Pomona Hosts Global Warming Forum

On Sept. 26, an unprecedented global sampling of citizen perspectives on climate change took place at Pomona College. Nearly 70 citizens from the communities in and around Claremont were given an opportunity to develop and share perspectives on climate change. This was made possible through World Wide Views on Global Warming, managed by the Danish Board of Technology. Impoverished countries such as Uganda, global powers such as the United States, and developing countries such as China were all included in the sampling of 38 countries. Each site used the same information booklet and set of questions to obtain citizens’ perspectives.

Forums were held at fives sites throughout the United States: Atlanta, Boston, Denver, Phoenix and Claremont. The forum was held universally on Sept. 26, but global time differences meant that Claremont was the final site to obtain citizen data.

This sampling was done to get global citizens’ perspectives before drawing up a successor to Kyoto Protocol later this year. The UN Climate Change negotiations, or COP15, will take place in Copenhagen from Dec. 7 to 18.

Citizens who took part in World Wide Views on Global Warming were given information for four thematic sessions—which took place throughout the day, with food and breaks provided—and were divided into 12 tables to discuss the information and reach conclusions on what should be done. The first session involved addressing the citizens’ concerns, the second was a briefing on the nature of the climate change crisis, the third was about the responsibilities of different countries and the final session was about the pricing of fossil fuels and the idea of carbon trading.

Participants were given an information booklet which was similarly divided into four sections: an introduction to climate change—discussing scientific views on causation, processes and human capacity to control climate change; what COP15 will be considering—including obligations of different countries, proposals and the issue of urgency; how to deal with greenhouse emissions—including proposals and practical issues like difficulty, who pays for the efforts, and costs and benefits; and an analysis of the impact on the global economy, with references to the perspectives of individual countries. This booklet deferred to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change as a source for knowledge on scientific data about global warming.

Participants were surveyed prior to receiving their information as well as after, to see if being more informed had altered their perspectives on climate change. Each table ranked their top 11 recommendations. The results—as well as the surveys of the individuals—were then uploaded onto the official website, where global perspectives were being compiled.

Some excerpts of recommendations compiled by citizen groups: “ [The] U.S. ought to reduce its carbon dioxide emissions below the 1990 level...,” and “[the U.S.] should create a ‘green’ branch of U.N. that generates funds based on individual countries’ GNP and help developing countries develop and acquire alternatives...”

The goal of the information sessions was to get a sampling of citizens who would be more informed on the issue than those questioned for most polls, which provide little or no background. There was also an attempt made to have citizens represent the demographics of their locale. Of the 12 tables at Pomona, three of them were Spanish-speaking. Picking citizens for the sampling based on demographics was done so that the perspectives would not represent one group the way that advocacy groups’ statistics might.

Richard Worthington, who led the World Wide Views on Global Warming conference at Pomona, brought the conference to the college after being contacted by the Danish Board of Technology. Worthington, who is a professor at Pomona, is currently teaching a “Politics of Community Design” class. The class looks at policy and designs for and by communities. Several students from his class were present at the event, studying and recording the process.

The event was highly documented. In addition to the students who were recording a documentary and photographing so that pictures could be uploaded to the site for World Wide Views on Global Warming, a Japanese public television network was present. Pomona’s The Student Life also reported on the event.

In addition to compiling citizen perspectives, the World Wide Views on Global Warming website provides the perspectives of experts, through expert blogs. Expert panels for each geographic region—Asia, Oceana, Europe, Africa and the America—include journalists, economists, climate scientists and political theorists.

Worthington said the event is about “having a voice,” and expressed reserved hope that citizens’ voices would be heard by the delegates chosen for COP15.

The goal, Worthington said, is to generate calls over to the Department of State and the Environmental Protection Agency. But involving delegates in World Wide Views on Global Warming can be difficult, because there is a historical precedent of isolating them from public interface. The state department won’t announce delegation until week 14, and even then only announces the top 10 delegates. The intent behind isolating delegates is to prevent their being flooded with people trying to sway them, but it also alienates them from the public perspective. Dawn Bickett (PO ’10), a student in Worthington’s class, researched but failed to find who was on the COP15 delegation committee. Worthington said that Todd Stern is likely to be a chief delegate, since he is Deputy Envoy of Climate Change. John Coltran, a professor of physics at Harvard, is another likely delegate.

Dan Possnack, a non-participant community member who came to observe the discussion, said that the structure of politics is the primary hurdle to enacting positive change. Possnack said that investment in the preexisting infrastructure makes governments reluctant to effect change.

A follow-up to the event is planned for mid-October. In the follow-up, participants will review the experience, and Worthington said they are currently looking to secure speakers. He hopes to get one of Barbara Boxer’s staff members to come to Claremont, because of Boxer’s position as chair of an environment committee, and a member of the science committee and foreign relations committee. There is also a contact who will travel to Copenhagen to write a policy report.

For more information, and to see results, visit www.wwviews.org.