Thursday, June 4, 2009

My Week: Fighting Climate Change, Meeting the US Government, and Fixing Globalization

Hello Everyone,

So I was wrong. I apologize for assuming that this week would be much less eventful than the last (although Tuesday was a bit slow), but it certainly has not been so far. In fact, this week has been, in some ways, more intellectually engaging and more inspirational. Yesterday, after an early breakfast (7 45) with Carmen, director of the Fair Trade Federation (we both ended up at the wrong restaurant, and walked together to the correct one, talking about what I should do with my life...), **First** I rushed over to the Center for American Progress to see Todd Stern speak on Climate Change. He did not address climate change in the boring powerpoint that we have all come to know and fall asleep during, but rather, as the State Department's Special Envoy on Climate Change (global warming diplomat), he was able to address what may be the most essential bi-lateral relationship the world has ever seen: the United States and China.

He introduced the context of the need for this relationship very well, in that China has been on an average of 10% GDP growth per year for the past 30 years. They went from a GDP per capita (basically income per person) of around $400 in 1979 to nearly $5,000 today! Essentially, through the nearly exponential increase in carbon emissions from China, their growth in coal production, building the equivalent of four Boston's (in urban housing) every month, it has become evident (from a lot of people) that China's economic growth is not politically or environmentally sustainable. I was hearing from a few experts there that maybe reducing the growth to 5% would be appropriate, but the exact numbers have yet to be determined. In a very general sense, the purpose of Todd Stern's trip to China over the next month is to engage in discussion (already begun) about China a) leading the world in emissions, and how this can change, b) straddling the divide between the developing and developed world, and c) leading the developing world in climate change policy and overall carbon emission reduction. These negotiations are essential in setting forth a diplomatic consensus of some kind before the World Climate Summit in Copenhagen in December (it is not that we expect China to mirror our climate actions, or those of Europe, but rather to adopt an effective climate policy of some kind, or that scientists can approve).

So I am pretty sure that these discussions, negotiations, and diplomatic consensus can be reached by December, but I am not 100% sure that the US will have things sorted out on the homefront. I am referring to the Waxman-Markey Bill, the piece of climate legislation currently before Congress. If Congress and the Senate don't get this through, and signed to some extent, by December, then I see the 'developing world', and perhaps China, pointing their fingers saying "How can you ask us to lead the world in fighting global warming when your own country cannot even come to an agreement??". This is obviously the worst case scenario, yet it happened at Kyoto in 1997.

Finally, I am optimistic that this relationship can come to fruition in the way that Todd Stern envisions it, that the US Climate Bill can be signed or agreed upon by December, and that Copenhagen can bring the countries of the world to say "Hey, let us save ourselves, together." Only time will tell...

**Second** So this morning, I got up to bike a ways down Florida Avenue (in the rain) to attend a "Round Table" of Fair Trade labeling organizations, advocacy and trade federations, cooperatives, and other anti-sweatshop non-profits. I ran into my boss, Samm, along the way and we biked together in the rain. The purpose of the meeting was to ensure that Fair Trade standards and labels were guaranteeing a reduction in poverty and a prevention of child labor.

Well, problem was that this agenda was extremely vague, and that it is very rare that the director of FLO (the global fair trade labeling organization) in Germany, is in the same room with the US cooperatives that operate under its label (it is sort of a geographic and cultural divide). For that reason, the discussion became extremely interesting. With development organizations such as the Catholic Relief Services accusing the director of FLO for being both a "development organization" and a "labeling organization" (without adequately doing the job of either), and cooperatives complaining that these labels are losing their trade effectiveness, consumer ethical guarantee, and FLO (nice Finnish woman, Tuulia, but she was just hired in February!) simply trying to keep up with all the questions, I was grinning the whole time (and writing, of course). The problem is an overselling, or overpreaching, or overbranding of what are essential fair trade principles--labor conditions, env. standards, etc.--without the adequate monitoring and enforcement to back them up. The balance between the rhetoric of Fair Trade and its actual reality is at a very influential point in time, and it was wonderful to be a fly on the wall in this room. Furthermore, I began to see the whole interconnectedness of worldviews and how it related to what I want to do with my life (this a long side-tangent). I wrote an application for a Campus Progress Conference at the Center for American Progress (it's in July -- I haven't gotten in yet), and my short application essay read as follows:

It is my personal creed, or ideal, that belief without action holds very little value or meaning to the world (I believe this may be closely aligned with what some schools of philosophy call "American Pragmatism"). People may discuss things, propose ideas, even organize themselves--but without action, all of this activity never seems to come to fruition. It is this fruition which I seek to know to enable, and this has brought me to apply for the 2009 Campus Progress National Conference. Whether it be an environmental movement for a sustainable food system in my city, Birmingham, a rally against an unethical and illogical government bill, or simply voting in one's local election, these values must come to fruition and they must be followed by action. Personally, I hold many different values about society, government, and our economy. It is not necessarily my prerogative to transfer these values onto everyone, but rather to engage others and act based on our collective values. Furthermore, I seek to enable others to do the same. Civic engagement, to me, epitomizes this belief, and my attendance at this conference, I hope, will add to the skills, knowledge, experience, and networking needed to achieve this goal. I define the very loose idea of "progress" as acting on one's values--collectively, effectively, and sustainably. It betters our own lives by connecting our morals to our actions, bridging illogical cultural barriers, and bringing humans everywhere together for a common purpose. I hope that I will be able to join others at the 2009 Campus Progress National Conference, and that through meaningful workshops, social networking, and whatever else may take place, we will all learn to collectively act based on our values.

So what I began to realize while hearing all of this, and it really became an out-of-body experience (I did however continue to take notes), was that my belief in the world, what I wanted to do with my life, summarized in the essay above, connected to the overarching theme of this Fair Trade discussion: SO WHAT IF IT IS WHAT YOU BELIEVE IN, IS IT WHAT YOU DO? Volume vs. Impact, Preaching vs. Practicing, they are all dichotomies that we face every day. It is beyond a doubt, the most comforting feeling I have ever felt, to know that I am on the correct side.

I choose to wake up everyday and enjoy the world, better the world, and appreciate her beauty. The world was not made for humans, but rather we were made for her. This is my belief, and it directly correlates with my action; in fact, my action probably preceded the clarification of this belief (which may be problematic at times). I encourage you all to follow this same motto, not necessarily this same belief, but to live life to its fullest and let your beliefs guide your actions!

That is all, I will stop preaching for now. Sorry for the prolongued patronization.

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