Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Day 1 - November 30th

30 November, 2010

The trip has begun, we’re 40 minutes into the flight. I started out pretty nervous of the impending trip – throwing myself into an international conference as my first go-around I felt was nothing to take lightly.

I wasn’t slated to arrive more than 75 minutes before the presentation began. We landed on time, but going through customs and waiting for the bus that was 40 minutes late quickly ate up the time I needed to check in at the hotel, register for the official side-event, and find the conference room. While being unable to attend this presentation I had helped to build was discouraging, having the time to adjust was however, appreciated.

Despite my plans on going back to Cancunmesse (the conference center where the official side events were happening), to catch some other side events, a series of events guided by Murphy’s Law kept me at the hotel. Once again feeling discouraged about missing a whole day of activity. The events of my day however, did incite some interesting conversations and thoughts about climate change, public perception, and the role of economies in directing change.

So far we have talked to two “lay peoples” about our activities in Cancun, and have made observations about the world and the people in it while at our hotel:

Omar was our cab driver, to the airport, as well as family friend. He of course asked the obligate, “What are you doing in Cancun”, probably expecting and answer most similar to “vacation”. I told him about COP16, which he called an “environmentalist conference”, and remarked that “ Global warming, in the summer – I don’t like it, but in the winter – I could use some more”. I chuckled about that familiar do-nothing attitude which seeks comfort, but we reminded him that climate change isn’t just about warming, but also about sea level rise, increasing storm frequency. “Yes, yes”, he acknowledged. When people focus on the phrase “Global Warming” they think only about warming, which sounds good to people on a gloomy late-November day in NYC. That phrase loses site of the bigger scope of the effects and its just plain inaccurate. Somehow the bigger scope of the issue needs to be better conveyed to the public. This is not just about warmer summers and less snowy days, this is about tilting the equilibrium way out of balance. This is also about bringing social equity to the table and creating a future where we acknowledge and held accontable the changes we inflict on each other in a globalized world.

Our other encounter was with a gregarious woman on the plane. Regina was an elderly Hasidic-Italian immigrant to Brooklyn on her way to Cancun to vacation for 4 weeks. When we told her that we were going to COP16 it rang a bell to her, but she shrugged it off with naivety. She mumbled something about a friend of hers telling her how important it was and that there was going to be a march in the streets, which I think was a reference to Via la Campesina’s 1000’s of Cancun, or perhaps something with the Klimaforum. Regardless, she lamented that we going to do work and not vacation. As young people, I think we feel a responsibility to help restore and regenerate the earth that we will be spending many decades to come, as well as raising generations to come. Climate change for that reason has piqued the interest of younger citizens, but unfortunately our major agents of enacting change (government, multinational businesses) are run by older folks who are for the most part determinately more conservative (read, less progressive).

The Cancun airport surprised me for reasons I should have anticipated. The walls were abound with advertisements for COP16 – sending pleas for meaningful treaties, or posters for various clean energy projects. I wonder what the advertisements are at the Mexico City airport, or how the walls of the Cancun airport will be dressed come Dec 6, when COP16 has come to a close. The Cancun airport also has a fleet of 100% biodiesel busses that service it, and taxi cabs that pushed for “veg-power”, calling for organic and vegan dietary choices. My impression of that part of the Yucatan Peninsula from the plane as we were landing was mostly of awe of how it was still mostly unbroken vegetation. Practically no roads penetrated the scrubby forest compared to the fractured-mosaic look of US lands.

The last chapter of the Day 1 journey was the hotel experience. I booked myself at the Jade Now Resort, mostly out of haste due to the lateness I (we) organized this Cornell delegation. Additionally, this hotel is one of the ‘official’ hotels of the COP meaning there is a free bus shuttle service to the Cancunmesse and other hotels/convention centers where side events will take place. This purportedly all-inclusive stay, comes with internet for $15 USD per day, ridiculous! I will have to do most of my posting from the Cancunmesse or other places with free or much cheaper wifi. The Jade Now is an over-glorified, US comfort zone- like a shopping mall on the beach, as I presume all resorts really are. With no real local fare on the 5 restaurants on the grounds, we are hoping that tomorrow’s fresh fruit salad comes with avocados, guavas, etc. I did however have a dinner that included roasted cactus leaves, when I inquired about which kind of cactus it was from, the waiter bewilderedly shrugged and said, “Mexican cactus?” I was disappointed, but not shocked, these resorts really do alienate people from their natural surroundings due to the higher-prized pastime of shopping, and experiencing false-culture; false culture being commercialized, commoditized, and turned token.

While forking in “delicious Mexican food” we pondered if hosting delegates, intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations, academics, and activists in this kind of a place was really setting a good example for COP16 outcomes. These resorts are exorbitantly wastefull and don’t empower their guests to think about the real changes that will need to be made in the coming decades. We could only ponder this for so long until a mariachi band lulled our spinning minds with a lovely serenade.

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