Thursday, 10 December 2009

The parallel worlds of Copenhagen

I got here on Monday night. The reasons: to meet people, educate myself, and to support my wife Marta, who organised a seminar on ecological consequences of climate change. On my way here I thought of all the vicious comments I read recently on internet (including the COP15 website) in relation to the email leak from the UEA. It’s a strange feeling to be aware that the emails’ contents do not mean anything important, and at the same time to see the damage done.

The seminar took place on Tuesday on the ship where the Norwegian delegation hangs out. Then, during lunch, we got verbally abused by the restaurant’s staff. We were told we are scammers who make up myths and travel around the world wasting public money. I see this as a direct consequence of the abuse of UEA’s emails and it really made me think about the differences in people’s perception of the world. Here I am, convinced that the Earth is changing dangerously and something needs to be done urgently. Here is my waiter, who thinks I am getting rich through some well coordinated international scam. Or maybe he doesn’t think that much and just finds pleasure in jumping on the bandwagon started by climate change deniers? It’s justifiable. First somebody breaks the law by stealing correspondence, and then twists its contents causing further damage, and then the press picks the message up without critical thinking or noticing that they participate in crime. I guess that could act as a message that a little abuse on climate change scientists is never a bad thing?

Soon after I have learned that our colleague Fabiane Oliveira died after getting very sick in Gabon’s forests. She was trying to clarify a few important bits of the puzzle. How do you compare this to sitting comfortably in front of the computer for the purpose of stealing other’s emails and smear campaigning?

So at the end of Tuesday I found myself overwhelmed by a mixture of sorrow and dismay.

When I finally made it to the conference, I started to be aware of two more parallel worlds. At the first glance the conference site looks like some kind of youth summit. In certain areas the average age is around 16. I was struck by how this huge crowd of young, happy and idealistic observers functions without connection to the much smaller group of negotiators, who draft the text in secrecy. I also feel very disjointed from the ‘core’ of the action; especially after I’ve learned that I am not allowed to get my hands on the drafted REDD text! But hey, who could really follow it all anyway?

While I am writing this the three speakers of the Tuesday’s seminar are being interviewed at the conference site and I am glad that bits of pure ecology find their way into the conference. So, mission accomplished, and now I can focus on meeting people and attending side events. I already came across a few people keen to discuss topics related to my remote sensing work. I think that after a rough beginning the conference will be gentler with me. Let’s hope the negotiators will also have some satisfaction from achieving a decent progress.

Przemek Zelazowski

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