Climate Change Conference: Dispatches from Copenhagen

By Jennifer Donovan | Published

Adam Airoldi with the World Wildlife Fund's "ice bear" display at the climate change conference in Copenhagen.
Adam Airoldi with the World Wildlife Fund's "ice bear" display at the climate change conference in Copenhagen.

Adam Airoldi is a graduate student in forest ecology and management at Michigan Technological University. His advisor is Andrew Burton, an associate professor in Michigan Tech’s School of Forest Resources and Environmental Science. Airoldi is doing research in Norway this semester, working with the Norwegian Institute for Nature Research on changes in the alpine tree line around a small copper mining town in central Norway. Airoldi earned his Bachelor of Science in Forestry degree at Michigan Tech in 2008.

 Adam is in Copenhagen, Denmark, this week on a graduate travel grant from the Ecosystem Science Center at Michigan Tech. He went in conjunction with the much-publicized international climate change conference taking place there. He reports from Copenhagen.

Walking around the centrum (downtown), the first thing I noticed were all the police officers and vehicles stationed at every corner.  In addition there are helicopters flying all over and skiffs patrolling the canals. 

The next thing I noted was the abundance of bicycles.  It seems that the people of Copenhagen are taking personal responsibility for climate impacts, turning as a group to cycling for their means of transportation.  The city is well set up for this, with bicycle lanes as wide as sidewalks, and although the cyclists can sometimes clog the bridges and intersections, it is hard to imagine the same number of cars fitting into downtown.  The use of bicycles is not a recent development, however. It points to a culture that is active and sensible enough to make use of efficient personal transport. 

The climate talks that are going on in the Bella Center are only for delegates and a few chosen members of media and society. Last winter I submitted an application on behalf of Michigan Tech, to try to gain admittance to the talks, but after a long series of letters, emails and phone calls to establish the existence of Tech, it was decided that we would not be allowed to observe the talks. 

Although this was a disappointment, I am only one of thousands of people in Copenhagen to observe the process of climate discussion and make their own voices heard. Yesterday a group of more than 100 Nepalese climbers and sherpas made a peaceful march around the centrum and past the Bella center, raising their voices for the mountains they call home. They traveled from Nepal on short notice because the ambassador in Denmark learned that the climate talks did not include discussion of the mountains and their role in the environment. 

Their message was clear: the mountains are melting. When the glaciers are gone, the rivers will be too, and two billion people in China, India, Nepal, Tibet, Pakistan and southern Asia will be in a water crisis.  Famous sherpas spoke of their own experiences of the devastation brought on by the increasing runoff and erratic weather patterns.  One described his home and fields being washed away when a glacial lake in the valley above broke and swept away much of his village. Many members of the Nepalese government heard the sherpas present their case, including the foreign minister, minister of environment, tourism director, and the ambassador to Denmark.  They delivered a message from the Prime Minister of Nepal, along with their own statements as to the impact of climate change on their homeland. 

Along with the speeches and the marches, there are displays of photography around the city depicting the changes over time in the Himalayas.  Other photographs illustrate the impacts of climate change in the tropics on island nations, in the rainforests and in arctic communities.

Many of the presentations here concern native people who do not have a strong voice in the government of their nations. Through the efforts of their own people, researchers and photographers, they have brought their message to Copenhagen as well.  For example, the point was made that people in developing nations are 79 times more likely to be impacted by a natural disaster caused by environmental changes linked to climate change than people in developed nations. 

Tomorrow, watch for another dispatch from Copenhagen, by undergraduate anthropology major Cate Cogger.

Michigan Technological University is a public research university, home to more than 7,000 students from 54 countries. Founded in 1885, the University offers more than 120 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in science and technology, engineering, forestry, business and economics, health professions, humanities, mathematics, and social sciences. Our campus in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula overlooks the Keweenaw Waterway and is just a few miles from Lake Superior.