Going negative.

In my job in the company I work for I received “business development” training. Basically it is sales techniques.

If you had not noticed, the United States just elected Donald Trump as its next President. I can legitimately say that a good many people are REVOLTED. Truly upset and scared for their freedoms, their friends, and even their lives.

I do think a lot of this is overblown and it is easy to become panicked. It is always important to note that it really is never as bad as we make it out to be in the beginning.

And then a principle from my business development training hit me. It teaches that when a prospect gets negative on you, instead of trying to swing them back to cheerful by being extra positive, you go even more negative than them. You’re not extinguishing the fire, you’re helping them build it. Taken by surprise, the prospect wants to achieve equilibrium and will take the conversation to positive for you. They will extinguish the fire that you helped create.

Maybe this is what Donald Trump will do.

He’s taking us negative as negative can get. In our horror, we will then strive to achieve the balance. We will go positive instead, maybe bringing some more mindful kindness to our day-to-day. Maybe accepting the office of the president is bereft of a role model for our communities and forcing us to be that character example instead.

This is the crux of it; with lack of leadership at the top, it falls on individuals to lead by example. Maybe progressives got lazy when the nation elected its first black President who fought for equity, healthcare, and climate action. Now with the last eight years’ progress threatened, the progressives are forced to self-organize, build stronger alliances, and work hard together.

This is a real coming of age moment for people who feel as if the nation is about to take a few big steps backwards. Quit chanting in the streets and double down on your efforts to bring as much personal change to the world as you can.

Donald Trump is taking us negative. But to swing the pendulum back the American people will have to go positive.

Let’s Make America Lemonade Again

“I’m absolutely stunned right now”

I woke up to those words in a text message from my social media defunct friend. He had woken up to what many thought was a real impossibility.

Having stood at the White House at 2AM that morning I already had the news. The scene was a congregation of strictly Millennials. A select few smirked with their “Make America Great Again” red snapbacks. One guy in his hat climbs a small tree and waves with mock humility. He assumes a Jesus on the cross pose.

A “Fuck Donald Trump” chant erupts and a group of Hillary supports hold vigil with their signs. There is overt sadness.

The majority were despondent. I can’t remember a time I’d seen faces so blank. People could just not compute.

The morning was damp and cloudy. My own response to my friend’s text set the tone:

“I feel hollow”

Grabbing a coffee at Panera I turn my head to the stranger next to me and remark “We live in a new world.”

With just the kind of “hey, shit happens” optimism I needed this morning, he’s quick to reply. We need to keep the faith, he reminds me.

“This doesn’t lessen my diligence and it doesn’t lessen my vigilance.”

He points to his tea, “See these lemons? Take ’em and make lemonade, ya know?”

Yeah, man. I do. Thanks.

We need bigger charts

*This article was written as a Letter to the Editor at The Washington Post in reference to the online article “This is how an ‘off-the-charts’ flood ravaged Ellicott City.”


Climate change is here with us today. It is not the epic worldwide catastrophe that global warming can sometimes be described as. Rather, it often takes its form in quick snapshots of chaos such as the biblical flooding Saturday night in Ellicott City.

Scientists warn us that as concentrations of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere continue to rise, so will the occurrence of natural disasters such as flash-flooding. Essentially, this thousand-year rainfall event covered in the August 1st article, “This is how an ‘off-the-charts’ flood ravaged Ellicott City”, is becoming way more normal.

In the 21st Century, our beloved townships with their historic districts and quaint Americana are vulnerable to a stranger and more temperamental climate. We already know that we must reduce greenhouse gas emissions in order to mitigate further climate change. Simultaneously, however, our cities and infrastructure also must adapt to climate impacts. We are responsible for making them more resilient to once uncommon weather events that are becoming far likelier.

This climate challenge is a climate opportunity, however. Creating resilient cities puts Americans to work and fosters an inclusive sense of community. Yet still, we must be realistic about where we stand among the facts of a new and unruly climate.  As we experience more and more “off-the-charts” storms, let’s get real and draw up new charts. And new city plans while we are at it.

Changing Climate Change – How I Discovered My Importance

It’s 5am and I arrive at Warsaw Chopin Airport in Poland on zero hours sleep. My body is electrified yet tired from the previous week. I had won a scholarship to observe the annual meeting of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Warsaw, Poland during my first semester of graduate school at American University. I had just bore witness to the ultimate decision making process: how much global warming will humanity allow?

An overpriced airport latte calls to me, but I refrain in order to sleep on my flight back to the US. I grab a sandwich instead and walking back to my over-packed and overweight camping backpack, I recognize the delegate from Singapore sitting at the gate next to mine. Singapore is part of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) at the UNFCCC. They have banded together with other small, low-lying nations to leverage their influence as a bloc rather than as individual countries without much gravitas. Essentially, these countries have contributed the least amount of the greenhouse gases (GHGs) that are driving our warming planet yet are experiencing a disproportionate share of the negative impacts.

I stall for a moment, but decide to go over and introduce myself. What have I got to lose?

He is kind, obviously tired, yet happy to speak with me. Delegates such as this man are running on almost no sleep at these conferences during the final few days. They are working on drafting an all-encompassing international agreement to limit the worst of climate change. The world was watching with great anticipation in 2009 when the first all-inclusive agreement was supposed to be struck, but the negotiations came to a standstill when none of the world’s largest economies, such as the USA or China, stepped up with truly ambitious GHG emission reduction goals. The conference ended with a fog of disappointment hanging heavy among the attendees. The UNFCCC regrouped in 2011, and set 2015 as the deadline for finalizing this new agreement.

All this was freshly acquired knowledge for me. That first semester I was blown away to learn that there is an international body with their hands on the global thermostat, that the decisions being made are not how to avoid climate change, but how much of it we are going to induce. See, at the highest level, no one is debating if anthropogenic global warming is happening. Countries know it is, but doing something about rustles the feathers of the big time fossil fuel companies that buy legislative influence. But that’s a story for another post.

The several months of preparation in class for the conference lead to a crystallization of a cynical thought once I experienced the real thing; these conferences are deciding the fate of the world. These people are negotiating how degraded we will allow life sustaining processes to become. It is simply a diabolical thought. All of these considerations are in my head, but I try to keep it polite and simple so I ask if Singapore got what it wanted at this meeting.

The big governments gave more than they wanted to, the small governments got less than they asked for, he explains. It is all about compromise, he says with a rock solid patience he must have developed from years of working in the field of climate negotiations.

Our conversation seems fairly on message, but then he said something that I will never forget. He looks at me and says, “It’s important for you to be here. You young people put the spotlight on us, hold us accountable. Without that we would have no one to answer to.”

My flight takes me back to Washington DC and my good friend Greg picks me up. I proceed where my life left off; homework, catching up with friends, more homework. It takes several weeks and months for me to process the time I spent in Poland and my encounter with the delegate from Singapore.

I recognize that I am an outlier. I decided to go the graduate school and study Global Environmental Politics because to me, climate change is the biggest and scariest challenge we face as a species. I have been warned not to use this alarming rhetoric, but it is the truth of how I feel. A student of the physical sciences, I understand we cannot escape cause and effect. By filling our air with GHGs for the last 300 years there is simple physics and chemistry we cannot escape. Bill McKibben said it best, “It’s not that the scientists are alarmists – it’s that the science is alarming”.

But I am a trained optimist. There is always a joke waiting inside defeat, always a space to express gratitude. So I have met the climate change problem and have come to see it instead as a challenge. Because a challenge can either be a problem or an opportunity. Al Gore has described climate change as the greatest opportunity ever afforded to mankind. Indeed, responding to climate change is qualitatively uncharted territory for humans. What climate change means to me is an opportunity for cooperation, innovation, and a consideration of equity on a global scale.

And here is where I hear the voice of the delegate from Singapore ringing in my head. Indeed, there is no one person, entity, or government that will be held accountable if these negotiations fail. There is comfort in acknowledging that some of the best on-the-ground work being done to combat climate change is at the local and regional scale. However, without the international rules of the road the UNFCCC is meant to set, we are setting the Earth up for a crash.

But the real power is in the citizens who hold our governing processes accountable. By being active participants in our governments, by voting, by staying up to date on new laws, by joining organizations like Citizens Climate Lobby and Sierra Club, by attending town hall meetings on environmental legislation, by sharing information in person and on social media, we each can effect change that makes a difference.

To me climate change means we must take the next step as individuals in modern society struggling with the burden of climate change. We are afforded a great opportunity to extend ourselves beyond our single lives to challenge the climate challenge. We are a global community and we have global responsibilities.

I haven’t seen my friend from Singapore since that November morning in 2013, but his words have not left me. And I hope you now can be equally enlivened by his message: everyone makes a difference. Bodies at a rally, names on a petition, and shares on social media all add up. Our actions are not lost to oblivion, but add to an inertia. So add your action, whatever it may be.

You don’t need to fly to Poland to take on climate change, but you can at least share this post.

Spencer Schecht: Navroz Dubash visits SIS

Global Environmental Politics

Written by Spencer Schecht (NRSD Class of ’15)

On the sunny morning of February 2nd, a group of SIS faculty and students met on the American University campus with Navroz Dubash, one of the world’s preeminent scholars of Global Environmental Politics, to discuss the state of play of environmental challenges in his home country of India.

Dubash suggested that India finds itself at a crossroads of energy, pollution, and poverty alleviation.

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Wil Burns: New Study – Commitment Accounting of CO2 Emissions

The socio-economic inertia of carbon intensive infrastructure is a major obstacle to decarbonizing the world.

Global Environmental Politics

This post was written by Dr. Wil Burns.  Dr. Burns is Scholar in Residence at the Global Environmental Politics (GEP) program and serves as Co-Executive Director of the Washington Geoengineering Consortium, an initiative of the GEP program.  This post originally appeared on another blog of the GEP program, Teaching Climate/Energy Law & Policy.

Socolow_photo_7.7.14 Dr. Robert H. Socolow

A new study in the journal Environmental Research Letters assesses the potential impacts of cumulative emissions from existing fossil fuel plants built in the past few years (2010-2012). During this period, an average of 89 gigawatts of new coal generating capacity was added annually, with natural gas trends soaring at a similar pace during this time.
The study by Steven J. Davis and Robert H. Socolow, sought to quantify what they characterized as “an important component of socio-economic inertia,” which they denominated “committed emissions,” or the projected emissions from existing fossil fuel-burning infrastructure…

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Forget 2012: Why 2015 Will Decide Our Fate

I bet even the Mayans didn’t see this coming when they predicted that the world would end in 2012. Turns out we are not off the hook yet, with an even more legitimate danger staring us in the face. Right now a bunch of suits at the UN are deciding how much climate change we are going to get.

No, really. Their hands are on the global thermostat. And only WE can hold them accountable for how far they crank it up.

Let me explain: Not many people know that each year 195 national governments meet to hash out the details of a global agreement to stop man-made climate change. It’s called the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), and this is the take home message: they’re not doing so hot. This forum was supposed to reach an agreement in 2009 to limit catastrophic climate change by creating tangible reduction pledges of greenhouse gas emissions from all member nations. The negotiations came to a standstill when no greenhouse gas (GHG) heavy-hitters, such as the USA or China, stepped up with ambitious reduction commitments fearing economic whiplash if they acted without comparable promises from other countries. When the GHG giants did not commit to significant reductions, no one else did either. Since then we’ve seen Hurricane Sandy, unprecedented drought in California , and biblical flooding in Arizona, among a growing list of climate impacts. At the same time, the most well supported research on global climate change concluded global warming has moved firmly into the present and our window to act is closing.

A new deadline of 2015 was set in 2011 to recover from the failure in 2009 and to create an all-inclusive global agreement that will put the brakes on the gluttonous amount of carbon we are belching into the air.

frustrated US delegate

Frustrated delegate from the United States at Conference of the Parties (COP) 19 in Warsaw, Poland. The final international agreement on global warming is hinging on the contributions proposed by the United States, China, and India. Only one of these key players has to step up with ambitious emission reduction goals to provide the assurance for the rest of the world to set similarly ambitious targets. Photo credit: Spencer R Schecht.

We’ve seen this kind of climate belly flop before with the deteriorating Kyoto Protocol and the meltdown at the Copenhagen negotiations. One clue as to why we keep hearing this broken record may lie in that no single entity, government, nor set of individuals are held responsible if these negotiations fail. Though collective failure has big consequences, it’s still nobody’s fault. Nobody, except for us; we the people of planet earth.

If 2015 doesn’t produce a robust agreement with ambitious greenhouse gas reduction pledges from the world’s biggest economies, we are back at where we are right now: the pollutants that warm our world will continue to flow freely into our air and we are left to prepare for uncharted territory.

Which is where we come in; you and I can each take ACTION to limit the worst of climate change. The UNFCCC is composed of governments and our government is composed “of the people, by the people, and for the people.” We as the people ARE powerful. We have the power to hold our representatives accountable for doing their job of ensuring a safe and just world. And our power grows with our capacity to cooperate. I’m not just talking switching out our light bulbs and recycling, either (but we should continue to do that too).

Here are 3 levels of action you can take:

1- You did it! You read this article, I hope now you know something you didn’t know before. Stay educated on the issue, there are lots of great resources out there that can keep you in the know. Follow updates on this important process on Twitter @SpencerSchecht. Stay educated, my friends, with these great resources:

·      350.org

·      Adopt a Negotiator Project

·      Center for Climate and Energy Solutions

·      Grist

2- Join the party and take a trip to New York City September 21 to show the UN that they have the eyes of the world upon them. As nations convene for a day of preliminary talks on the agreement, the largest climate march in history will be taking place. Civil participation is an empowering and significant privilege that can produce real change, as it did during the Civil Rights Movement. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to just everywhere”; The People’s Climate March is our opportunity to stand together for justice. To let this injustice persist threatens justice everywhere. Take to the streets in a grand show that we are more invested in real change than clicking like on Facebook. Read up, be heard, experience it for yourself.

3- Activate your power in this democracy– Citizens Climate Lobby is equipping people with tools and training to develop relationships with their politicians and urge them for action on global warming. With more meetings with Congress each year than any other volunteer based environmental organization, CCL is giving the people back their democracy. Let us not forget our government is participatory, so let’s participate.

CCL 2014 Capitol Steps

The author and 600 Citizens Climate Lobby volunteers at the Capitol Steps in Washington DC. We have the power to push those making the decisions to act on climate change. Photo credit: Erica Flock.

Keep up to date, find your voice, and decide for yourself where you fit in. There are a variety of ways to do your part while enjoying the experience of discovering your power as a free citizen. And indeed, freedom plus cooperation has produced some of the greatest successes in history. We as citizens have the power to push our representatives to be leaders at these meetings. Our nation’s influence is unparalleled, and our influence on our nation is imperative.

Those in suits have their hands on the global thermostat, but we can decide to join the cavalry to rescue our collective future.

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