Copenhagen Day 1: EPA’s Lisa Jackson, Smart Grids, Localization and Weatherization

Wednesday, December 9 (Day 1)

McNair Wagner, Robert Boyd and I woke up very early this morning (7am CET = 1am EST), put on our warmest clothes and made our way to the Bella Center for the U.N. Climate Conference! When we arrived, we got our official delegate badges, went through security (much like an airport, but a little less strict) and entered into the main exhibit hall. There are literally hundreds, if not thousands, of different organizations from all over the world represented at booths brimming with information. In a single (although very large) room, I was able to collect materials ranging from the IPCC’s report, “Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis” to the special Copenhagen edition of Ode Magazine (“for intelligent optimists”).

We walked through the exhibition hall, picked up a daily programme and went our separate ways.  I went to sign up for a boat tour of an offshore wind farm, but was sad to discover that all the tours were already completely booked. Instead, I went to the Computer Centre to make use of one of several hundred laptops available for public use and wrote my first blog. Then I headed off to my first session: “Taking Action at Home” with EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson in the U.S. Center. The main room was full more than 30 minutes before the event began, so I watched on a screen from the lobby just outside. I was in good company, though, because I ran into McNair, Robert and Energy Action Coalition‘s Executive Director Jessy Tolkan. Administrator Jackson’s major announcement for the day was that the EPA has found once and for all that greenhouse gases (GHGs) threaten public health and the environment and confirmed the scientific findings that GHGs are at unprecedented levels due to human activity. Read the official news release here.

I then left the Bella Center to attend a session at the Klimaforum called “From Globalization to Localization of Life and Economy”, which did not feature Dr. Vandana Shiva as stated in the program, due to a canceled flight.  However, there were several good speakers there to discuss issues of economy, growth, de-growth, ecology and transition towns. The Klimaforum is a free conference open to the public that is running in parallel to the official conference of the U.N.  I plan to attend several sessions at this conference as well, including at least one other talk by Dr. Vandana Shiva (once she arrives).

After leaving the Klimaforum, I returned to the Bella Center for a panel discussion about Smart Grid technology and the role of regulators in promoting and developing it in both Europe and California. For those who are not familiar with Smart Grids, they allow for significant improvements in the efficiency of energy distribution due to better monitoring, controls and storage capabilities. Smart Meters would allow homeowners to monitor their energy consumption in real time and power companies could measure actual demand with greater accuracy, enabling them to meet that demand with minimal waste and losses. Smart Grids also have increased ability to manage both central (power plant) electricity generation as well as distributed generation (small-scale solar and wind, etc.). As more and more electric cars hit the road, households will also be able to assist in energy storage (which can be very difficult to do on a large scale), again to prevent waste and energy loss. Visit the U.S. Department of Energy’s website for more information about Smart Grid technology.

I left this session and was pleasantly surprised to find a reception for attendees, including free wine and sandwiches (vegetarian varieties had run out, but the wine was good)! My last session of the evening was titled, “Sustainable Living or Sustainable Building”. Panelists discussed simple changes that we can all make to our living spaces, such as insulation and lighting retrofits, that will not only make them significantly more efficient, but more comfortable as well. The speaker discussing building insulation reinforced my excitement to start weatherization volunteer/training programs throughout the Southeast, which I learned a good deal about just last weekend by attending the BuildINSULATE! workshop at Warren Wilson College. You can watch a video about the workshop here, but also expect to hear a lot more about weatherization programs from me in the future. Every county in the United States has a weatherization assistance program to help insulate and upgrade low-income homes. The Warren Wilson INSULATE! crew has come up with a great model that can be easily adapted to any inhabited part of the U.S., which will make homes more efficient (leading to less GHGs emitted in the future), reduce rising energy costs that can account for more than 50% of household spending in certain cases and train participants in proper weatherization techniques that they can use in their own homes and communities, perhaps even creating a source of income for those seeking employment in the new “green” economy.

This was the last session of the day, so after grabbing a few more snacks and meeting up with McNair, Robert and one of McNair’s friends from California, we all proceeded to a late-night restaurant that offered pizza, falafels, burgers, gyros and ice cream, then called it a night.  And that’s just Day 1!  More to come…

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