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Taking on the Pessimists in Poznan

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Over 10,000 people from nearly 190 countries are hunkered down in a huge conference center in Poznan, Poland, working furiously to draft a shared vision and framework for a successful climate deal scheduled to come together in December, 2009 in Copenhagen. I'm scrambling to learn the ropes as an NGO observer and participant representing the 1Sky campaign.

Over the past few days, several U.S. opinion leaders have adopted a very pessimistic stance on the prospects of achieving meaningful federal climate policy in the United States or a deal in Copenhagen. These political insiders allegedly want to help manage expectations for the incoming Obama Administration but their "we can't" attitude is grabbing the headlines here and at home and causing a growing sense of resignation just as hopes had risen with the promise of a new American President.

Eileen Claussen, president of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change issued a press release at the start of the Poznan proceedings and announced that the Copenhagen timeline for change was "too optimistic to begin with," and that "the U.S. won't be in a position to negotiate with specific targets and timetables in 2009." Days later, Pew kept the so-called "realistic" predictions coming. Elliot Diringer, director of international strategies for the Pew Center was quoted in the Washington Post saying "a full, final, ratifiable agreement just isn't in the cards" next year.

At a side-event yesterday, an adviser to climate champion Richard Lugar also lowered hopes by suggesting the U.S. will never come up with 67 votes in the Senate to ratify a treaty even if we could negotiate it in a timely way. Joe Romm of Climate Progress blogged that there is literally no hope of gaining a deal on Capitol Hill or in Copenhagen this year.

What gives? Are we so constrained by old political realities that we have lost all imagination? Have we become so hardened by the complexities of decades of inaction that we can only envision small incremental improvements? Well, no actually.

Eleven-thousand highly-caffeinated souls are gathered in Poznan, Poland and a great number of them are intent on getting policies moving in Europe, the U.S., Canada, China, and Australia, to name a few. On December 1, just as delegates were making their way to Poznan, Brazil announced its climate change plan. The plan aims to reduce tropical deforestation 70% , a change estimated to reduce Brazil's greenhouse gas emissions some 30-40% by 2017!

Then there is the Copenhagen Climate Council, whose influential business members are taking aggressive action to make the upcoming proceedings a success. There are Congressional staff here representing some of the best leaders on the Hill, all working hard to understand the debate in detail. (Think Markey, Carper, Sanders, Lautenberg, Pelosi, and Snow, among others.)

Some optimists are taking action outside of the official conference center. Youth gathered yesterday under the leadership of the feisty 350 group and attracted hundreds of people into a large demonstration in support of setting an aggressive 350 ppm target for reducing emissions. While 350 was organizing in Poznan and getting some nice TV coverage, several hundred organizers from around the world grabbed a 6 a.m. train to Warsaw for an all day protest and demonstration at a gathering of European finance ministers who were threatening to back off of short-term targets for emissions reductions. So far the European commitment to at least 20% cuts from 1990 levels by 2020 is holding, though the pledge to raise this to a 30% cut if others join the deal may be wavering.

So ignore the beltway insiders who cozy up to power and insist that only incremental steps are possible while they sneer at anyone who tries to change the terms of debate. Obama is not the Messiah and he cannot be expected to work miracles and of course expectations must be managed. But the new president doesn't need us predicting failure when he hasn't yet taken office. He needs us doing the hard work of building the political capacity for change.

So take note: Despite official press accounts repeatedly quoting the naysayers, there are thousands here staying up past midnight every day to hammer out the details of a deal that will be fair and effective in turning the world away from fossil fuels and towards the promise of a global green deal that lifts people out of poverty and protects our natural world.

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