Q. Is this your first experience at an international conference of this nature?
Like many academics I go to international conferences occasionally, though I've never been to a COP. I was just in Copenhagen in August, actually, for the first World Congress in Environmental History. Denmark is my favourite country in the world after Canada, but it's rather different in December.
Q. What did you do to prepare for the experience?
Well, first off, I taught the very first year of the first year course (An Introduction to Environment, Sustainability, and Society) in our new College of Sustainability at Dalhousie. So that certainly put me in the right frame of mind!
I also did some background reading on climate change issues, the UNFCCC [UN Framework Convention on Climate Change], and Nova Scotia's environmental initiatives. Deborah Buszard [also with the College of Sustainabiltiy] and I went to a couple of briefings: one jointly held by DFAIT [the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade] and the trade arm of the Nova Scotia Department of the Environment, who had corralled the provincial trade mission; and a session at the HUB on Barrington Street, which featured Rob Niven and Emily Richardson of Carbon Sense Solutions, George Foote of the DOE, and Lil Macpherson of the Wooden Monkey, all of whom were on the mission.
Q. It must be quite a rush to be there. I hear there are often sleepless nights. What is the energy like?
After four hours sleep I'm exhausted, and I'm not one of the people who really had to play hardball at this thing! I have high regard for people like those from the DOE, or some of the youth organizers - who just have been going flat-out these past two weeks. People might have been flagging a bit toward the end of the week, but last night, at a reception hosted by the Nova Scotia government, there was a remarkably buoyant spirit among "Team Nova
Q. What role are you playing there? Do you feel like you have much of an influence over proceedings and outcomes?
Second question first: If you mean the COP proper, then no. I'm disappointed that I can't even get close enough to the negotiations to make my presence part of the critical mass, which might send a message - yet I don't feel I
can leave the work to the negotiators, particularly Canada's, who haven't been working for the deal I'd want.
On the other hand, nothing is going to get done with the chaos and noise interjected into the "climate" of negotiation. I'd rather something get done by the people who can get something done.
Similarly, I know I'm more effective doing other things. My job has been to discuss the College of Sustainability and Dalhousie's interest in environmental issues with, first of all, the other Nova Scotian delegates (clean energy providers have been particularly well-represented) and secondly, Danish academics and researchers, particularly from the two largest universities of Copenhagen and Aarhus. The interest in transatlantic connections with us is terrific, and something I can't wait to make happen.
Q. What kinds of strategies and tactics are academics using in Copenhagen to assert an influence?
It depends on the academics in question. There are two university presidents, and a law professor from Dalhousie, who are advisors to Environment Minister Jim Prentice - although I don't know how much good it's doing. There are
some who are here as representatives of NGOs, like the Canadian Wildlife Federation. There are numerous scientists, of course. And then there are people like Deborah and me, who see Dalhousie as both a portal into Nova Scotia - for students and faculty from abroad - and a connector between researchers, industry, and civil society.
Q. Is there much of a chance for academics to interact with activists, business and government folks? When that happens is it a tense encounter or is it more of a bridging experience between perspectives?
That's really been what we've been doing, although more with the latter two on the whole, at events like Bright Green. I would bet, though, that most academics would sympathize with the position(s) taken by the environmental
activists, so I can't say there's been any tension. And it's been really heartening to see the College received so enthusiastically by people like the Premier.
Q. Who are the most interesting people you've met there and what have you learned from them?
1. Kurt Nielsen, Deputy Director of the National Environmental Research Institute [NERI] of Denmark, who told me about their research stations in Greenland as part of their work in Arctic, terrestrial, marine, and wildlife environments.
2. Justin Boyle, the energy guy at the HRM. He's a great source of information about a host of things in the works - like geothermal heating - to help the HRM meet its emission targets as a World Energy City; but also pretty pragmatic about the more ambitious ideas we've been throwing at him, like wind turbines in the city or a light rail around the Bedford Basin.
Q. The Harper government seems particularly oblivious and impervious to popular opinion on this issue. Are you optimistic about the outcome in Copenhagen, and the chances for Canada to restore its damaged international image? And is it hard to stay positive?
I was saying to a national youth delegate that as an historian, I can't think of a moment in Canada's history when our reputation abroad was as poor as it is now. This state of affairs is unprecedented. What is heartening is the hidden virtue of federalism: other levels of governments are pulling apart from Ottawa, as sub-national negotiations distinguish provincial and municipal positions (and more aggressive environmental targets) to convey that most Canadians do place great value on the environment. You specified "the Harper government" - one result of this event has been that people within Canada and abroad see a particular administration rather than a universal policy or sentiment.
Q. This conference has been described in somewhat hyperbolic terms. What is its real significance?
I'll let my colleague Deborah Buszard, the associate director of research and outreach for the College, answer this one: "It might not be the best process, but it's the only process we've got."