ICD Green Week

(ICD House, December 5-8th, 2011)

The Event Was Organize by Amy Soar and Hannah Smith

Monday Discussion

The first event of Green Week at the Institute of Cultural Diplomacy was a special edition of the weekly Open Discussion that took place on Monday 5th December 2011. As Green Week coincided with the Durban Conference on Climate Change, it seemed prudent to focus the topic of our discussion on the theme of international co-operation (or lack of it, depending on one’s opinion) in approaching the issue of climate change.

The debate was led by Hannah Smith and Amy Soar. A number of interesting and insightful points were raised through the course of the debate, and a wide range of different opinions were heard. It was suggested that we should focus not on top-down agreements such as Kyoto and the Durban negotiations themselves, but on what we as individuals can do to make a difference. Simple everyday changes in lifestyle could make a substantial difference to Carbon Dioxide output, it was suggested.

In contrast, some of those taking part in the discussion believed that such personal changes would have little effect if they did not come hand-in-hand with international agreements and top-down legislation of climate matters. Indeed, it was suggested that populations should be encouraged by their governments to change their lifestyle to become greener. Furthermore, it was seen to be the responsibility of governments to produce energy in a clear, more sustainable fashion, and that in this respect, individuals could have little impact.

It was also discussed whether states should seek unilateral approaches to bring about a more energy efficient society or whether a multilateral approach was the only realistic way forward to achieve meaningful change. It was suggested that an international agreement was the only way states could tackle climate change meaningfully, as few would wilfully disrupt their own economic performance to become greener if other states were not doing the same. However, others were sceptical over whether such an agreement would take place. Both developed states and developing states were criticised for failing to work in the global interest in past conferences, such as Kyoto and Copenhagen.

Overall, a lively discussion produced many insightful points of view from those attending. The event was followed by an informal gathering with light refreshments and ‘Bio’ wine, which all the participants found very welcome.

Tuesday Lecture

The events of Green Week continued on Tuesday with a lecture on the interesting and highly topical issue of the disposal of nuclear waste materials in the Wendland, Germany. This issue is of particular relevance given the events of recent weeks, which have seen the issue of waste disposal brought into the public domain in Germany as hundreds of protesters repeatedly hampered the efforts of the German government to continue to dispose nuclear waste material in storage facilities in the Wendland as they campaigned for a future without nuclear power.

The lecture was provided by Monique Morrisse, an intern at the Institute for Cultural Diplomacy. Monique gave a detailed history of the three decades of nuclear waste disposal in the Wendland and the protests that have accompanied it. This included mention of the ‘Hüttendorf’ shed village in 1980 (which was later torn down by the authorities). What was of particular note was the changing attitude of the German government towards nuclear power in recent years. Whilst the government had established plans for a nuclear phase out by the year 2022 in 2000, these plans were revised throughout the 2000s to allow nuclear power stations to extend their lifespan by over a decade over the 2000 target. These plans were revised once more in 2010 and 2011 following public outcry as a result of the Fukushima nuclear crisis in Japan.

Monique was able to include her own experiences into the lecture, as being a local of the Wendland area. The mentality and aims of the protestors were addressed, as were the reasons why they were protesting. Most protestors were there to make it as difficult and expensive as possible for the authorities to deposit nuclear waste in the Wendland, thus forcing them to seek alternative methods of producing energy. This method of protesting has already yielded some positive results, as politicians are already exploring options for alternative sites to deposit nuclear waste materials other than the Wendland.

The question and answer session that followed the lecture highlighted the very clear divide between advocates and critics of nuclear power. A number of interns felt that nuclear power was a positive method of producing power, as the damage to the climate from the actual process was minimal and new, safer and more efficient methods had recently been developed to produce nuclear power in recent years. However, a number of interns also felt that the dangers associated with nuclear power were too great to consider using the process as a realistic form of energy production. Some cited terrorist threats as the reason for this danger, whilst others raised the case of Chernobyl, a clear example of how a simple industrial accident can lead to catastrophic consequences when nuclear material is involved.    

Wednesday Film Screening

The penultimate day of Green Week featured the screening of the film “The Age of Stupid,” a stimulating documentary on climate change. A futuristic piece set in the year 2055 on an inhospitable Planet Earth, it showcases a string of informative reports and news stories interlaced with intimate accounts from individuals about the present-day effects of climate change. With harrowing statistics such as China building a power station every four days to satisfy the energy demands of the West, the documentary highlighted the gravity of the situation with startling effect.

“The Age of Stupid” is an excruciating and compelling tale of the inevitable effects of climate change if action is not swiftly taken at a micro and macro level. The documentary provides hindsight while there is still time to act thus giving people the opportunity to make significant changes to their lifestyle in order to combat the catastrophic effects of climate change. “The Age of Stupid” was an insightful documentary and an environmental cry for change and thus was an excellent choice for Green Week as it helped to raise awareness about the pressing issues surrounding climate change.

The documentary was followed by a presentation from Ms Katie Griggs, the Campaign Director for the organisation 10:10 which seeks to reduce carbon emissions by ten percent in a year. Ms Griggs addressed the difficulties in calculating carbon footprints and emissions, thus accepting that this naturally makes it difficult to take proactive steps to reduce them. However, she reassures that the future is not all that bleak with a list of energy saving tips we can all adopt and incorporate into our everyday lives to do our part for the environment. She also encouraged everyone to sign up to 10:10’s campaign which would require individuals to pledge to cut their carbon emissions by ten percent in one year. Her presentation was thought-provoking and garnered a lot of attention and questions from the interns who were present.

Thursday Panel Discussion

The keynote event of Green Week at the Institute for Cultural Diplomacy was the Panel Discussion that took place on Thursday 8th December 2011. The panel in this discussion was made up of five distinguished individuals, Daniel Hires, a Berlin-based freelance journalist and consultant for sustainability issues; Dr Lutz Metz who presided over the Research Centre for Environmental Policy at the Free University of Berlin; Julia Rawlins, Head of Partnerships and Networks at British Council Germany; Max Gruenig, who is a member of the Ecologic Institute in Berlin; and Dino Renvert who represent the German Green Party in the German Bundestag . The discussion was chaired and moderated by Peter Craven, a British-born political science graduate who is one of the main presenters at Deutshe Welle.

A number of topics were touched upon in relation to the topic of international policy and climate change. These topics included the hopes for the Durban COP17 2011, the prospects of China and US involvement, and how realistic and the pursuit of international policy regarding climate change were in terms of demands and outcomes. These topics stimulated a great deal of debate among the panellists leading to a wealth of information being shared and disseminated. There were also a lot of questions raised by the audience about the high costs associated with adopting a greener lifestyle and the difficulties faced by consumers in distinguishing between products which are ecological and products which are not.. The panellists addressed the fact that packaging is costly and requires a fair amount of time to execute but anticipated the possibility of such a system to arrive in the next few years. They also addressed the fact that state-subsidy for main energy supply companies poses a formidable barrier to green energy, making it more costly and thus less popular with consumers.

Final thoughts on the discussion included each panellist’s views about the impact of climate change on the world in fifteen to twenty years’ time. Although the general consensus was that the effects of climate change would inevitably be catastrophic, many were positive that it is still not too late to make significant changes and thus encouraged all to make a real effort in contributing to environmental sustainability.