* The Debatewise Blog

Whose planet is it anyway?

26 Jan 10 | Dave
Environmental change. Environmental awareness. Damaging the environment. Environmental protection. Environmental quality. The environment. These are only a few of the scores of abounding phrases abound about ‘the environment’. But whose environment?

As you can see from the timeline below, humans are nothing but a blip in evolution. Life on Earth began 3,800,000,000 years ago and we have been around for less than 195,000. If evolution was a 24-hour clock humans have been on the planet since 3 seconds to midnight. Spiders have been around for approximately 400 million years, cockroaches-type creatures for around 300 million, ants a mere 110 and 130 million years.

Humans have the biggest egos of any species — the greatest sense of ‘self’, either individually or collectively. We talk about saving the planet, and ‘the environment’ as if we’re talking about saving the Earth and everything on it, which is not the case. What we’re really concerned about is ‘our environment’ — the one that sustains people. We actually talk about damaging ‘our’ environment, the quality of ‘our’ environment, protecting ‘our’ environment. We’re not really talking about ‘the’ environment.

Turning a blind-eye
If we paid no attention to greenhouse gas emissions, or the rise of global temperatures; if we continued to use fossil fuels and were careless about energy and resource usage then what would the outcome be?

Of course sea levels would rise and there would be famine and flood. More than a third of the planet will be uninhabitable due to drought. Populations would be decimated. However some areas will benefit from global warming and increase agricultural output, so the rich/poor gap will increase and migration and global security will become a major issue as people began to fight for, and defend, their survival and resources.

Apocalyptically, it could happen that global warming starts an unstoppable chain reaction — as methane is release from permafrost peat bogs and hydrates, and oceans become increasingly acidic, accelerating the rate of warming. It is predicted that humans will survive, but not in the same numbers. We would certainly fare a lot better than many species of plants and animals — whose ecosystems we would destroy.

Spiders would survive though, along with ants and cockroaches — they’ve survived much worse during the history of life on the planet, including a couple of mass extinctions and a sudden rise in greenhouse gases, as the evolutionary timeline shows. Some other species of plant, insect, arthropod, mammal, bird, fish, mollusc and so on would also survive, and evolution would do what it will always do — evolve new ecosystems to survive in a changed environment.

So if we’re looking at ‘the environment’ rather than ‘our environment’, it’s easy to see that humans are currently the biggest threat to it. By carrying on our current path of energy and resource consumption, greenhouse emissions, etc, with no remediation, and accepting the consequences to our species and others, we could just be contributing towards a rapid phase in the evolution of life on Earth. In fact the biggest favour we could probably do this planet is to no longer occupy it.

Another view
All of this illustrates the point that a different perspective can often provoke the most interesting arguments. Adopting an opposing view, and having the courage to understand it even if you don’t agree with it, can help increase the depth, breadth and strength of your arguments and opinions.

And this brings us to the second phase of our Debatewise Global Youth Panel Climate Change debates, which we’re continuing because the climate is not simply a conference issue. Many of our GYP are among those likely to be most affected by climate change, and so are keen to continue to debate them.

We will be debating a wide variety of climate change issues, however we’re adding a twist. In addition to simply providing the forum for members to contribute from their own perspective, we’ve decided to occasionally throw a spanner into the works to stir opinions around a little. For example, we’ll be asking panel members in Bangladesh to argue why they shouldn’t receive 15% of any climate funding, proposing debates on why the US and China shouldn’t have to reduce emission levels, asking whether clean energy should be put before the protection of the rainforests, etc. We hope the results will add a healthy pinch of spice to already lively debates.

The evolution of life on earth.
3.8 billion years — the beginnings of the first life on earth (current best guesstimate).
3.5 billion years — the oldest fossil, of a single cell organism.
2.3 billion years — the earth freezes over completely and becomes a giant snowball. 900 million years — The first multi-cellular life develops.
800 million years — the first split (or diversification).
770 million years — the earth freezes over again.
590 million years — the split that eventually forms all the vertebrates, and forms the arthropods (— the spiders, crabs, shrimps, etc).
530 million years — the first vertebrates finally appear.
500 million years — half shell-fish, half-insect-type creatures are exploring the land. 400 million years — evolution speeds up and the first insects start to appear.
397 million years — the first four-legged animals evolve, these will become reptiles, amphibians, birds and mammals.
250 million years — the greatest mass extinction in the Earth’s history happens, lots of species are wiped out completely. Some survivors from the beginnings of the dinosaur age. Other survivors include the ancestors of mammals — small, nocturnal creatures.
200 million years — the end of the Triassic period and another mass extinction, but it paves the way for the great age of the dinosaurs, and a period of rapid evolution that includes the development of mammals into their four major groups, also birds and the first flowering plants.
93 million years — the oceans become starved of oxygen, destroying more than 25% of marine invertebrates. On land the ancestors of modern primates split from those of modern rodents.
65 million years — another massive environmental event, possibly caused by the combined effects of a meteor strike and volcanic activity, wipes out 75% of species, including the dinosaurs and giant reptiles.
63 million years — primates split into two groups, one of which develops into monkeys, apes and eventually — humans.
55 million years — a sudden rise in greenhouse gases transforms the planet, wiping out many species in the depths of the sea, but not those in the shallows or on land.
6 million years — humans and chimps split.
2 million years — Homo erectus appears
195,000 years — homo sapiens appears.
72,000 years — we start wearing clothes
10,000 years — we plant crops and live in villages.

Posted by: Dave, 26 Jan 10, 5:40pm

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Voices in time

19 Jan 10 | Dave
The Bulletin of American Scientists (BAS) announced on January 14 that the ‘Doomsday Clock’ has been moved back a minute from 5 to 6 minutes before midnight — the figurative end of civilisation. The clock has been adjusted only 18 times since it was created in 1947, most recently in February 2002 after the events of 9/11.

The clock is often viewed as a barometer of the threat posed to the planet by nuclear power, and a key reason for the minute move is given as a more pragmatic, problem-solving approach to disarmament and arms reduction in general due to U.S government efforts since President Obama’s election.

However the Doomsday Clock takes into account many different threats to civilisation, including climate change, and this was given as the other key reason for our step back from the brink — which many people might find surprising considering the shambles that was the COP Climate Change Conference.

But, if anyone should know about climate change, the BAS should. There are many eminent scientists on the Science and Security Board, which is in charge of the ‘clock’, and the change was made in consultation with the BAS Board of Sponsors, which includes 19 Nobel Laureates. The minute-gain has been widely reported, however there are some really interesting comments and observations from members of the BAS Boards, as follows:

Jayantha Dhanapala, member, BAS Board of Sponsors, president, Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs, and chair, 1995 UN Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty Conference, said: "In the saga of human history civilizations have been threatened both by natural causes and by man-made folly. Some have survived by making the necessary rational responses to the challenges. Others have gone under leaving only their ruins. Today it is the entire planet that stands imperilled by the danger of nuclear weapons and the real risk of climate change inexorably threatening our ecosystem. Both impending disasters are within our capabilities to remedy. The opportunity must be seized now out of a recognition that these are global dangers that transcend national boundaries."

Pervez Hoodbhoy, member, BAS Board of Sponsors, professor of high energy physics, and head, Physics Department, Quaid-e-Azam University, Islamabad, Pakistan, said: "We may be at a turning point, where major powers realise that nuclear weapons are useless for war-fighting or even for deterrence. Threats to security are more likely to come from economic collapse, groups bent on terrorizing civilians, or from resource scarcity exacerbated by climate change and exploding populations, rather than from conflict between nuclear-armed superpowers. Against these new threats, nuclear weapons are a liability because their possession by a few countries stimulates desire in other countries and complicates things immensely."

Stephen Schneider, member, BAS Science and Security Board, professor of environmental biology and global change, Stanford University, co-director, Center for Environment Science and Policy of the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, and senior fellow, Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment, said: "We can no longer prevent global warming—it is upon us. Rapidly melting polar icecaps, acidification of the oceans, loss of coral reefs, longer droughts, more devastating wildfires, and sea level rise that threatens island nations and seacoasts everywhere are clear signs of change in Earth's climate. Disruptions of the monsoon seasons in India and China already threaten crop yields resulting in more frequent and severe food shortages than in the recent past... If we continue ‘business as usual' our habitat could be disrupted beyond recognition, with consequences for our way of life that we cannot now foresee. Without vigorous and immediate follow-up to the Copenhagen conference and well-conceived action we are all threatened by accelerating and irreversible changes to our planet..."

Lawrence Krauss, co-chair, BAS Board of Sponsors, foundation professor, School of Earth and Space Exploration and Physics departments, associate director, Beyond Center, co-director, Cosmology Initiative, and director, New Origins Initiative, Arizona State University, said: "The time to begin to free ourselves from the terror of nuclear weapons and to slow drastic changes to our shared global environment is now. We encourage scientists to fulfil their dual responsibilities of increasing their own — as well as the public's — understanding of these issues and to help lead the call to action. We urge leaders to fulfil the promise of a nuclear weapon-free world and to act now to slow the pace of climate change. Finally, we call on citizens everywhere to raise their voices and compel public action for a safer world now and for future generations. Even though we are encouraged by recent developments, we are mindful of the fact that the Clock is ticking."

Because of where and how they live, many of the Debatewise Global Youth Panel are highly aware of the fact that the ‘Clock’ is ticking. That’s why they’ve decided to continue the GYP’s climate change debate activities beyond Copenhagen and into the future — to encourage ‘vigorous and immediate follow-up to the Copenhagen Conference’, to ‘raise their voices and compel public action for a safer world…’, and more simply just to let as many people as possible hear their voices and opinions.

Now that the ‘Civilisation’ of Earth has moved a minute further away from it’s figurative end, and although it’s not the point of the Doomsday Clock, it has to be worth speculating on how many seconds would be left to civilisations in places such as Bangladesh, parts of Africa and some of the small island states, if the same calculations were applied on a local, rather than a global level. In fact maybe every country should have its own Doomsday Clock, based on the same parameters, to give a fair and simple comparison that would be understood by everyone. After all, a whole Earth is just the sum of its parts.

Posted by: Dave, 19 Jan 10, 7:39am

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Using Google Wave to debate climate change

14 Jan 10 | Dave
I am by nature an optimist. I'm a big fan of Google by choice. I've also had a thing for Google Wave ever since I saw the I/O video in May. All of which I declare upfront because as someone who believes fundamentally in the value of honest debate I think it's important to state my influences first.

That said, I think Wave is the nuts. I do. Now I'm aware this is not a universally shared view, criticism seems to fall into either the 'it's buggy' or 'what do I do with it?' camp. The first I don't get, we're talking about very new technology in an early stage of development; I'd actually be less impressed if it didn't have bugs.

The second I have more sympathy for. First impressions of Wave can be a bit 'meh' unless you've got people to Wave with and - crucially - things to Wave about. Wave is great for many-to-many conversations where at the end some kind of consensus needs to be formed. Not sure about you but I seem to have more and more of these these days. Use Wave for this once and you wont want to go back. I also think there will be a whole range of new uses it can be put to too, one of which I proudly present to you here.

My name is David Crane, I run the non-profit debating web site debatewise.org, and we put together a group of 1,000 young people from over 130 countries and asked them to use Google Wave to debate issues arising from the Copenhagen climate change conference.

We had people sign-up from Iran, Iraq, North and South Korea, Burma, Bhutan, Vanuatu, Venezuela, Vietnam, 25 countries in Africa, 30-odd in Europe, many parts of Asia and both halves of the Americas. As you'll imagine, not all these people are equipped with fast machines or blessed with deep technical expertise. Most don't speak English as a first language. To cap it off we only came up with the idea for the project in mid-October. Six weeks before the conference started.

So it's fair to say we took on a challenge or two. The tight deadline meant we had to use Wave out-of-the-box. The differing levels of geek knowledge meant we had to get a good few people Wave'd up in a short space of time. And as anyone who's worked with large groups of people knows, working with large groups of people is hard.

Of course the benefit of these kinds of intense projects is the amount of learning that goes on. I hope to share some of that with you now.

Wave is not a whole new world
In many ways, we found managing conversations in Wave much like managing them in any other online environment: create reward mechanisms for the things you want to encourage, develop ways of dealing with the things you want to prevent. Praise good activity publicly, deal with the bad in private. Understand and deliver what people want in return for giving of their time and expertise. Find the champions amongst your users, they want to do more to help. Offer people a variety of ways to get involved and make it easy for them to transition from lurker to participant.

Some people need a bit of coaxing, others will only get involved in particular issues. So we'd create Waves on a range of different debates from the general "Is Copenhagen going to be a success?", to the specific "Should Bangladesh get 15% of any climate fund?". We found provocative topics useful but they needed to be employed with care. The Yes/No/Maybe gadget and other voting tools helped people take that tentative step towards participation.

It is not enough to create opportunities for involvement though, some people need active encouragement. Our approach was to repeatedly invite them in, create a welcoming environment when they arrived, reassure them that their communication skills were good enough and step in before disagreements turned to flaming.

One thing we want to do more of in Phase Two is develop our reward mechanisms, even though there are doubts about their value. The first school of thought is that people give to these kinds of projects simply because they want to get involved and reward mechanisms, even for things as basic as karma, devalue their contributions and can drive people more towards earning points than saying what they feel.

The second, the one I tend to lean towards, is that reward mechanisms are useful in helping encourage the sort of behaviour you'd like to see more of. Multi-dimensional award systems, such as those on reddit.com, reward people for different kinds of activity, not just those the majority agrees with. I think these tools are useful in a very new environment where the ground rules haven't yet been established.

And that's the other thing the hippy in me wants to stress. I don't like lots of proscriptive rules and believe that the best communities are the self-moderating ones. However, I also believe that new communities benefit from having a set of guidelines that state what is and isn't expected, valued, tolerated and appreciated. These can evolve over time of course, but if the basic framework is set from the off it gives the community a good chance of growing in the direction you'd like to see it go.

Wave is different enough
George Bernard Shaw once said: "The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself". An understanding which tends to sail high over the heads of people like drug war warriors but is one web professionals generally get. It's certainly true here.

A lot of people find Wave a very new environment and when in very new environments most people look for clues about how to behave. Not everyone of course, one person told me, and I quote: "Oh I thought I could delete anything because Google Wave is in preview". Luckily, the majority of people are decent and reasonable and want to do the right thing. And they'll err on the side of caution until they're sure what that is.

The problem of course is that people don't generally read manuals. Web users are notoriously short of time, are prone to scan and detailed instructions have about as much chance of getting read as the T&Cs on the next major release of the iPhone software.

Users prefer show to tell, hence the popularity of screencasts. Happily this principle is one of the less-heralded benefits of Wave. Wave is an editable conversation (which, along with 99 levels of undo and a universal find, are the three things I'd like in life 2.0). The ability to edit any part of the conversation sets Wave apart from a wiki and allows us to model the behaviour we'd like our users to adopt.

In our case, we wanted people to form summaries of the discussion in the first blip. We tried asking and telling people to do this. But what seemed to work best was modelling it by leaving little notes in a blip saying "Part of point added to the summary". This rewarded people publicly, highlighted the type of conversation we wanted to see more of and demonstrated the action we hoped others would take.

These notes can also be used to gently steer people back on topic, guide them towards further information or a more suitable Wave or explain why part of their blip has changed (hopefully only to add value, remove abuse or fix spelling and grammar errors). The appearance in your blip of somebody else's icon can be disconcerting. These notes help clarify the situation and demonstrate to all what you'd like to see more of.

Other things we learned, in no particular order:
People route around obstacles provided they think the objective is worth the effort. Access to technology did not in itself prevent people taking part. Confidence with technology, lack of desire and I'm sure a good few personal reasons, did. In the main we were delighted with just how many of our technically disadvantaged panel managed to have their say.

Waves pick up speed. The first blip may take a while to get a response, the second blip less time, the third even less, and so on. I think there are two reasons for this, people prefer joining in busy Waves and more blips means more things to respond to. If you want to bump a blip to the top of a busy inbox a little edit will do the trick.

The real-time typing feature takes a bit of getting used to but often saves time (knowing osirisx11 has entered text was always frustrating for me, post-Wave it seems pointless), this feature also created dynamism and buzz around the debates, which encouraged more participation.

Broadly speaking the feedback we've got from users was very positive. Most people found Wave intuitive and were able to get their head round it quickly. They enjoyed the experience, found it less formal than a forum and thus easier to jump in to.

Phase two of our project starts on the 18th January and will see our panel organised into countries or regions and asked to debate how decisions made in Copenhagen will impact on them. In the true spirit of debate we will also ask people to argue from the opposite position to the one they would normally adopt. For example, Bangladeshis could be asked to argue why they do not deserve 15% of any climate fund while the rest of the world argues that they do.

If you'd like to get involved in this in any way, by writing code, finding panel members or adding expert views please get in touch. We'd love to have your help.

Posted by: Dave, 14 Jan 10, 4:08pm

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Deal, or no deal.

21 Dec 09 | Dave
What’s the difference between an agreement, a deal and an accord?

An agreement implied that everyone is happy with the outcome, as in: “Are we all in agreement? Yes? Good!”

A deal is generally something that not everyone is necessarily happy with, but it’s the best optimum solution to satisfy an objective, as in: “OK, here’s the deal…”

An accord is neither an agreement, nor a deal, but an acknowledgement, for example: “OK, so we all acknowledge that we’re all unhappy about this proposal, but we’re in accord that it’ll do for now, because we don’t have to agree, or sign anything.”

After two years of negotiations to try and find a new treaty to replace Kyoto – 192 countries, 120 heads of state; plus however many lawyers, officials, climate change experts and the rest – have failed to reach an agreement, couldn’t reach a deal, and instead have settled on an accord.

But while this may have delivered some degree of self-satisfaction to most of those involved in the UN climate change theatre in Copenhagen, the post-performance reviews have been far from favourable.

The main criticisms are that the accord is full of holes, almost inevitable when you patch up something hastily at the last minute. There is no agreement to keep the rise in global temperatures below 2C – which was a main aim of the conference. There are, in fact, no legally binding agreements whatsoever, but at least that made it safe to be in accord about anything, for example that a 2C rise should be probably be recognised as the critical threshold for any kind of climate stability. Crucially, not one nation is forced to make specific cuts.

An accord isn’t an agreement, so you don’t need to overcomplicate things and get everyone involved. Such as a section of the G77 block who were told by President Obama that an accord had been reached – as he announced it on TV.

It’s difficult to be enthusiastic about any small positives that might happen as a result of this summit. There were promises of financial aid – $billions to help developing countries. China did agree to set emissions targets for the first time – even if they will inevitably be totally inadequate (and remember this is an accord, so there’s no legally-binding agreement). But in the end, the accord was reached to do nothing more than prevent Copenhagen being called a shambles and a failure – oops! Even that didn’t work. Other comments to emerge over the weekend, including: ‘Brokenhagen’, ‘disaster’, ‘anger’, ‘condemned’, ‘disgusting’, ‘a suicide-pact for Africa’. The scale of the failure of COP15 should not be underestimated. Success was imperative, not optional.

Shakespeare wrote a line for Marcellus in Hamlet: “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark” – spoken after he’d just seen a ghost. You can’t help wondering whether we’re now staring into the faces of ghosts. The consequences of the failure of COP15 in Copenhagen will undoubtedly hang around to haunt our future.

Posted by: Dave, 21 Dec 09, 2:33pm

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There’s something wrong with the car.

18 Dec 09 | Curtis

“There’s something wrong with the car.”


“Not sure, but it needs fixing.”

“How do you know there’s something wrong with it?”

“Well, all that smoke coming out of the back for a start…”

“It’s always done that.”

“That doesn’t mean it’s OK.”

“Well how much will it cost to fix?”

“I’m not sure, but I don’t think it will be cheap.”

“But I’m not working at the moment, I haven’t got any money.”

“Well we can split the cost between all of us.”

“What? Evenly?”

“Sure, why not?”

“But I don’t do half as many miles in it as anyone else does?”

“Maybe not, but you have it for the same amount of time as everyone else.”

“Yeah, but Joe does ten times the mileage I do, so does Thomas! And Chen really hammers it!”

“Don’t worry, they know you’re a bit short at the moment, so they’ve offered to give you some money to help you pay for your share.”

“But I don’t want to borrow money!”

“No, not a loan – they’ll just give it to you.”

“…OK, but how much?”

“What does it matter if they’re giving it to you?”

“Well, it might not be enough.”

“I’m sure it will be enough, but I’m not sure exactly how much.”

“No! That’s not good enough. I need to know how much, and whether it’s going to be enough.”

“But we don’t know exactly what’s wrong with the car yet, or how much it will cost to fix.”

“So? What’s the problem? Just find out.”

“We can’t.”

“Why not?”

“Because it will be quite expensive to find out what’s wrong with it.”

“But I’m not working at the moment, I haven’t got any money.”

“That’s OK, because the rest will give you the money.”

“I’ve already told you, I don’t want to borrow money.”

“But they’ll give you the money, it won’t be a loan.”

“How much?”

“I’m not sure, because we don’t know how long it will take to find out what’s wrong with it.”

“I’m not happy.”

“Why not?”

“Because I’ll still be paying the same as everyone else.”

“But they’re giving you the money, and you do have the car for exactly the same number of days as everyone else.”

“That’s not the point, it’s the principle of it. I don’t use it as much.”

“If it makes you feel any better, we’ve written up an agreement for us all to sign, so that we each know where we stand.”

“That doesn’t mean a thing. It doesn’t change the principle of it. Besides, I’m not sure I want so sign it until I know exactly what’s wrong with the car, and exactly how much it’s going to cost to fix.”

“But until you sign it, we can’t find that out!”

“Why not?”

“Because you won’t get the money until the agreement’s signed, and without the money we can’t find out what’s wrong with it.”

“So you’re asking me to sign something to agree to pay to find out how much to pay for something when I don’t know how much it’s going to cost, and without even being sure that it can be fixed anyway.”

“Well … yes.”

“That’s crazy! Nobody in their right mind would do that!”

“Look, we’re all in this together, we just have to trust each other.”

“So can you promise that if I sign, the car will get fixed and everything will go back to how it was before?”

“Well no, not really, because we don’t know exactly how serious the problem is.

“Well, I’m sorry, but I’m not signing.”

“But you have to, everyone’s coming around later.”

“I don’t care. We’ll have to pay to find out first, then I might sign.”

“But we won’t have the money until you sign.”

“We’ll we’re stuck then aren’t we.”

“Looks like it.”

“I may as well go home.”

“Well I’ll ask everyone to give it some thought, and we’ll organise another meeting.”

“OK, that’s fine by me. See you soon.”

“Er – how are you getting home?”

“By car – it’s my turn.”

“You can’t really do that.”

“Why not?”

“There's something wrong with the car.”

Posted by: Curtis, 18 Dec 09, 8:13pm

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If things don’t change, they’ll stay the same.

18 Dec 09 | Dave
We’ve finally reached the last day of the climate change conference in Copenhagen, and so far no agreement has been reached. The latest proposal is unlikely to see a drop in the rise of global temperatures below 3C. Despite the general target for most of the developed countries being 2C, and the poorer countries 1.5C, and fears that a 3C limit won’t really make the necessary difference. There has been much talk today of last minute deals, and hastily-arranged meetings, even ‘fresh momentum’ when President Obama arrives later.

But why put so much effort into the last 24 hours? Everybody involved in the Copenhagen summit talks will be seasoned conference negotiators. There are senior representatives from just about every country present, all of whom would have known what was on the table even before the conference began. Surely the amount of effort being put in during this last day should have been invested into every day of the conference?

Today sees the final sprint to the finishing line to secure a deal. But it’s more a case now of saving face, rather than saving the planet. Which is why there are fears that any agreement will do in order to declare the conference a success.

But this isn’t about the success of the conference. It’s about global warming, emissions, deforestation, drought, floods, homelessness, displacement, global security, life and death.

The rumoured option is to call it quits for this year, and pick it all up again in Mexico in 2010. The reasoning being that it’s better to have a good deal then, rather than a bad deal now. But, as discussed in an earlier blog, these aren’t simply a random collection of international officials involved in abstract discussions. They are our representatives negotiating on behalf of all of us. They are making decisions that will affect our lives and environment, and even if not ours, then our children’s. So is it good enough that they can’t reach an agreement? Is it right that they should take a breather until next year, then pick it all up again?

You have to ask what good a deferral will do anyway: If a deal can’t be agreed in Copenhagen, then why should we presume that Mexico will be any different. And if an agreement can be reached in Mexico, why can’t that same deal be done now?

How about another option: The great and the good at Copenhagen have chosen, or been chosen, to work on our behalf and come up with a solution that will ensure the best possible future for our planet. So why not make them all stay where they are until they’ve done exactly that, regardless of whether it takes another day, another month or more. After all, what else could they have to do that’s more important?

Al Gore and Gordon Brown are among those to suggest that if the right deal can’t be reached in Copenhagen, then COP16 in Mexico should be brought forward to summer 2010. But what do the Debatewise Global Youth Panel think? Here you have young people, many from the world’s poorest countries, who are likely to be most affected by the outcomes of Copenhagen. We asked them ‘ Is bringing forward COP16 in Mexico is a better option than a poor deal?’ So far in this ongoing debate, 70% think it isn’t a better option, with comments including: “We need some action now… better to deal with it and make a start today than leave it for later. We can always use COP16 and later conferences to review if required. If a deal somehow happens, I hope it allows for some flexibility as we learn more.”

Throughout the UN climate change summit, everyone on the Debatewise Global Youth Panel has remained balanced, open-minded, considerate, concerned and intelligent – perfect qualities for negotiators if there is a COP16 in Mexico.

Posted by: Dave, 18 Dec 09, 11:56am

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Hot air in a cool climate

17 Dec 09 | Dave
Maybe it’s because it’s the pantomime season, but the Copenhagen climate change conference is sliding slowly towards farce. The rich countries, major developing countries and the small island states can’t agree on who should cut emissions, how deep those cuts should be, and how much aid should go where – which just about sums up the whole basis of the agreement.

This is despite efforts including Gordon Brown arriving at the summit days earlier than planned to try and sort things out, and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton saying the US was prepared to work with other countries towards mobilising $100bn a year to help meet the needs of developing countries. Japan has already promised poorer nations $10.6bn over three years, while and a six-member group, of Australia, France, Japan, Norway, the UK and US will also commit $3.5bn over the same period to combat deforestation. Most of the proposed funding is dependent upon an agreement being signed at Copenhagen. However China has said that, even though it remains committed to negotiations, it sees no possibility of a detailed agreement to tackle global warming coming out of Copenhagen.

The problems seem to be not just about the money and a 2C, 1.5C or even 1C limit, but the fact that the talks have descended into a labyrinth of talks about the talks, rather than about the agreement itself – a point raised by Ed Miliband, the UK Energy and Climate Change Secretary. After more than 12 meetings in 24 hours – and after waiting more than 20 hours for one group of nations to assemble – he voiced his frustration that the main problems were over ‘procedural wrangling’: “It would be a tragedy if we failed to agree because of the substance but it would be a farce if we failed to agree because of the process”, he said.

The final two days of the conference should be the part where the agreement is nailed down by heads of state and government. Some 130 world leaders are due to join the talks today (17 December), hoping to sign the climate change agreement tomorrow, when President Obama arrives also. In answer to rumours that he might not attend, Hillary Clinton said: “The President is coming tomorrow. Obviously we hope there will be something to come for”.

A non-result would be a major embarrassment for all kinds of reasons. Not the least of which is because of the subject of this conference. It would mean that all the extra energy and CO2 generated by the hundreds of flights to and from the conference, all the commuting, heating the conference and hotels, the food and other consumables, not to mention the amount of waste produced and the paper used – was all generated for nothing more than a load of hot air.

So what do our Debatewise Global Youth Panel debaters think? When it started to become clear that there was a very real threat of the target of the summit not being reached, we posted the debate: ‘Can leaders manage a deal in the last two days?’ And, even after almost two weeks of observing the climate change conference, so far the majority of our GYP (64%) remain optimistic that a deal will be done, against 27% who think it won’t.

The last word should then go to one of our ‘Yes’ debaters: “I still have hope, and it’s the hope that will make me go on and keep hoping for a fair climate agreement”.

Posted by: Dave, 17 Dec 09, 3:46pm

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Copenhagen Street – the latest episode

16 Dec 09 | Dave
Anybody who thought the Copenhagen climate talks would be boring could not be further from wrong. If you could wash CO2 out of the atmosphere – there’s probably enough soap in Copenhagen to do it.

Among the latest twists of drama was the resignation of Connie Hedergaard, the president of the UN climate change conference. Her replacement is the Danish prime minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen. There have also been more arrests today (16 December), 230 to add to the 1000 arrested over the weekend. Today’s arrests were mainly at demonstrations held about the exclusion of NGOs from the conference centre.

Friends of the Earth international, Avaaz, and TckTckTck were among mainstream environmental groups refused entry this morning. No formal explanation was given by conference officials. Further demonstrations are planned for later today to help push the urgency of the need to reach an agreement that will make a difference.

All the NGOs expressed deep concern that by being excluded, the conference was excluding the voices of civil society. Friends of the Earth were offered 12 places later in the day, but declined them.

Throughout the conference, the G77/G8 temperature debate has been about the difference between a 2C or 1.5C rise in global temperatures. Neither of these is acceptable to Bolivian President Evo Morales, who today called for the hold on temperature increases over the next century to be just 1C. He also proposed an international climate court of justice to prosecute countries for climate ‘crimes’.

As if that wasn’t enough for one day – there were side-shows too. US senator John Kerry announced in a side event that the US was prepared to act if an agreement was signed at Copenhagen, but it would not sign an agreement, or pass a climate change deal in Congress unless China and other developing countries meet its demands for accountability on their emissions cuts. This has increased the chance of a US – China showdown over the next couple of days. While in a back-room, British officials were trying to persuade the US to offer high cuts in emissions – when Barack Obama arrives on Friday, even though they admit they don’t stand much of a chance.

Of course no drama would be complete without a knight in shining armour or two. In Copenhagen Street Gordon Brown is one of several informally-appointed ‘lead negotiators’. Since landing in earlier this week he’s been galloping from meeting to meeting, talking to leaders and representatives from Europe, America, China, India, Africa and other developing countries. There’s even a meeting scheduled with Al Gore this evening. It seems like the only person missing is Simon Cowell.

In our blog on Monday (14 December), we asked whether it was worth speculating on whether it is wrong for the entire focus of the conference on reaching a fixed agreement: “What’s the better outcome: the signing of a 1.5C or 2C agreement? Or for each and every country to do what we all need to do: make a genuine commitment to – first of all acknowledging there is an issue of global warming, and secondly doing everything possible to cure it as quickly as possible”.

South Korea is the first developing nation to agree to an absolute reduction in its emissions rather than a reduction based upon the business as usual level which most are thinking about. We posted a topic today (16 Dec) to debate: “More industrialised countries should follow South Korea’s lead’. It’s early days yet of course, but so far it’s the only debate that has attracted a unanimous 100% vote: ‘Yes’.

The Global Youth Panel debates: http://gyp.debatewise.org/

Posted by: Dave, 16 Dec 09, 7:22pm

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Stalling in flight.

15 Dec 09 | Dave
The second week of the UN climate change summit kicked off on Monday in more ways than one. With only a few days to go until the end of the conference, the African group, supported by other developing nations stalled talks for five-hours. They were afraid that attempts were being made to kill off the Kyoto Protocol, alongside suggestions that the Danish hosts are biased towards advancing the interests of the developed countries. Many of this group – the G77-China bloc, are countries most vulnerable to climate change.

Talks only resumed when they were split into two, as the G77 group demanded. But five hours is a long time in the highly pressurised arena of this summit, so there are also now worries about the speed of negotiations, and the hopes of reaching any kind of conclusion as leaders start to fly in from around the world.

There is also criticism of the fact that these talks will create more carbon emissions than any previous climate conference: an estimated 46,200 tonnes of CO2 – 40,500 of this from flights by delegates, observers, journalists and activists (Reuters). This is the same amount produced each year by 2,300 Americans (2006 figures), or 660,000 Ethiopians.

The popularity of the conference – about 18,000 visitors per day – has meant that temporary building have had to be put up. These are not well insulated and are being heated by oil heaters. Most of the energy used at the conference is generated by coal-fired power stations. It does make you wonder whether December in a cold climate is the best time and place for a conference on climate change and global warming.

As you can see, there is no shortage of material to debate. ‘Africa was right to walk out over fears the rich won’t renew Kyoto’ was started late on Monday evening and: ‘Delegates and leaders show their disregard for the issue of limiting emissions – by arriving by plane’, kicked-off at midday on Monday.

These two debates are still ongoing at the time of writing, however on the Africa walkout votes are currently split evenly – 35% each for ‘Yes’ and ‘No’. On the travelling by plane topic, most of our debaters don’t think that delegates and leaders have shown a disregard for limiting emissions – so far 78% have voted ‘No’, and 18% have voted ‘Yes’.

Comments in the travelling by plane debate include: Yes – “Many nations are sending large amounts of delegates. Australia for example is sending 95 delegates, Australian delegates undoubtedly need to fly to get to Copenhagen but does it really need all of them? could they not have a few negotiators - say 10 and then have most things handled back in Australia?” While on the ‘No’ side: “Delegates from Asia, Africa, Oceana and the Americas can't be expected to find greener means of travelling, they have come too far for there to be other realistic options. For a big meeting such as this there is no way they could be connected in by videolink and still keep abreast of all developments that affect their delegation”.

The question of why technology can’t play more of a part in the climate change summits must have crossed the minds of many of us. It’s something that must happen eventually – if not for the entire summit, then for the largest part of the initial period of negotiations. Who knows – in a couple of years we might even see them happening on Google Wave.

Posted by: Dave, 15 Dec 09, 6:25pm

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A matter of fact

14 Dec 09 | Dave
If there’s one thing that’s clear about the UN Climate Change Summit, it’s that nothing is clear. As 110 heads of state start packing their bags ready to travel to Copenhagen for the last 24 hours of negotiations at the end of the week, there is the customary split between rich and poor countries.

The proposed agreement aims to set the limit of global temperature rise to 2C, and set the amount of money pledged to help poorer countries adapt to climate change. But many countries don’t want to be pressurised into signing an agreement by the end of the week deadline.

It’s worth speculating on whether a target is wrong. Not the proposed temperature target. Nor the target of billions to spend on adaptation. But the entire focus of the conference on reaching a fixed agreement.

The facts about climate change and global warming are hard to pin down. We know the planet is getting warmer, and it’s fairly clear that human interference has played some part in that. We also know that many parts of the world will suffer catastrophically. But the nature of the problem (and because it’s a problem with nature) means it’s impossible to state precisely by how much temperatures will rise over a given period, what exactly the sources of that temperature rise are, and where, when and how large those catastrophes will be.

If we did have this information as unequivocal scientific fact, then undoubtedly the UN summit would have been a completely different conference. The firmer the facts, the less room there is for disagreement.

The absence of concrete facts means that everything is open to interpretation – which can be shaped in some way to suit just about any agenda. That’s what’s been happened in Copenhagen over the past week, and that’s what will continue to happen this week. Wealthier countries such as the US and EU will pushed for the proposed 2C limit; many of the developing countries want a maximum of 1.5C, and some African countries say they might refuse even to take part in these final negotiations because they don’t want to be pushed into a deal they believe won’t help them. And then there’s the scale of financial help to consider – how much, who pays, and where it goes. The aim is to try and negotiate an agreement that satisfies all of these agendas without any party feeling as if it’s been over-compromised.

But is it necessarily a bad thing if an agreement is not signed? Will the summit have been a failure? Or will it be a failure if an agreement is signed?

The other issue to consider is that of responsibility. The fact that there are representatives of so many countries taking part in talks in Copenhagen runs the risk of distancing the responsibility of the climate problem from each of us. It’s all-too-easy to think that because it’s a global problem it’s a national problem – one our governments should be solving for us. All too easy to wait until advice is issued, or legislation is passed, before any of us takes action minimise our use of energy and resources. It’s easy to blame multinational industries and specific countries for warming the planet, but who buys the things they manufacture? Who uses the energy they produce? Is the solution to global warming and climate change the responsibility of our governments, or each of us as individuals?

Is there any reasons why the UN summit should be any different. What’s the better outcome: the signing of a 1.5C or 2C agreement? Or for each and every country to do what we all need to do: make a genuine commitment to – first of all acknowledging there is an issue of global warming, and secondly doing everything possible to cure it as quickly as possible.

Ideally it shouldn’t matter whether an agreement is reached between countries or not in Copenhagen. A ‘country’ is not an abstract concept, it is a place populated by people. Isn’t this one of those very rare occasions when we all have the power to make a difference?

We’ve been using Google Wave as our debating environment. This is an open source package that’s free to use for anyone with access to a computer connected to the Internet. We have more than 1000 young people from more than 100 countries signed up to use it to debate climate change. Many are from the world’s poorest countries, some have come from circumstances it’s difficult to imagine surviving in. Twenty years ago there is no way many of these voices could, or would have been heard.

It is all too easy to take the Internet, and tools such as social networking for granted, and forget how amazing it is and what a social revolution it has created. For example – through our GYP debates, people are gaining first-hand accounts about exactly what climate change means to named individuals around the world. Ultimately, this kind of technology could by more effective in driving home the message about reducing global warming that any decision reached in Copenhagen.

Posted by: Dave, 14 Dec 09, 3:50pm

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Banking on the future

12 Dec 09 | Curtis
On Friday (11 December) an EU summit in Brussels pledged to raise €2.4bn from January to help the world’s poor countries cope with rising seas floods and famine. This is part of an estimated annual €7bn package from industrialised nations around the world. On 4 December, it was announced that public sector support for the UK bank bailout was £850bn (€945bn).

It’s impossible to calculate the financial cost of dealing with climate change – both to control global warming, and to pay for the effects of catastrophes – because nobody knows for sure to what extent the temperature will rise and over what period. Predicted outcomes vary from inconvenient to apocalyptic depending on how high the thermometer climbs. However, it’s estimated that averting catastrophe could cost as little as 1% of global output – as long as that amount is invested in well designed policies. The cost of saving the world’s banks was 5% of global output.

The topic: ‘Is the EU contributing its “fair share” to combating climate change?’ was introduced on Friday into our GYP climate change debates. The debate is still ongoing at the time of writing, but views being posted, include: ‘…the EU countries are doing much more than any other nation’, and: ‘No matter how much the EU agrees to contribute, some will always claim that it is not enough’.

Many people raise the point that it’s not simply a question of how much money is contributed, but what nations also do themselves to combat climate change, such as pledging to cut CO2 emissions and tackling deforestation. Current results are Yes: 62%; No: 23%; Maybe: 15%

The day’s other hot topic was: ‘Climate change is a security issue’ – introduced following President Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech in Oslo, during which he said:
“The absence of hope can rot a society from within. And that is why helping farmers feed their own people — or nations educate their children and care for the sick — is not mere charity. It is also why the world must come together to confront climate change. There is little scientific dispute that if we do nothing, we will face more drought, famine and mass displacement that will fuel more conflict for decades. For this reason, it is not merely scientists and activists who call for swift and forceful action — it is military leaders in my country and others who understand that our common security hangs in the balance.”

Climate change as a security problem is slowly gaining political ground. In our own debate more than 68% agree that it is a problem. If the US truly believes that it is, then it remains to be seen whether it will shift its position from investing heavily in combating the effects – the security issue, to investing heavily in solving the cause – the climate issue.

Of course there is the vague, intensely-remote chance, that one-day somebody in a dusty corner of the White House or Whitehall might link climate change to the banking problem – then we’ll see how quickly the problem gets solved, and how much money gets thrown at it…

Posted by: Curtis, 12 Dec 09, 11:16am

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A question of balance

11 Dec 09 | Curtis
The problem with climate change, is that it only affects those it affects. This is not as cryptic as it sounds. For many of us who go about our lives in the so-called ‘developed’ world, climate change is too often a distant issue. So – the earth is a couple of degrees warmer. So – the summers/winters are a bit wetter/dryer. So – there’s the odd flood here and there. That’s just the weather isn’t it?

In a way, it is. But weather’s what you get – as in here and now; and climate is what you expect – in the sense of the state of the climate system. And many of us are too comfortable for the effects of climate change to really hit home. But at some point for many of us, it is our homes that will be hit. It’s only when that comfort has been taken away, and we realise that we can expect the same thing to happen year after year, that the difference between weather and climate gets fully appreciated. But that could be next week, next year, or in five or ten years time. So we change our light-bulbs, don’t leave the TV on standby, recycle our wine bottles, maybe think about buying a hybrid car…

Many people around the world don’t have the luxuries of time and space – in places such as Bangladesh, Tuvalu and the Maldives. For them climate change is a here and now issue.

It’s all-too-easy to condemn the power of the developed nations over the developing – US and EU v G77, but looking deeper into the each of their issues reveals the essence of this UN Summit – two sides driven by almost equal intensity, but with very different motivations.

Most of our climate change debaters live in developing countries, so you might expect them to take any opportunity to knock the more affluent powers. If you do, you’d be wrong. As the first week of Global Youth Panel Climate Change debating slips into a weekend of debating, browsing back through our week online reveals balanced views, intelligent comments, and genuine understandings of all sides of global politics and economy; as well as a realisation that deals have to be made and why.

A good example of this was our Bangladesh topic: ‘Bangladesh should get at least 15% of any climate fund’. We pitched our Bangladesh group against the rest of the world on this issue. Almost 60% disagreed, almost 27% agreed, the rest were undecided.

While the Bangladesh group may not have won the debate, they did gain the opportunity to passionately voice their predicament, for example: “According to our own experts, by 2050 Bangladesh shall cease to exist. The population of Bangladesh is 150 million, this many people cannot be rehoused as easily as the paltry populations of the AOSIS countries.” While on the ‘Against’ side: “But how would funding avert displacement? excessive inundation/flooding will still occur since the climate crisis has already begun. If anything, countries to where the Bangladeshis will be displaced, should get funding (to take care of inevitable flood victims)”.

You have to admire the sense of balance delivered by many of our debaters. How many of us would maintain a sense of reason if we found ourselves and our families, one morning, up to our knees in water, with no home, no work to go to, no food and nowhere to go. And if we lived under the threat of this happening tomorrow, what would we do about it today?

Posted by: Curtis, 11 Dec 09, 11:19am

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GYP panel - optimistic and realistic, an ideal combination?

10 Dec 09 | Dave
What strikes me about the voting results so far is just how optimistic our panel is. Over 60% still think the conference will be a success, almost 60% believe the G77 split can be papered over and a whopping 75% think the EPA’s ruling allows the USA to be more ambitious. However, fears about Climategate are a concern with 61% saying it might scupper a deal.

Our panel are also very fair. Over two-thirds say that big countries should take the needs of small countries into consideration when coming up with a deal, take that all those who criticised Tuvalu, and only a tiny minority believe Bangladesh should get 15% of a climate fund.

What’s more they’re reasonable too. Whilst a small majority think the so called ‘Danish Text’ indicates Denmark are more interested in a treaty with their name on it than a good one delivered later a significant majority the nos and neutrals aren’t too far behind (and catching up if voting patterns continue. In addition, 61% think that mutually acceptable emissions targets are better than tough, legally-binding, ones. So indicating their optimism is tempered by realism and an overriding desire to get a deal done.

All the debates here: http://gyp.debatewise.org/

Posted by: Dave, 10 Dec 09, 1:47pm

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Temperatures rise – and the ‘Danish text’ provide fuel for debate

10 Dec 09 | Curtis
The World Meteorological Organisation has announced that 2009 is likely to be one of the 10 warmest years since records began in 1850.

Although the temperatures for November and December are not in yet, the WMO says the combined sea surface and land surface air temperature for 2009 is currently estimated at 0.44 degrees C above the 1961-1999 average of 14.00 degrees.

“The current nominal ranking of 2009, which does not account for uncertainties in the annual averages, places it as the fifth-warmest year,” says a statement from the UN agency. “The decade of the 2000s was warmer than the decade spanning the 1990s, which in turn was warmer than the 1980s.”

Meanwhile, in Copenhagen, temperatures at the summit are also rising. Wednesday's revelations included the leaked ‘Danish text’ draft agreement that, if implemented, would hand more power to rich nations, deliver financial control of climate change finance to the World Bank, sideline the UN's negotiating role and abandon the Kyoto protocol.

Of course we couldn’t help but add this to our Global Youth Panel debate topics for the day (9 December), as: ‘The 'Danish text' shows that the Danish Government is failing in their duty to be an unbiased host’. The results so far indicate that 58% agree and 25% disagree, with good points being put by both sides, including: “while I do not think that Denmark, nor any other country, should be trying to force any treaty upon anyone, I do not feel that this entails failure in its duties as host” (against), and: “this piece of news will most probably cause the developing countries to lose trust in the hosts, and US/UK especially” (for). A key concern raised, is whether Denmark is so keen to see an agreement signed, that it will try and drive through any agreement rather than a good agreement.

Simultaneously, Wednesday saw a lively debate on: ‘ Should Bangladesh get 15% of any climate fund'. This topic was added following an announcement at a press conference on Tuesday (8 December) by Hasan Mahmud Khondoker, the state minister for the environment. He said it was entitled to the 15%, because at least 20 million Bangladeshis would be displaced if sea levels rose by 1 metre. He added that the country couldn’t itself afford adaptation. Currently 61% agree and 31% disagree.

On the subject of adapting: all of this debating is being held on Google Wave, which was launched in April this year (2009) and so is still a very new tool. It’s also a real innovation, demanding a slightly different approach to communicating, especially as it operates in real-time. For example this means that as you type, others can read (and reply if they want to). So all credit to our Global Youth Panel, who have rapidly grasped and embraced the concept of Google Wave as the platform for our debates.

Posted by: Curtis, 10 Dec 09, 8:26am

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First day of GYP UN Summit debates reveals optimism, commitment and some remarkable stories

09 Dec 09 | Curtis
The two main debates of the first day of debating were: ‘Is the Copenhagen conference going to be a success?’ and: ‘Will “Climategate” threaten the deal at Copenhagen?’

The success question floats on defining what success is. The aim of the Copenhagen conference is to create a binding treaty that will commit the nations of the world to cutting CO2 emissions to slow global warming. However since the US congress will not pass a climate change bill in time this is unlikely to happen. So what is success? The detail of a treaty worked out and being made legal only when the US climate change bill is introduced sometime next year? Commitments on transferring technology? Setting up an adaptation fund?

100s of people from the 1000-strong Debatewise Global Youth Panel joined the first day of climate change debating – which attracted some eloquently-put arguments from many different perspectives. The result overall view on whether the Copenhagen conference will be a success was upbeat, with 60% believing it would be.

The ‘Climategate’ debate centred around events during last week, when it was alleged that the head of University of East Anglia's climatic research unit had attempted to suppress contradictory data on rising temperatures, while systematically ignoring any contradictory data the unit had collected. This research unit is one of the most respected around the world, so this story was grabbed by sceptics who are now demanding the whole climate change/temperature rise issue debate be reopened.

The Climategate issue led to some very feisty and emotive debates on all sides by the Global Youth Panel. In the end, 64% thought it could in some way affect the outcome of the UN summit.

Committed debaters overcome obstacles to contribute

There have also been some remarkable demonstrations of commitment by members of the Global Youth Panel to the climate change debates.

On Monday, as the UN summit opened, there were the largest anti-government demonstrations in months in Iran, as tens-of-thousands of students took to the streets. This led to a crackdown by riot police and pro-government militia. There was also a crackdown on communications, particularly the Internet. Nevertheless the Iranian team battled all kinds of obstacles to find a way of accessing Monday’s debates.

In Bhutan, the team persuaded their Internet service providers to let them have extra bandwidth for free to allow them to take part in the debate.

You may already have read in an earlier blog about Cambodia: Michael (surname unknown) collected about 30 kids together, held practice debates, found an IT person to help and got the Phnom Penh Post to cover the story (Link to Phnom Penh Post article). What’s more, these kids were, in his words: “some of the poorest, most destitute families in Cambodia” and until a few years ago were working in the rubbish-dump in Phnom Penh.

All of which shows just how important climate change issues are, and how much people want their voices to be heard.

Posted by: Curtis, 09 Dec 09, 10:40am

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Quick update on the debates

08 Dec 09 | Dave
Our developers hit quite a few snags with the software and despite them working to 4:45 am Monday they couldn’t get it done. They are still working though and we hope to have a functional model later this week.

Plan B was to do everything manually. Which is what we are doing. This means we can’t exclude external participants and don’t have a methodologically sound way of recording votes. But people are debating, and debating in large numbers. Last night we recorded 100 new blips or edits to blips in less than an hour.

Furthermore, the dedication some people are showing to the cause is remarkable. The Iranian team had to battle an internet crackdown yesterday to come online but come they did. We’re also recording activity from a great many other countries in the world.

Posted by: Dave, 08 Dec 09, 1:00pm

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Successful first day of climate change debating for Global Youth Panel

08 Dec 09 | Curtis
The end of the first day of the UN summit, and a successful first day of debating for the Debatewise Global Youth Panel.

The subjects of the day are ‘Will the Conference be a success?’ and ‘Will “Climategate” threaten the deals at the Conference?’ The results haven’t been counted yet, as the debates are still ongoing, but early indications are that most of our debaters think the Conference will be a success, and it’s about even for the effects of Climategate.

It’s been interesting watching the GYP debates. Hundreds of people have taken part, expressing between them many different viewpoints, and displaying some very eloquently-put arguments. The first day was everything we were hoping it would be, and is great reward for all those hours of preparation it’s taken to get here. We’ll publish the results in tomorrow’s blog.

Our Global Youth Panel has been debating against the backdrop of the first day of the conference. Prior indications were that it was going to be a lively event, and the first day hasn’t disappointed. There are the expected differences between the G8 block and the small island states, centering around the decision at the G8 summit in July to keep the global average temperature rise since pre-industrial times to 2C. The small island states – most at risk from rising sea levels, are arguing for a lower target of 1.5C, and it’s possible that the G77/China bloc will endorse the lower target.

Other aims for the conference are:

* Targets to curb greenhouse gas emissions, in particular by developed countries
* Financial support for mitigation of and adaptation to climate change by developing countries
* A carbon trading scheme aimed at ending the destruction of the world's forests by 2030.

Around the world, to stress the importance of the summit, 56 newspapers in 45 countries and 20 languages published the same editorial yesterday (7 December), warning that climate change will "ravage our planet".

In Copenhagen, the demonstrators were out in force, some protesting on rooftops and others staging a ‘die-in’ to represent the number of people who will die each year if a deal is not reached.

It’s been quite a day.

Posted by: Curtis, 08 Dec 09, 8:13am

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1000 people, but so many more voices

07 Dec 09 | Curtis
So here we are - the start of the UN summit on climate change in Copenhagen. This is what we've all been working for at Debatewise. Months of planning, thousands of emails, texts, phone calls, casting into networks and pushing the edges of communications technology.

The UN summit has turned into the party nobody wants to miss: 15,000 delegates from 192 countries, and 100 world leaders. There have also been an unprecedented number of pledges in advance of the start of the summit. Most recently South Africa announced its first quantifiable target on emissions-reduction. The announcement came two weeks after China announced its first ever firm target for reducing its 'carbon intensity'. Yvo de Boer, the UN's chief climate change negotiator has said: 'Never in 17 years of climate negotiations have so many different countries made so many pledges.'

But we've all learnt to be cynical. And why shouldn't we be? We've seen the machinations of global businesses and protectionist politics who don't want to upset their shareholders or voters. Can we do any more than simply hope, that the keywords of the summit are climate change, deforestation, rising sea-levels, global warming, carbon emissions, greenhouse gases, reduction, recycling, sustainability' and the like, rather than terms such as profitability, carbon trading and shareholder perception?

Who will have the loudest voice at this global party? Those with the most money and therefore the most power? Or those who will be most affected by the pledges, decisions and commitments that will emerge as the summit progresses?

These are just some of the reasons we decided to run the Debatewise Global Youth Panel debates alongside the summit. We wanted as many people as possible to hear the voices of those who will be affected most by climate change. Those with the most to lose in terms of home, family and future, rather than share prices and poll-ratings.

It's been hard work, but we have 1000 people from more than 100 countries ready to be heard. But we have more than 1000 voices, because every person that has signed up to our Global Youth Panel is speaking for others, whether it's just their immediate family, a group of like-minded friends, or for the concern of their generation.

We have voices from those who have survived by picking a living out of mountains of rotting rubbish, and voices from comfortable homes in leafy suburbs. We have voices from Israel and Palestine, North Korea and South Korea, USA and Afghanistan, Iran and Iraq. What they have in common is that they all know the biggest issue is more important than any other concern.

Will the conference be a success? The answer to this is not a simple yes or no. Successful for whom? Successful for those set to become 'environmental migrants', as the climate affects their homes, livelihoods and families?

That's why we've chosen to kick of our series of debates with: 'Will the conference be a success?' The debate starts this morning, 7 December and will go on for 24 hours. We'll bring you summary of the outcomes and best arguments later in the week.

And finally, let's hope that those involved in the sharp end of the summit have the sense to understand that it's not what they can take away from the conference that matters as much as what they can give to it.

Posted by: Curtis, 07 Dec 09, 12:50pm

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Global Youth Panel - weekly update No. 4

04 Dec 09 | Dave
Three days to go and everything is going perfectly. There’s not a cloud in the sky nor problem to report. In fact, we’re so far ahead of schedule we’ve been working half-days all week.

Yeah, right.

In order to ensure only members of the GYP take part in the debates we’re tying their Wave address to our gadget. Which means we need their CC to send out invites, collect Wave addresses and forward them to us. A slow process at best of times, a pretty frustrating one when a close, immovable, deadline is involved. Oh and with very new technology too.

Hence lots of communication with the CCs and panellists. Lots of individual emails sent, lots of hand-holding, lots of trying to determine what non-native speakers mean when they’re describing problems. Quite a bit of explaining the process and that Wave is not Gmail. All combined with the tasks each CC already has on their plate; which currently involves at least one sick mother and hopefully only one holed oil tanker.

So we’ve been really grateful for the extra invites that Google have given us and especially delighted to see invites seem to now arrive only a few hours after being sent. Without those two factors we’d have had a much more stressful week than it’s already been.

We wont have all 1,000 panellists online on Monday, this will be a rolling start. However, we should have close to 500 and they’ll be the dedicated ones, so hopefully the level of participation will be high. Now all we need do is get the add-ons working.

Our strategy has been to simplify inbox noise by generating one Index Wave containing links to, and key elements for, all the debates: the Debate Title, Intro, Votes For, Votes Against and time remaining to participate or vote. GYP members will use this as their portal (yes I used that word) for the debates they want to participate in.

A Debate Wave will be a subset of the Index Wave – it will contain the title, intro, votes For and Against and timings for every individual debate. It will also contain all the points that make up the debate (test example: How many ninjas does it take to cut emissions by 20%.
Point 1: Chuck Norris, Point 2: Chuck Norris’s mum, Point 3 – well you get the idea).

The Point Wave is where the debates take place. This contains a blip with the argument, a blip with the counterargument and all discussion blips underneath. This is the only element at which GYP members participate. The Debate Wave and Index Wave are generated by robots that pull in blips, make debate Waves and then generate the Index Wave.

I am led to believe the Wave documentation needs a little polishing. And that a lot of the solutions professed by others on forums don’t seem to work for us. Hence lots of late nights, lots of missed deadlines and an inevitable to-the-wire finish.

I am filled with confidence though, and I say this knowing my reputation is at stake. Partly because I understand this is how these projects work. And partly because I’ve seen just how skilled our guys are and know how much they care. They’ll make it happen. Somehow.

Messages of support have come from Rajendra Pachauri, chair of the IPCC and co-winner of the Nobel Peace Prize Al Gore so famously collected, various other leading climate change experts and leader of the opposition David Cameron. Now if that doesn’t spur the PM into action I don’t know what will.

Perhaps most encouraging of all was a simple message posted to a single list I’ve been on for a while. The outpouring of support was amazing to see and incredibly lifting too as it showed the amount of goodwill that exists for this project. Our main task now is how to
access it.

To help we’ve hired a professional who has written some press releases, developed a press pack for the CCs and is helping us with all things media. My feeling/hope/belief /goal is the amount of interest we generate will increase as the conference goes on.

I aim to show that despite the cynicism and disappointment that will inevitably emerge there are a group of passionate, dedicate and energised people who want to solve these huge problems. Our panel will provide the breath of fresh air the world needs during its time
of doubt. And I say that only half exaggeratedly, their enthusiasm has lifted me many times during mine.

Posted by: Dave, 04 Dec 09, 8:12am

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Global Youth Panel - weekly update No. 3

27 Nov 09 | Dave
This week we have mostly...

The panelists have started to come online and we’ve come up with a good way to get them Waving. We’ll ask people to collaborate as a country and form their top three tips for using Wave. Tips we’ll obviously share with everyone else. This will get them delving deep
into the environment, researching, working together and pulling for each other. We’ll get them playing Soduku too, obviously.

Some people have struggled with the invite process and we’ve encountered language difficulties helping people understand the delay in invite being sent and invite being received. This, of course, has allowed us to see where gaps in our expertise lie; gaps Eve - our
newest intern - and her language studying friends will hopefully help fill.

Best news of all came from Cambodia. Michael (surname unknown) has got about 30 kids ready to go, held practice debates, found an IT person to help and got the Phnom Post to cover the story (http://bit.ly/4N3fMa). What’s more, these kids were, in his words
“some of the poorest, most destitute families in Cambodia” and until a few years ago were working in the rubbish-dump in Phnom Penh. These are the kinds of people we’ll be giving a voice.

Development is moving slowly and we’re a bit behind schedule. I have great confidence in the team though and their focus on getting the core solid is absolutely right. We simply couldn’t get other people to work effectively until that’s done first.

The possibility of this extra help got greater with the news that James, our man in America, runs the Wave subreddit on Reddit.com. Their community is 1,200 strong and even if only 10 of them wanted to help we’d get lots done.

Fundamentally, the core is all we really need to make the experience easy for our panelists. Everything else is nice to have, not essential. And all that nice stuff can come later if we need it to; our project will continue for two months into the new year. Plenty of time for developers to really add value.

The first part of the Independent integration is ready for testing (http://independent.debatewise.org/). Debates here will not be created in Wave but rather on Debatewise. The idea is to allow Independent readers to debate exactly the same motions as the panel so we can
compare the arguments formed by Brits to those the rest of the world comes up with.

Messages of support have come from William Kininmonth, who headed Australia’s National Climate Centre, Richard S. Courtney, one of 15 scientists invited to give a briefing on climate change at the US Congress, Bulu Imam, a leading Indian climate change activist and one of the world’s most eminent climate change sceptics Dr Timothy Ball. More are being sought.

My favourite comes from Professor Thomas Homer-Dixon, who said: "The Global Youth Panel may be the most innovative project associated with the Copenhagen conference -- and likely the one with the most long-lasting impact.” A quote I think overstates things a tad but is one we’re using far and wide nonetheless.

Posted by: Dave, 27 Nov 09, 8:09am

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