Isham saw climate summit up close

CORNWALL — To fully appreciate the local, sometimes you have to go global. That’s what Cornwall resident Jon Isham found when he traveled to Copenhagen, Denmark, in December for the United Nations Climate Conference.
Isham, who teaches economics at Middlebury College, was in Denmark for the second of the conference’s two weeks. Running from Dec. 7-18, the conference pulled together world leaders, scholars and civilian climate activists alike.
On a broad scale, the ultimate accord fell far below standards recommended by the scientific community. World leaders spent much of the time deadlocked, and some nations refused to agree to the pact.
But for Isham, the events taking place outside of the closed-door meetings, among the civilian contingent of the conference, were the real triumphs of the two weeks. By some estimates, more than 50,000 civilians from all over the world traveled to the city for the conference. There were many opportunities for networking and uniting disparate climate movements, and there was not a moment of boredom.
“It was absolutely an amazing phenomenon,” Isham said in a recent interview. “Each hour was like several days, each afternoon was like a month.”
For Isham, the conference served several purposes. One was to promote and spread the word about several initiatives he is involved in, including the Web site whatwedo.org — which shares stories of how people are battling problems like poverty, human rights abuses and climate change — and Solutions, a new journal dedicated to finding solutions for global environmental, social and political problems. Isham will be co-editing a climate change edition of Solutions this summer, and was on the lookout for potential contributors in Copenhagen. In that respect, he said, his trip was a great success.
His other goal was more general.
“I was there to bear witness to what people were doing,” he said.
And though he was thousands of miles from Vermont, he saw plenty that tied him back to Addison County, in particular the 350.org global climate change movement started by Ripton resident Bill McKibben and several former Middlebury College students.
“Everywhere I saw reminders of what 350 has done,” he said.
The 350.org movement is based on the scientific consensus that 350 parts per million is the highest safe amount of carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere. We are already at 380 parts per million.
The 350.org movement boasted a large presence in Copenhagen, hosting speakers, coordinating candlelight vigils and speaking with delegates from countries around the globe to further the message.
“Middlebury is seen as such a leader in all of this,” said Isham. “If you’re here (in Vermont) it’s hard to appreciate, but to be in a global setting is to understand what’s come out of this part of the world.”
Also among the people attending the conference was Middlebury College student Ben Wessel, who was there representing the youth organization SustainUS.
“Ben Wessel brought together American and Chinese young leaders, meeting and building trust,” Isham said. “While world leaders are having a spat, Ben Wessel is trying to lead something doing the very opposite.”
And although the concrete agreements coming out of the conference left something to be desired, Isham, for one, came back more ready than ever to continue the fight here in the U.S. In a speech at the conference, Al Gore set a goal of April 22 — the 40th anniversary of Earth Day — to get a climate bill passed.
Until that date, Isham will be working with several organizations to get the word out, among them Kids vs. Global Warming, led by a 15-year-old, and 1sky, an organization that works to shape climate policy.
Isham’s current hope for a climate bill is The Carbon Limits and Energy for America’s Renewal Act, or CLEAR Act, which is a bill that already has bipartisan support in the U.S. Senate and would refund 75 percent of the revenue it collected to taxpayers.
Energized by what he saw in Copenhagen, Isham said, “I’m ready to put in every ounce of energy to get the climate bill signed by Earth Day.”

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