bill McKibben Portrait, Hi Res
Image by 350.org via Flickr

Broadcasting from Cancún, Mexico where the COP16 Climate Summit is taking place, Democracy Now caught up with author and  350.org co-founder Bill McKibben. Here is an excerpt from that interview (embedded above):

AMY GOODMAN: For more on the issue of the WikiLeaks cables and the international climate change talks, I spoke with the longtime environmental writer and activist Bill McKibben here in Cancún.

He’s the founder of 350.org and the winner of the 2010 Puffin/Nation Prize for Creative Citizenship.Well, here in Cancún on Saturday night, just before he flew to New York, I asked Bill McKibben about his reaction to the diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks showing how the U.S. manipulated last year’s climate talks in [Copenhagen].

BILL McKIBBEN: Some of the new data coming out today makes it clear that everyone’s suspicion that the U.S. was both bullying and buying countries into endorsing their do-little position on climate were even sort of worse than we had realized. You know, the sums that people were tossing around and the demands that they were making of small nations, in particular, to endorse their stand were pretty—were pretty gross, not because it comes as any great surprise that we toss our power around—that’s what we do—but because on this issue, above all else, you know, in the end, making some political agreement enforcing our particular set of interests is such a bad idea, because it’s physics and chemistry that are actually driving the tune. And we can, you know, win every fight because we’re powerful and wealthy and whatever, and we’re still going to lose the war just as badly as everybody else. So, I think it kind of undermines the bankruptcy of a lot of this COP process and the fact that we’re going to need, in civil society, to build a movement big enough to really exert some power. I don’t know whether we can do that. We haven’t done it yet. The oil industry and their friends in the U.S. government are, you know, winning most of the battles. But we’re going to keep trying. And this gives us kind of new impetus to do it.

AMY GOODMAN: And the reports that Bolivia, Venezuela, Ecuador and other countries, the ALBA countries, are threatening to pull out of these talks if countries do not commit again to Kyoto, to mandatory caps on emissions?

BILL McKIBBEN: Well, I mean, here’s one way to look at—sort of look at it the opposite way. The first people who threatened to kind of walk away from the talks were the Americans last week. “Unless everybody else signs up for targets, we’re going to walk out.” OK? In certain ways, that would be the best thing that could happen. This is what for 15 years now the dynamic of these talks has been. The U.S. comes and says, “Weaken the agreement, so we can get Congress to go along and do something about it.” Everybody weakens the agreement, first in Kyoto and then in Copenhagen. And then Congress doesn’t agree anyway. You know, you sort of—they sort of—it’s like a flirtation that never goes anywhere. And it’s wrecked the whole process, time after time after time.

And now the U.S. is doing it again. This time they’re saying, “You don’t get any climate aid, unless we weaken the agreement and do what we want,” and, you know, so on and so forth. Well, look, I’d say, if you’re really counting, if you’re a poor nation counting on some climate aid from the U.S., man, ask for a receipt, because I’m not convinced the new Senate and House is going to come across with anything anyway. Four U.S. senators on Thursday said—sent a letter to Secretary of State Clinton, saying, “Don’t give them any money at all for anything. This global warming is a hoax, and we don’t want American money wasted on those nasty poor countries,” you know? America has poisoned this process time and time again, and we really need to start standing up to that.

AMY GOODMAN: The fact that the House is saying the Republicans, when they take over the leadership, will get rid of the global warming—the Climate Change Commission?

BILL McKIBBEN: It’s as if they’re saying—I mean, literally as if they’re saying, “We’re going to stick our fingers in our ears, and the problem will go away. We’ll never have another hearing on it, so therefore it won’t be happening.” I’m afraid that’s about as unlikely a proposition—I mean, more power to them if you could make global warming disappear by simply not talking about it. It would be a hell of a good strategy. But my guess is that physics and chemistry will be remarkably unimpressed by this position, you know? I mean, Congress—the sort of delusions of grandeur within the Beltway are enormous. They think because they can change the tax code, they can change the laws of nature. But that’s not possible.

AMY GOODMAN: And when you say 350 parts per million, explain.

BILL McKIBBEN: Three-fifty is the most important number in the world. Three years ago, our best scientists at NASA said any amount of carbon in the atmosphere greater than 350 parts per million is not compatible with the planet on which civilization developed or to which life on earth is adapted. OK? The trouble is, because we’ve burned so much coal and gas and oil already, the atmosphere here in Cancún and every place else in the world is 390 parts per million CO2. That’s why the Arctic is melting. It’s why Russia is on fire. It’s why Pakistan is drowning. It’s why we’ve got to work way faster than we thought we did even a few years ago.

And so, at 350.org, we’ve rallied people. You know, we held, this fall, this global work party with 7,400 events in 188 countries, what CNN called the most widespread day of political action in the planet’s history. And we’re beginning to build this movement. It’s not anywhere near big enough yet. I don’t know if it’ll get there. But we’re trying as hard as we can.

AMY GOODMAN: And Cancún? You’re already talking about Johannesburg, South Africa, next year.

BILL McKIBBEN: Yes.

AMY GOODMAN: But Cancún isn’t done.

BILL McKIBBEN: Cancún, I mean, it’s like watching—I mean, this process, this U.N. process, has been going on forever, and it’s getting nowhere, and it’s not going to get anywhere substantive, until we have some power from the outside to push it.

AMY GOODMAN: I saw some young people with T-shirts that said, “You have been negotiating all my life.”

BILL McKIBBEN: It’s a—somebody, some friend of mine, said, who I saw the other day drawing on the street, who I hadn’t seen since the last one of these, said, “It’s just like a family reunion aboard the Titanic, you know?” And that’s sort of what it feels like. We can’t keep doing this. Until we can build some power outside of these arenas to actually push these guys, you know, this is—in the end, it’s not about how well people are communicating or how great the policy papers are. It’s on who has the power. And at the moment, that power rests in the hands of the fossil fuel industry and their allies in governments around the world. And until we build some independent outside movement power to push back, then we’re never going to get—we’re going to get scraps from the table, at the very best.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you see the fossil fuel industry here in Cancún?

BILL McKIBBEN: You see their fingerprints on every single thing that happens. When, you know, Saudi Arabia stands up to say something, when the U.S. stands up to say something, it’s on limitations—you know, they’re limitations imposed by the fossil fuel industry. That’s who’s speaking. That’s where the power lies.

AMY GOODMAN: Bill McKibben, winner of the 2010 Puffin Prize. He was speaking to us in Cancún. He’s founder of 350.org.

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Join the Million Letter March for Climate Solutions

The Million Letter March is a writing campaign to US elected officials demanding they address climate change with real solutions and not false solutions like Cap-and-Trade-with-Offsets. The Milion Letter March endorses the following seven elements or principles for effective climate change legislation.

  1. Science Based Targets:

    Select annual targets for U.S. emission reductions consistent with peer-reviewed science, which shows that rapid reductions in fossil fuel emissions are needed to return to safe levels of atmospheric CO2, below 350 parts per million.

  2. Carbon Fees and Rebates (Green Checks):

    Impose gradually rising carbon fees on fossil fuels as they enter the economy, sufficient to ensure that clean energy (such as wind, solar and geothermal) becomes cost-competitive with fossil fuels within a decade. Return all revenues from carbon fees in monthly per-person rebate checks to all American households, so that everyone can afford the energy they need during the transition to efficient use of clean energy.

  3. Maintain EPA Authority:

    Preserve EPA’s existing authority to regulate carbon dioxide emissions.

  4. Enact New Complementary Regulatory Programs:

    Supplement EPA’s existing authority with strengthened energy-efficiency regulation, protection of natural forests and improved agricultural practices that favor clean energy and conservation of resources.

  5. Public Investment to Remove Barriers to an Efficient, Clean-Energy Economy:

    Shift subsidies from fossil fuels and make additional investments that will assist with a rapid transition to efficiency and clean energy, including improved public transit, improved energy transmission-line infrastructure, and energy research and development.

  6. Assist Developing Countries with a Rapid Transition to Clean Energy:

    U.S. efforts alone cannot prevent catastrophic climate change. U.S. assistance and appropriate incentives are needed to insure a rapid transition to clean energy in developing countries.

  7. Annual Evaluations of the Progress:

    Annual evaluations are crucial to determine whether science-based targets are met and whether these targets need to be modified. Annual reports should also identify the additional measures needed to assure the success of the program. These reports should provide specific recommendations and be subject to public comment.

As we lead up to the COP16 that begins next week in Cancun, the world cannot wait much longer. We need advocates in Congress for real solutions to preserve our civilization for ourselves and for future generations. Join the Million Letter March and tell your elected official that they need to put our interests first and become a climate advocate for real solutions.

“The thinking that got us into this mess is not likely to get us out. We need a new mindset. Let me paraphrase a comment by environmentalist Paul Hawken in a 2009 college commencement address. In recognizing the enormity of the challenge facing us, he said: First we need to decide what needs to be done. Then we need to do it. And then we ask if it is possible.”

Lester R. Brown from Plan B 4.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization


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