Category Archives: Environment

Two climate gatherings in Glasgow, Scotland

On the journey from Albuquerque, NM (USA) to Glasgow, Scotland (UK) to attend COP26 as a delegate for the League of Women Voters US, I became acutely aware that there were two climate gatherings happening side by side. The formal COP26 which anyone might watch virtually.  And the COP26 Coalition People’s Summit including youth-led actions and marches demanding action. Before I even arrived for the second week of COP26, Greta Thunberg had declared it a failure. “Just more blah, blah, blah.”

Greta has very good reasons to be skeptical. Since the first COP meeting in 1995 in Germany, there have been many reports warning us about the future, and many promises made to reduce our CO2 emissions to keep the Earth’s warming no higher than the critical 1.5 Celsius.  Clearly, many of the promises made in the 2015 Paris Agreement have not been kept. Greta and her generation are coming of age on a planet where a stable future is in doubt (assured) without serious action right away to change course.

Cognitive dissonance

I’ve been conflicted since learning about this opportunity to join the LWVUS delegation. Flying to a climate conference?! Aviation’s climate impact accounts for 3.5% of total anthropogenic warming. Passenger air travel is producing the highest and fastest growth of individual emissions, despite a significant improvement in efficiency of aircraft and flight operations over the last 60 years. By 2050, commercial aircraft emissions could triple given the projected growth of passenger air travel and freight. But I concluded that someone else would join the delegation in my absence, so I hopped on Amtrak to Chicago, and then a direct flight to London, and finally a bus to Glasgow.

Cognitive dissonance describes the discomfort from holding two conflicting beliefs, values, or attitudes. “This inconsistency between what people believe and how they behave motivates people to engage in actions that will help minimize feelings of discomfort. People attempt to relieve this tension in different ways, such as by rejecting, explaining away, or avoiding new information.” I suspect humans everywhere are experiencing a profound cognitive dissonance in this Anthropocene era. My personal COP26 goal is to learn how governments, the private sector, and individuals are negotiating this cognitive dissonance.  Are we acknowledging the disconnect and taking the necessary actions to restore the planet’s health?

The people in the halls of power don’t give me much hope. President Biden has the power to stop Line 3, a large oil sands pipeline project which has recently completed construction in northern Minnesota. “Line 3 will carry enough oil to produce about 170 billion kilograms of carbon dioxide per year, equivalent to about 50 coal power plants, or 38 million vehicles.” Although he could have withdrawn Enbridge’s permit for Line 3 without any action from Congress, President Biden has decided to support Line 3.  My own U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich and New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan-Grisham have both spoken publicly about the dangers of climate change and their desire to be allies in the struggle to reduce CO2 emissions, while on the other hand they’re both cheerleaders for development of Blue Hydrogen as an alternative fuel source. The biggest cheerleaders for blue hydrogen are the fossil fuel industry lobbyists because, just as with plastics, their future depends on not keeping fossil fuels in the ground. However, a report published in August 2021 has them scrambling. Cornell and Stanford University researchers believe blue hydrogen may harm the climate more than burning fossil fuel. The carbon footprint to create blue hydrogen is more than 20% greater than using either natural gas or coal directly for heat, or about 60% greater than using diesel oil for heat, according to new research published in Energy Science & Engineering.  “Political forces may not have caught up with the science yet,” Howarth said. “Even progressive politicians may not understand for what they’re voting. Blue hydrogen sounds good, sounds modern and sounds like a path to our energy future. It is not.”

When words and actions don’t align themselves, there’s serious cognitive dissonance. I’ve passed my daily COVID-19 test and I’m headed to the large venue where I hope to see ACTION and not merely words.

Day #1

The League found a flat just a mile away from the COP26 venue for delegates to share. I’m expecting that the entire COP26 experience will be improved by sharing and debriefing with colleagues from the US. We walked in the rain to the venue the first morning and arrived looking like soaked rats. There were very long lines for the early folks but by the time my pal and I arrived, there were very few lines. Covid-19 precautions are in full display, and along with the typical security measures, I certainly feel safe in this large venue with thousands of people around. Everyone is wearing a face mask, without exception, and everyone has proof of vaccination. I wonder about the millions around the world who either don’t have access to the vaccine or don’t trust the science and refuse to take the vaccine. They are not part of this global event, by choice or not. Another of my personal COP26 goals is to learn how to communicate effectively about climate change and the work of COP26 with people who are not yet engaged in the issue. I’m convinced that the world “leaders” will not lead unless they are pushed from a groundswell of youth and others who make demands. Engaging with and motivating the grassroots is probably the best use of my time.

Everything about the day’s activities and events were spelled out on the COP26 online platform which I found very confusing. Navigating the app was bewildering but I’m encouraged when I heard others were having difficulty too. It’s not just my old age. There are sessions & agendas, as well as events & schedules.  There’s a blue zone (which hosts the negotiations) and the green zone (where the youth groups, civil society, academia, etc. host events and exhibitions). My first day was spent wandering in the green zone without a plan of action. Learning the layout and the schedule of activities is mindboggling, but I soon realized that COP26 is a marketing extravaganza for countries, institutions and businesses. Each wants to draw you in to learn more about their achievements. I saw a Co-Creative Reflection & Dialogue Space #reflectCOP26 with a small group sitting in a circle. The agenda looked interesting – spiritual and religious perspectives on the climate emergency; breaking the silos for planetary health; artistic expression as non-verbal channel to our experience at COP26; and climate change and collective trauma. Climate Change and its Threats to Takistan was well attended. The International Bamboo and Rattan Organization had items displayed and elaborate posters. I was alarmed when I passed the Nuclear for Climate exhibit — “Nuclear is a proven low carbon source of energy.” #NetZeroNeedsNuclear   Qatar was presenting to a full house about “filling the enforcement gaps”. And there was a good crowd listening to the presentation by the representative of the Republic of Congo. China may not be attending COP26 but that country didn’t miss an opportunity to market itself in the China Corporate Pavilion – “Facing the Future, Daring to Initiate.” Turkey, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, South Africa, UAE and many others have elaborate displays and presentations for anyone they might lure into their spots.

I stood awhile and watched the panel discussion at the International Indigenous Peoples’ Forum on Climate Change, as well as the presenter in the Multilevel Action Pavilion – the home for subnationals (cities, towns and regions). After walking for hours, I was beat. I found a place to sit and watched Obama online speaking to an audience in the building next door. I was pleased that one of my League colleagues actually got into the room to see Obama. Her perseverance paid off.  What I heard from Obama was the closest to an apology that I was hoping to witness at COP26. I encourage you to watch Obama’s speech if you haven’t heard it yet. He spoke about the urgency of the climate crisis, and then spoke directly to the youth, which I found relevant and very important.  “Vote” and get the leaders into positions that know and understand the climate urgency, he said.  I left the venue shortly after Obama’s speech. The first day was discouraging because I couldn’t find the events that I wanted to see. I was hoping to connect with the Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network (WECAN) formal event and press conference. Both the LWVUS and the Progressive Democrats of America signed onto WECAN’s Call to Action last month at my request. I passed activists outside drumming and shouting urging action, not Blah, Blah, Blah, and walked back to the flat. Everyone at COP26 seems either engaged with their laptops or with each other. But I have no clue whether the decision-makers and high-level negotiators are making any progress or whether they’re even listening to the youth who are making very clear demands.

I can learn more about the substance of COP26 from reading Interfaith Power & Light’s summary online or the daily Glasgow Dispatch from EESI or the COP26 Coalition’s reports.

Day #2

I attended three sessions today which gave me a clue about how disparate the topics, people and attitudes about COP26 might be, unlike national conferences that I’ve attended in the U.S. during my career. The first was a discussion with a panel of indigenous people from Nepal, Chad, Peru and elsewhere, organized by and  In response to a question “Will market mechanisms kill the 1.5 C goal?” the Nepali representative noted (paraphrasing) that ‘carbon capture’ and the other tools that the governments are counting on don’t exist. Carbon markets have many limitations. It will depend on how these mechanisms are implemented in the future. The recent Forest Action (Nov. 2) where 130 countries pledged to protect forests and indigenous lands with $1.7 Billion — these pledges are not enough. There needs to be meaningful participation by Indigenous peoples at the table, not mere lip service. Don’t prepare a plan and then bring it to the Indigenous people for their blessing. They also need to be part of the implementation.”  The African delegate said “we’re seeing lots of promises but little action. We should keep our expectations down.”  A question from the audience resonated with me. “Do the people negotiating at COP26 see the planet as a living being or a machine?” The answer touched me deeply. She said “We need to raise our voices louder so they reach the heart, not just the head.” The climate activist from Chad said “the government keeps trying to silence our voices; governments are not doing what the people need.” The discussion ended with an unanswered question: “How can nomads around the world be included in these negotiations?”

I followed my colleague to another session on the topic of data and transparency. Given the concern about COVID-19, each session is being tightly monitored for space limitations, keeping everyone spread out in the room, and turning people away at the door when the room is at capacity. My colleague and I were the last admitted to this session, and stood along the wall in the back. A few minutes into the panel discussion, a young woman sitting at the table turned around to me and offered her spot to me. The audience here looked very different from the audience in the previous session — young people multi-tasking with their laptops while listening to the panelists who talked about using data for better action. I’ll confess that the topic didn’t interest me much until I realized that without good data, what evidence do we have to demand action? Action is driven by data which must be accurate, complete, and transparent. Obtaining the data is only the first step, but then ensuring it is robust and high quality is important. Climate disasters have been responsible for the loss of massive amounts of data. Data for Better Climate Campaign launched this Spring with the hashtag #Data4BetterClimateAction.  One speaker noted “It’s not just about more data – or more accessible data – but also making it understandable to more people.”  “Having data gives you more ‘ammunition’ to demand more action to narrow the gap.”  They talked about the challenges in gathering the data, and noted that countries learn best from each other. The organizations represented on this panel are helping the countries network with each other. The final speaker focused on the need for experienced users.  It’s not just data, but the users who need to be knowledgeable to provide the explanation of the data.

I accidently walked into the tail end of a session where the moderator asked the panelists: “What would you say to your soon-to-be born grandchild about the future?” Since my second grandchild is expected in the Spring 2022, my head snapped to attention. “It’s going to be a wonderful world, beyond what our imagination can contemplate today. New technology always underperforms in the early years and exponentially grows in later years. Imagination leads to engineering. We need to have an exponential mindset…with our head in the clouds and our feet on the ground.”

As a retired lawyer, I’m really pleased I made it to the Law Session at the end of the day. This 90-minute session was divided into three segments – the judiciary, the movement lawyers, and the business/corporate sector. The discussions were uniformly strong, so I’m going to look for the recording of this session and post it later. It was very encouraging to hear the short video clips with appellate judges from around the world talking about their work on climate. (See Race to Zero where all of the videos, including the judges, should be posted later.) The judges just woke up to climate in the past few years and are forming a network of climate judges around the world. The Brazilian judge noted that her colleagues need to learn much more about climate and climate cases from other nations. In 2015, she issued a decision in a coal case without mentioning the word climate once. She thinks today that perhaps she made the wrong decision, but that’s when she woke up to the importance of climate law.

I learned about the Canary case from Pakistan and the Lamu case from Kenya, and the Shell case and plan to read more about each. I was surprised when Cesar Rodriquez Garavito (NYU School of Law) said that the law can change more rapidly than other areas of our society. He sounded very hopeful that climate litigation and the judiciary will be leading the way to protecting nature. Lawyers need to listen and understand the concern about the urgency of the climate reality. “Listen to the young people who are bold and creative.” Match these challenges with legal tools (Lora adds — such as the Green Amendment many states are considering in the US.) Advocates in the Amazonian case have been fighting for the past 30 years and making arguments about nature’s rights. Now we have laws to support their arguments. Movement lawyering is growing, check out Net Zero Lawyers Alliance. The session ended with a discussion about how businesses need to have a social contract, as well finance from the north to the south needs to be in the form of grants, not debt-building loans. A young man (22 yrs old) was beamed in from Australia to conclude with a hopeful message. As a university student, he asked the pension fund what their plans and investment criteria are regarding climate, and the fund couldn’t provide any answers. He was stubborn and took them to court and won. Now investment firms and pension funds in Australia have changed their modus operandi regarding climate factors. The youth around the world are doing the same — going to court about our failure to deal with the climate realities.

These three sessions have given me a lot to chew on — more than I can summarize here.  But the overarching take-away message is that there are very different people, cultures and traditions all focused on climate from their own vantage point (ie. Indigenous peoples, technology nerds, and lawyers) — and the intersection of all of them could be very powerful to make significant changes for a livable future. I have more confidence in these people, professions, and cultures than I do in the governments that represent them at the negotiating table.

Day #3

Wednesday is the “hump day” (the toughest day in the week) but honestly it was a very easy day for me at COP26.  The night before I learned from a native woman from Minnesota who is part of the Indigenous delegation in Glasgow that there was an action planned in front of Barclays Bank. Barclays Bank is the largest financier of fossil fuel projects in the world, and I’ve participated in similar protests in Minnesota and New Mexico, demanding that the bank divest from fossil fuels. Instead of going to the center where all of the activities are occurring, I walked to the large Barclays bank situated in a prominent spot near the river, but didn’t find anyone. I googled the locations of other Barclay Banks and walked to the one located nearer the center of Glasgow. (Google has been my best friend in Glasgow.) Thankfully, I found them.  For the next hour+ I watched the speakers and captured many of the signs and protesters with my camera. The Scottish police were filming protesters too. I noticed some media but I don’t know if the action was covered in the mainstream press. Lots of citizen journalists were hopefully sharing their photos on social media. There were indigenous peoples from around the world speaking with interpreters. The messages were clear and direct. “No net zero, no false solutions”. “Leave it in the ground.” “We (meaning indigenous peoples) are not the problem, we are the solution.” An estimated 200+ attended this action.

I was struck by how far apart the communication is between “inside” and “outside” of COP26.  Inside the halls where the negotiations are occurring, “Net Zero” is a given and I hear no debate about that term. Much of the public advertising around Glasgow includes “Net Zero” as a given. The Indigenous peoples, the youth and many of the activists on the outside are demanding “No Net Zero” because they say it’s simply a false solution, a mechanism to allow the extraction and development of fossil fuels to continue.  My heart and head tells me the activists outside are correct, but communicating that concept of “No Net Zero” is difficult. I tried in Glasgow, unsuccessfully.

Day #4 – Hydrogen, Networking and Indigenous Voices

One of the major conundrums for anyone attending COP26 is whether to attend meetings, events, actions at the center after taking a daily Covid-19 test, passing through two layers of security, and wandering the maze of corridors to find the spot you want. Or just sip a cup of tea in the apartment while watching the meeting online. On this particular morning, my colleague and I decided to take the second option and watched a presentation about hydrogen organized by industry and NGO folks who were clearly promoting the opportunities for investment in the future hydrogen market. The Hydrogen Council (see recently released two reports that I want to look up online. Hydrogen for Net Zero and the Hydrogen Policy Toolbox. The speakers never clarified whether they were talking about Green Hydrogen, Blue Hydrogen, or Gray Hydrogen . . . only referencing “low carbon hydrogen” once which refers to Blue hydrogen (made from fossil fuels). The take-away message is that we need to transition quickly to a hydrogen economy which will require 3 building blocks. (1) Political vision and ambition. (2) Supportive regulatory framework. (3) Investment for both research and innovation (development). There was a lot of talk about Fit for 55 which I need to explore further.  “Fit for 55 refers to the at least 55% emission reduction target which the EU has set for 2030. The proposed package aims to bring the EU’s climate and energy legislation in line with the 2030 goal.”  I learned that hydrogen (hopefully of the Green variety) can be a good alternative fuel for shipping and transportation. But an audience member from Africa asked (paraphrased) “The new hydrogen economy might work for Western countries but how can we be sure it will work for Africa?”  I didn’t hear a clear response.

A friend from New Mexico told me that one of the highlights for her from an earlier COP was the networking experience. Lunch on the 4th day of COP26 proved her correct. I met a woman in the lunch line who invited me to share her table. She was a delegate with the Women and Gender Constituency (WGC) with which the League of Women Voters US (my group) has collaborated with at COP26. An American woman about my age teaching philosophy and military ethics in Idaho, born in Edinburgh, raised in Toronto, and lived in Africa for some time. We could have sat another hour talking but we exchanged contact information and agreed to explore an opportunity to write a paper / book together. I was certainly jazzed when I left the table.

I headed over to the Indigenous Peoples’ Forum – a small venue with a seating capacity of only 20-25 people – where I listened to an Ecuadorian discuss the added-value of bringing Indigenous Peoples’ voices to the negotiating table. A Peruvian young woman explained that the Indigenous movements in the Andes and Amazon have come together in recent years and are working collectively. The young people feel “closely connected to our ancestors’ roots” and come to COP26 to “demand our representatives respect nature and nature’s rights in these negotiations.” An older woman said that without the forests, “we have nothing, no food, no shelter.” When her grandmother traveled to the forest, she would dress up for the special occasion and speak to the forest. Women are the stewards of the forest – the ones conveying the knowledge. After 40 years educating the young people, she is pleased to see so many young people engaged today, and respecting nature. “We should create an Indigenous University.”

My last stop for the day was a presentation by the Land and Water Protectors which began with a #StopLine3 video. Since I had traveled to the headwaters of the Mississippi River in June and visited with the Water Protectors there, I was pleased to see people and places I recognized from my visit. GGM Mary Lyons (White Earth Nation elder) joined the conversation from zoom and said “our young people have to be at the table of justice.” Three younger women spoke about their experience as water and land protectors. “Sovereignty is not something we sign on the dotted line for; and we don’t fight for sovereignty. It’s something in our blood – something we need to remember.”  Fighting the colonizers within their system won’t work. “We will be here long after the colonizers are gone.”

Day #5 – Final Day for me at COP26

The constituencies planned to protest from inside COP today and I was excited as we walked over to the center. There are a number of different constituencies at this COP, including BINGO (business and industry NGOs), ENGO (environmental NGOs), Farmers (farmers and agricultural NGOs), IPO (Indigenous Peoples organizations), LGMA (Local Government and Municipal Authorities), RINGO (Research and Independent NGOs), TUNGO (Trade Union NGOs), WGC (Women and Gender Constituency) and YOUNGO (Youth NGOs).  The delegates from the LWVUS aligned with the WGC. My colleagues and I walked together to the COP center and sat in the back of the large plenary hall with perhaps 200 – 300 people safely distanced from one another. The youth began by summarizing the facts from the IPCC report and the urgency that the science demands. “Governments would be well-advised not to break their social contract with the people.” “The science has delivered, now it’s your turn!” The TUNGO representative (and many others) talked about how the constituencies were invited to COP26 but excluded from any meaningful discussions. “What happens here is shaped by capitalism and colonialism.” Organized workers want a safe future which requires that “we undo the wrongs of colonialism.” “A fair future needs jobs, jobs, jobs, and a just transition in every workplace.”  “We need to build power by working together.”  The WGC and YOUNGO showed powerful videos.  (I’m going to try to find them online and post.)  The RINGO representative said that her group does not advocate for any particular positions at COP and she’s usually sitting in the back of the room observing. But RINGO decided to speak up about the deficiencies in the COP26 process. “Most observers have not had access to negotiations.” “This is a treaty process and observers must be part of the process. It hasn’t been this bad since COP in Copenhagen in 2009.”  77% more people @ COP26 than COP25. 232% increase in the number of media organizations over COP25. 90% more parties participating and 60% more NGOs. RINGO says you can’t be inclusive by just inviting more people. Contrary to their advertisement, COP26 was not the most inclusive COP.  Nearly every speaker confirmed their disappointment in the lack of opportunities to participate and be heard in the work of COP26.

Following these great presentations, the Indigenous Peoples led us outside the sprawling COP26 center holding on to a very long red ribbon. Later I learned that the red ribbon represented the red line that must not be crossed in these climate negotiations. The LWVUS members joined the march outside, with the media and security personnel following us on the other side of the red ribbon.  Outside we met up with activists and protesters with a lot of energy and strong speeches. I was lucky enough to find myself front and center next to the speakers, and tried to capture much of it. In the middle of it all, a single lone woman took the microphone and began yelling messages in favor of oil and gas. Everyone was confused and thought she was part of the program until it became clear that she was spewing nonsense. The police took her away and the activists continued with their speeches. We were shoulder-to-shoulder yelling and protesting the COP26 failures. The thought crossed my mind that this might have been a COVID-19 super-spreader event, but most people were wearing masks, and hopefully most were vaccinated.

After the protest I headed to the Green Zone with no particular agenda in mind but to see how that venue was organized. On this last full day of COP26 there were families and many people who didn’t appear to be associated with COP26 walking through the exhibits which surprised me. After getting a cup of potato and leek soup for lunch, I walked through the exhibits and then found a hall with a large TV screen where many were sitting and watching the plenary discussion happening in the Blue Zone.  I sat and watched one country after another be recognized by the COP26 President to “make an intervention” and speak about their disappointments about the process and the substantive provisions that were under consideration. “We need to handle finance inside COP, not outside.”  “We need a more balanced approach to Article 6.”  The delegate from Switzerland said “We won’t meet our 1.5 C goal without phase out of all subsidies for fossil fuels.” The Bangladesh delegate declared a “panic emergency” – the science is clear and our ambition must not end with COP26. (paraphrased) “We must think about the impacts of moving from 1.1 C to 1.5 C. We are not trying to just agree on text, but want to ensure these words are actually delivered.” “We are negotiating about our future, our existence.”

The representative from China spoke through an interpreter about the “common but differentiated responsibilities” from the Paris Agreement and said China wants to let the parties (countries) decide their own timetables.  The Philippines delegate mentioned this “unfortunate turn of events” with Article 6. He talked about risk management and that developing countries like the Philippines can’t do it on their own. They want to leapfrog and not repeat the mistakes that developed countries have made but the developing countries need $$ to do that. South Africa delegate said they need money not only to meet their NDCs but also for sustainable development. Brazil said “we don’t want small climate clubs but a large collective community” addressing these challenges. Perhaps the most compelling words came from the representative of Tuvalu (a country in the South Pacific I honestly had never heard of until COP26). “We’re not seeing the level of optimism that started the COP26 negotiations translated into this agreement.” “Tuvalu is sinking.” “We need to ensure a financial mechanism and modality of delivery is provided to be able to get the money to the countries that need it now.” Tuvalu wants strong language on loss and damage. (I’m going to look for a video of his words to post later.) The representative from Mexico said the current draft “doesn’t meet our expectations. We should know how to bring our NDCs in line with the 1.5 C goal.” The man from Panama said he couldn’t square the circle where developed countries declare “we understand the impacts of climate change on the global south” but “we don’t pay developing countries.” “All we ask is that you own your responsibilities.” “Get us to real zero.” “Keep fossil fuels in the ground.”

I stood up and decided to explore the Green Zone a bit more. I walked past a young man who stopped me to note the button I am wearing everywhere in COP26 “Free Palestine”. He is from Indonesia and is currently studying in the UK but has plans to return to his country when he completes his education to help his nation. We took each other’s photos and shared them on WhatsApp. Perhaps I’ve made a new friend in Indonesia.  Then I walked upstairs to check out the COP26 Cinema and walked into the middle of a film about the YMCA working with youth in six countries engaged in climate change projects. The YMCA in the US had financed the film with $250k and announced today that they were adding another $150k to continue the work of these youth groups. The goal is to raise $1 million by next year. Four young people in the film were on stage to discuss their work and their expectations. Rodrigo from Peru gave a shout out to a youth from Palestine who was not able to travel to Glasgow. I went up to him afterwards and learned that the Palestinian had waited and waited for his appointment to travel to the embassy for his Visa application but the appointment was only given to him TODAY. I found these four young people very inspiring and had tears in my eyes as I was taking notes. The young woman from Zambia said she wished we had more leaders like John Kerry whom they met earlier. She found Kerry to be “a humble person.”  And she was disappointed that the leaders from Zambia at this COP26 were not accessible to her or others from her country. She wants the leaders to be uncomfortable.  Check here to meet the YMCA delegation to COP26, including Atallah Danoon from Palestine.

Many are beginning to leave Glasgow now but the discussions at the plenary continue. I will catch a train to Edinburgh in the morning but stay glued to the proceedings online.

My take-away from COP26 in Glasgow

I’m not going to summarize the final COP26 agreement or its many deficiencies, nor regurgitate what the media coverage is sharing.  If you check out the Irish Times, the New York Times, the Guardian, the Financial Times, and many more, it’s clear that COP26 didn’t live up to expectations. I also recommend opinion pieces from Christiana Figueres who was head of the UN climate change convention that achieved the Paris agreement in 2015, and George Monbiot calling for civil disobedience. While in Glasgow at COP26, I was following several groups who provided excellent coverage of COP26, including regular reports from Architecture 2030, Interfaith Power & Light, and EESI. There’s a lot of information for anyone who wants to get into the COP26 weeds.

Sitting in a youth hostel in Edinburgh after COP26 finished, I met a man from Normandy (33 years) visiting on a lark for the weekend because he found a roundtrip air ticket for €10. He works in international shipping, scheduling exports and imports. He understands the urgency of climate change but doesn’t believe we can repair the damage already done. “It’s only going to get worse, and leaders aren’t going to do anything fast enough because of their love of power and money.” He gave me concrete examples.

I passed a group of young girls (teens?) sitting in the park in Edinburgh and asked to take their photo. I told them I had just come from the climate meeting in Glasgow. It wasn’t the right time and place to engage with them on climate change; they were more excited about being seen and recognized on my Instagram account.

Communication is my take away from COP26. You and I know the science, and the urgency with which a profound transformation must occur if we’re going to leave a planet that our children and grandchildren can safely call home with confidence of a bright future. My new grandchild (expected in Spring 2022) will be my age in 2090; this is very personal for me. We have only a decade, or perhaps two, to avoid the catastrophic consequences of fossil fuels.

We must meet people where they’re at and arm them with the information which spurs them to act. We must engage in every venue where we believe we can make a difference. Some of us will engage with the politicians in Congress, state Capitals, and city halls pressing leaders to act consistent with the climate reality. Others will engage with students and audiences in different venues. Some will write. Others will protest and engage in civil disobedience. Perhaps the most important communication will occur one-on-one with our neighbors and family. None of these will be sufficient on their own, but each will lead us to the critical threshold where public engagement will tip the scales.

I didn’t see any strong presence of the fossil fuel industry at COP26 but they had the largest delegation there, and likely had better access to decision-makers than many others. Listening to many different voices (online and in person at COP26) about what we must do, I was particularly sensitive to the cacophony of ideas often not connecting with each other. (At one point I actually broke down in tears because of the cognitive dissonance.) 

People ask me if I’m an optimist or pessimist about the future. I’m neither. I consider myself a “possibilitarian.” The path we’re currently on is bleak, but I believe we can take another path towards a much better outcome, a future that looks very bright. This possibilitarian understands that switching to that new path could happen very quickly, but it will require (1) more people aware of the dangers of the current path and deciding to change course; (2) new and more effective ways to communicate about the dangers and possibilities; and (3) new leadership. The most encouraging part of COP26 was observing the youth inside and out pushing the status quo, making the leaders “uncomfortable.” I believe the old farts have to step aside or be removed, and the youth need to take the reins of power. They will certainly make mistakes, but don’t we all?  I witnessed their true leadership at COP26.

The 33-year-old from Normandy needs hope; the teenagers need to experience life free of fear; and the fossilized leaders in many countries need to feel the heel of our boots. Communication is the key.

Thank you for joining me on this COP26 journey. 

Lora Lucero

Facebook: LoraLucero

Instagram: loralucero3

Twitter: @LoraLucero

1 Comment

Filed under Climate Change, Environment, Politics, Uncategorized

Malaysia Welcomes Me!

Malaysia was as mysterious to me as Gaza is probably mysterious to many others.

I knew nothing about its history, geography, politics and people until I accepted an invitation to speak at the Freedom Film Festival. After a month in Kuala Lumpur, Penang and Borneo in East Malaysia, I have a new appreciation for the value of travel. FFF

“Naila and the Uprising” was the perfect opportunity for me to prick the public’s conscience about the plight of the Palestinians. Naila and the Uprising (here’s a list of future screenings in the U.S.) is a true story about the role of women, and one woman in particular, who leads her people under very difficult circumstances with strength and moral courage.

My host – Viva Palestina Malaysia – arranged an interview with Juliet Jacobs on BFM Radio’s Feminist Fridays. What a treat that was! Juliet had obviously done her homework before I entered her studio. Our conversation about Gaza, the Freedom Film Festival and my interests in social justice advocacy flew by quickly.  Here’s the link to the interview.

The power of filmmaking to spur social change must not be underestimated. I didn’t fully appreciate that fact until I heard Joakim Demmer, an internationally-acclaimed documentary filmmaker, speak about how to bring a local story to an international audience. His most recent film “Dead Donkeys Fear No Hyenas” is about the new green gold, the massive global commercial rush for farmland, in this case in Ethiopia. My conscience was pricked.

“Hoping for export revenues, the Ethiopian government leases millions of hectares of allegedly unused land to foreign investors. But the dream of prosperity has a dark side – the most massive forced evictions in modern history, lost livelihoods of small farmers, harsh repression and a vicious spiral of violence. Contributing to this disaster are the EU, the World Bank and DFID, providing billions of dollars in development money.”

During a break at the festival, someone pressed a copy of (the just published) Sarawak Report into my hands. I couldn’t put it down! Investigative reporter, Clare Brown, uncovered massive corruption with a trail leading all the way up to Malaysia’s Prime Minister, Najib Razak, who was ousted from office just a few months before I arrived. The corruption involves the deforestation of Sarawak, Borneo on the east side of Malaysia, and a global money-laundering scheme worth USD Billions, with the U.S. now seeking extradition of an ex-Goldman banker from Malaysia.

Penang Hill view 4

From Kuala Lumpur, I took the train north to Penang Island near the border of Thailand. The Gift of Rain (2007) and The Garden of Evening Mists (2012) by Tan Twan Eng had captured my imagination and I wanted to see for myself how this area had survived the Japanese invasion in WWII.

I learned about the delicate dance between the Chinese (about 60% of the population of Penang Island) and the Malays (32%). There’s a national law giving Malays preferential treatment over the Chinese in education, jobs, etc in an attempt to equalize the perceived inequities between the two groups.  I met some serious high school students at the public library quietly studying on a Saturday morning amidst displays promoting study abroad in the USA, including at my son’s alma mater, the University of Colorado at Boulder.

The construction cranes were perched everywhere on Penang Island, a testament to the rapid growth and development occurring there. I met with representatives from Think City, a “community-focused urban regeneration organisation working closely with the local authorities, communities, institutions, private entities, and global experts to rejuvenate cities and solve contemporary urban issues with an emphasis on historic city centres.” I walked, walked, walked everywhere in the old center city of Georgetown and felt the energy of this UNESCO World Heritage Site.

In addition to the amazing hawker stalls selling an extravaganza of food with names I can’t begin to pronounce, I also tasted the infamous Durian, a native fruit with such a malodorous smell that hotels, airlines and public buses warn people not to bring the Durian inside!

On my last day in Georgetown, I was invited to attend a press conference where a local environmental group (Penang Forum) was challenging the environmental impact report prepared for the new highway proposed to cross the island. Astonishingly, no alternatives to this mega-project had been analyzed even though it appeared to have already received the stamp of approval from the authorities. I expressed my dismay and shared that an EIR with no alternatives wouldn’t pass muster in the United States. Of course, as the “expert,” my opinion made it into the local paper the next day.

During my last week, I decided to visit Bario, a community of 13 – 16 villages in the Kelabit Highlands in Sarawak East Malaysia. I was drawn to Sarawak because of the book by the same title, but I was also blessed to have an introduction to a family in Bario by my hostess in Kuala Lumpur.  Bario arrivalI was routinely asked throughout my travels about my age and whether I was traveling alone, which must have struck many as very strange. I told everyone that I had angels with me everywhere I went. Flying into the remote Borneo highlands in a small plane full of men required no courage at all.

Bario farmer woman in rice field

The Kelabit are an indigenous people in the Borneo highlands whose agricultural practices and rice paddies are very much the same as they were hundreds of years ago. Their families live together in longhouses built above ground on stilts to avoid the flooding.

I learned that most Kelabit are Evangelical Christians. On Sunday I attended a long church service and sat next to an old Kelabit woman who asked me to pray for her (through an interpreter) because her husband died recently. She also asked me to send her a copy of the selfie we took. I was captivated with the youth group’s singing. Lora and friend

The next day I walked down the road to the school and asked if I could visit a classroom.  As luck would have it, many of the teachers in this secondary school were away attending a conference and I was enthusiastically welcomed to teach three classes (in English of course) that morning.  The students come from the surrounding villages and live at the school except for the holidays when they return home to their families.

I learned about their dreams and aspirations and was surprised how much they knew about the U.S. — both politics and popular culture. Some were shy, others were inquisitive, and all of them were very polite. Bario school students 2

After school, I walked to the public library near the school to donate my copy of The Sarawak Report. I was disappointed to see only children’s books on the shelves and asked the librarian why there were no adult books. She said the adults aren’t interested in the library, and only the children are patrons who come regularly with their classmates. It still seemed appropriate that The Sarawak Report should end up in the Bario public library.

Leaving Bario, I flew over Sarawak and saw the devastating impact of deforestation and introduction of palm oil plantations. It seems to me that the Kelabit have so much to teach the world about sustainable farming and living gently on the land in this era of climate chaos, but outside forces are rapidly overwhelming the landscape and the people, I fear.

Sarawak aerial view 5

The people I met, even more than the landscape and places I saw, were the highlight of my travel to Malaysia. Alhamdulillah!


Filed under Environment, Peaceful, People, Uncategorized

I think I can, I think I can

Day 1 Lora shadow

Lora’s shadow on the trail at the Grand Canyon

Life is about trying.

Easy or difficult, a smooth path or a journey strewn with obstacles, there are no guarantees. We must try or never know what could have been.

I first learned that lesson from my Grandfather when he drove my young sister and me up the hill to his house every Sunday for dinner, chanting “I think we can, I think we can!” as his old Buick inched up Pill Hill in Rochester, Minnesota. (We always made it to the top.)

Thirty years later, I learned that lesson from my Mother when she counseled me not to walk away from the Bar Exam in Albuquerque, NM after the first of three grueling days of testing. “You don’t know if you’ll pass,” she said, “but you certainly will know that you failed if you don’t try.” (I stayed and I passed!)

Now at 63, I learned that lesson once again. I hiked down and up the Grand Canyon, telling myself “I think I can, I think I can.” (I did, with the help of an angel.)

Reservations were made 13 months in advance for a bunkbed at the popular Phantom Ranch at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. At the time, I didn’t give it a second thought. As this adventure drew near, my hiking partner decided to cancel, and my doubts crept in.

Could I scale the 4,380-foot elevation drop from the rim to the bottom and back out? A sign on the South Kaibab trail warns hikers: “Hiking down is a choice; hiking back up is not optional.”

I enjoy walking city streets and flat paths, and I consider myself of average weight and fitness for a newly-minted senior citizen.


Lila and Oma at the Grand Canyon 2014

I’ve been to the Grand Canyon many times, as a child and then again with my own children and, most recently, with my grandchild. The splendid sunset from the South Rim is incomparable anywhere else in the world, but never have I considered hiking down and up myself.

If I didn’t try now, in all likelihood, I wouldn’t get another chance.

I didn’t spend weeks or months preparing. Instead, I decided to crowdsource among friends on Facebook for ideas. Walking sticks to steady me, good hiking boots that were well-worn, a headlamp in case I was out on the trail after dark, moleskin for the inevitable blisters, an emergency blanket to keep me warm, a whistle if I fell and needed to summon help, and water. Carry plenty of water.

The night before my descent, I slept like a baby at the historic Bright Angel Lodge. I didn’t have butterflies or any second thoughts. “I can do this!”

Bright Angel Cabin where I stayed

Bright Angel Lodge – South Rim of the Grand Canyon

The next morning, the young man at the front desk told me about his experience “slipping and sliding” down the South Kaibab Trail — the trail I was set to embark on after breakfast!  The waitress who served me a hearty meal of eggs, hashbrowns and bacon at the Harvey House Cafe told me she had tried to hike down but turned around when she realized how difficult it was. She took the day off from waitressing the following day because her legs were still wobbly.  Both these young people were in their late 20s – early 30s. Uh oh!

I waited alone for the bus to take me to the trailhead, with the butterflies beginning to stir.  At 8:30 AM I checked my backpack one last time, clicked my walking sticks together, and started down the South Kaibab Trail.

Day 1 Lora beginning the hike down

Lora looking confident as she starts down the South Kaibab Trail

The day was sunny and the Grand Canyon looked just like every postcard I’ve ever seen – perfect!  The South Kaibab Trail (7.1 miles) was all down hill and appeared easy to negotiate. No problem!

Nearly everyone I passed on the trail asked me if I was hiking alone. Although my first step was taken solo, I never felt alone on the trail. There were people of all ages with me going in both directions; everyone watching out for each other.

Day 1 hikers 2

Hikers on the South Kaibab trail

My notion of a peaceful, meditative hike was promptly discarded when I realized the trail was narrow, rocky and dangerous in many spots. My full attention was needed for nearly every step of the way.

Months earlier a woman let her concentration slip for a moment, and it cost her, her life. She politely stepped aside for a hiker to pass her on a ledge, and she fell 300 feet to her death at Ooh Ahh Point.

Day 1 trail 7

The trail follows the path originally carved out by animals but it is certainly a miracle of human ingenuity and skill to maintain for hikers year round.

Since I was probably one of the slowest hikers, I was frequently stepping aside as hikers approached from either direction. I never forgot where the edge was, choosing to step to the inside when possible.

Day 1 mules

Everything that enters or leaves the Grand Canyon is carried by mule or horse on the same trails that hikers follow.

Day 1 half way downHalfway down the South Kaibab Trail, I was feeling strong and confident. When I saw this sign, I had no doubts that I would succeed. I certainly didn’t think about turning back and climbing out.

The temps rose as I continued down. First, I took off my outer shell, then took off my inner jacket and scarf, and I sipped my water.

I stopped to rest and ate a protein power bar for energy even though I wasn’t hungry. Someone mentioned that it’s important to eat when drinking water because too much water can throw a hiker’s electrolytes off kilter.

I learned so much from my fellow hikers. I was so thirsty!

A ranger approached me. He was hiking up as I was headed down. He called out to me “You must be Lora!” The women hikers I had shared some of the trail with earlier must have alerted him to my solo hike. He asked if I was OK. I told him I was thirsty and mistakenly thought that I could refill my 48 oz bottle along the way. Although there is potable water on the Bright Angel Trail, there’s none on the South Kaibab Trail.

He offered me some of his water but I refused, telling him that he must save it for his long hike up the trail. Imagine having to commute to work on the South Kaibab Trail! Thankfully, they don’t do it every day, but spend 4 or 5 days down in the bottom and 3 days up on top. You’ll never see overweight rangers or other Park Service employees at the Grand Canyon.  They get a lot of exercise!Day 1 Colorado River and the trail

The ranger convinced me that he regularly carries extra water and wouldn’t need it. In fact, it would “lighten his load” if I took some. So I did, and then told him I felt refreshed after taking a deep swig. He reassured me that Phantom Ranch wasn’t far beyond the Colorado River.

And then I saw it – the Colorado River.

It wasn’t much further, but distances can be deceiving!

I was tired but not hurting anywhere. My feet, legs and back all seemed to be working just fine.

The most arduous part of the hike down on that first day had been the strong winds. At one point, I had to stop in my tracks for a few minutes to brace against the wind; it was simply too strong to continue hiking.

I was very thankful for my walking sticks. They kept me upright the whole day. I passed athletes running in both directions (crazy people are everywhere) but I took it nice and slow and never lost my step going down.


Crossing the Colorado River in the late afternoon felt like a huge achievement, until I realized Phantom Ranch was somewhere beyond, not sure how much further. I was really tired. The National Park Service brochure estimates the hike down the South Kaibab Trail is 4-5 hours, but for me, it was 9-10 hours. Nevermind, it wasn’t a race and I was feeling really good.

Day 2 Bright Angel campground

Bright Angel Campground near Phantom Ranch at the bottom of the Grand Canyon

Since I arrived later than everyone else, I had a top bunk in the cabin shared with 9 other women. We all sat around sharing stories of our day; fortunately they were all positive.

When I took my boots and socks off, I saw the blisters. The skin on the tip of one toe completely fell off. I thought it was strange that my feet didn’t hurt during the day. I didn’t feel any blisters forming, and they didn’t really hurt now.

Phantom Ranch dining hall

Main Mess Hall at Phantom Ranch

At dinner in the main mess hall, I sat next to the semi-retired attorney from Philadelphia with whom I’d shared part of the trail. She bought wine and beer for everyone in our group and then whispered to me that she was celebrating her 81st birthday. Further down the table, a girl (10- 12?) was also celebrating a birthday with her family. The staff brought out a birthday cake with candles, and we all sang “Happy Birthday”.

The stars in the sky that night were the brightest I’ve ever seen because it’s so dark at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. When I climbed into my bunk, my legs were cramping with currents of electricity. I took some Tylenol and was out like a light before the cabin lights were turned off. The next morning, we heard the wake-up knock at 4:30 AM on our door announcing “5 AM breakfast”. It was still dark outside, and I wasn’t interested in eating at 5 AM!*!*!*!  So I stayed in bed while most of the other women got up and dressed magically without turning on the lights.


With my flashlight on, I followed the path to the main hall about 5:30 AM and waited outside with everyone else while staff checked to see if there had been any cancellations.  I wanted to spend a second night at Phantom Ranch but no such luck!

After breakfast, I headed out about 7:00 AM to climb the Bright Angel Trail, about 10 miles to the top. I’d been told the hike down on the South Kaibab Trail was more difficult because of the steep descent. My feet were ready, the blisters covered with moleskin.

Colorado River Day 2

Colorado River

The Colorado River mesmerized me that morning, I didn’t want to leave it. I stopped every few feet to take another photo with my phone/camera, and pretended I was one of the early indigenous peoples who saw this mighty river hundreds of years ago. There truly is a life force in nature – the Colorado River is my proof.


When I crossed it, knowing this is probably the last time I’ll ever see it so intimately, I said a quiet prayer of thanks.

Then the climb out began. It was another perfect day, with less wind and no aches or pains. I didn’t even feel my blisters. Strange!

Day 1 step by step
Step by step, I think I can, I think I can.

Honestly, the Bright Angel Trail is easier even though it’s a good cardiovascular workout. I wasn’t in a race, so I stopped and rested whenever I felt the need. My goal was to make it to the top before dark, before 6:30 PM.



There were streams to cross, and at one point I stopped because I thought I’d lost the trail. Many hikers passed me in both directions. I spent the day alone, but never alone … really.

Day 2 friend near Indian Garden

Everyone who passed had something positive to share with me, and words of encouragement. I don’t know whether I looked old and tired, but I certainly didn’t feel it. I met young people hiking rim to rim (IN A SINGLE DAY!) and others hiking for the pure pleasure of being in nature.  I saw riders on horseback, preferring blisters on their butts rather than their feet, I suppose.

The hours ticked on. About 1 PM, I realized I probably wouldn’t make it to the top before dark because I’d been following my progress on my map. Every switchback led me closer to my goal.

A friend had warned me not to look up, just look back down the trail I’d traversed. That was very good advice.


Day 2 horses again 2

Visitors riding up Bright Angel Trail on horses

Day 2 rim to rim athletes at 3 mile rest house

They hiked Rim to Rim in a single day

Then at about 3 miles from the top, my exhaustion set in.  I didn’t feel any pain, but I felt very, very tired.

Day 2 path to 3 mile rest houseThe trail gradient most of the day had been “manageable” for me, but as I got closer to the top, it became steeper and steeper, almost like climbing a difficult staircase without the stairs or railings.

I started moving slower and slower.

At sundown I thought to myself, “maybe I’ll be stuck on the trail tonight, maybe I can’t make it to the top.”

Then my grandfather’s message came to mind – “I think I can, I think I can.”

And I remembered my mother’s encouragement during my State Bar exam.  And I told myself, “step by step.”

A few moments later I saw a young woman (early 40s?) walking down the trail towards me. She looked so energetic and full of bounce.

She walked up to me and said, “I passed those guys ahead of you on the trail and they told me that you’re one bad ass lady!”  I didn’t know how to respond, I was too tired to speak. She asked me how I felt, and I told her I was tired. She said she was headed down the trail a bit to refill her bottle with water, but said she would carry my backpack for me when she returned.

Annette turned out to be the head housekeeper at the Bright Angel Lodge where she has worked for 20+ years. I’m sure she could have hiked the final 1.5 miles up the trail in less than an hour, but she stayed with me for the next 2 hours, shining her flashlight ahead on the trail. I wore my headlamp, and had a flashlight too. We walked slowly, step by step, talking about family, about our youth (her father was a florist and had 12 kids … they visited national parks in their stationwagon every summer). I tripped once, and had difficulty breathing. I frequently stopped to catch my breath. Annette never left my side. We finally reached the top about 8:00 PM —- thirteen hours, ten miles, and nearly 5,000 feet.

Annette was my angel. Maybe I could have climbed out on my own, probably in tears from exhaustion, but I know Annette’s conversation and encouragement made the final ascent memorable and safe for me. And no tears!  I’ll never forget her. My singular regret is that I never got her picture.

The next morning, I made a donation to the Grand Canyon Association in Annette’s name.  If you want the beauty of nature to be available for your children and grandchildren, I encourage you to consider making a donation too. I heard stories about shrinking federal funds for the Grand Canyon and our other federal lands. They are relying more heavily now on this nonprofit for basic research, trail maintenance and education.

Day 1 Lookout Studio Mary Colter

Mary Colter’s studio



Filed under Environment, Peaceful, Uncategorized

A Livable Gaza

At the International Making Cities Livable Conference in Rome, I presented a paper about how to make Gaza a livable community. Two colleagues in Gaza and I collaborated on this paper earlier this year. They were not present in Rome because Israel would not allow Yaser (an environmental engineer) to leave the Gaza Strip, and Italy rejected Eman’s (an architect) request for a Visa.

So with a heavy heart, I began the presentation by telling the audience about these travel restrictions and reminding them how privileged we are to travel and sit together to talk about building livable communities. My presentation included five lessons.

Lesson #1 – Include the people from the community in building a livable community.

I shared some brief facts about the Gaza Strip. It’s relatively small, only 139 square miles or about the size of Detroit or twice the size of Washington, DC., with a rapidly growing population of 1.8 million people in 2014 and a density about equal to Boston. Unlike Detroit and Boston however, the Gaza Strip has been isolated from the rest of the world for nearly 10 years.

Gaza Strip

Travel in and out of Gaza is very restricted. I’ve been trying unsuccessfully to return for the past 2+ years. There’s a “youth bulge” in Gaza with 51% of the population under the age of 18.  There’s a high literacy rate (96% in 2011) and the majority of the youth speak 2 languages, if not more. But 85% of the 677 schools in the Gaza Strip are running double shifts, and some are running triple shifts.

Unemployment in the Gaza Strip was 44% in 2014. Food insecurity is high (80% of households receive assistance) and 39% live below the poverty line. OCHA estimates that roughly 20% of Gaza’s population need treatment for mental health conditions.

Lesson #2 – Communities are not on a level playing field; they begin the path towards a livable future from very different baselines. 

I shared some caveats (warnings) about our paper because many of the reviewers have told us our recommendations are good but won’t succeed until some preconditions are met, including the end of the blockade and occupation of Gaza. We agree, of course. We believe Israel’s occupation will end, either by design or by default, but we must not wait until that day comes.

Our recommendations for a Livable Gaza are premised on the belief that Palestinians can plan and prepare today for a Livable Gaza, absent any resolution of the serious political challenges that exist.

Lesson #3 — Don’t wait until every impediment has been removed to begin building a livable community.

Then I discussed our methodology. The Gaza Strip has been studied and examined by NGOs, by the United Nations, by sociologists, and a whole plethora of professional disciplines.  The focus of most of the research has been how to prioritize projects to sustain the population and repair the damage caused by nearly 10 years of a brutal economic, political and cultural siege, as well as 3 military assaults. My colleagues and I decided to filter this research through a new lens — Kate Raworth’s economic doughnut.


Raworth’s economic doughnut situates a livable community in a safe and just place between the planetary boundaries and the social boundaries.

The planetary boundary is the environmental ceiling which humans must not exceed in order to maintain earth’s life support systems.  That includes such things as climate change, freshwater use, chemical pollution, biodiversity loss, and land use changes. The social boundary is the bedrock of human rights which we must not fall below. That includes such things as food, water, jobs, health, energy, voice, education, etc.

Where is Gaza within the economic doughnut?

The Gaza Strip has exceeded the environmental ceiling: (1) climate change vulnerability – rising sea levels and significant warming, (2) freshwater use is just a memory (UN predicted the aquifer would be unusable by 2016 and irreversibly damaged by 2020), (3) land use change – military operations have flattened entire neighborhoods, buffer zone policies restrict agricultural production, (4) pollution – more than 100,000 cubic meters of raw sewage are dumped into the Mediterranean from Gaza every day. The Gaza Strip has fallen below the social foundation: (1) public health (2) education (3) energy (4) water (5) food (6) jobs (7) shelter (8) voice.


Can a livable community be created from such a deficit?  Of course, the immediate needs must be addressed and met.  That is the focus of the international NGOs and many governments that are trying to keep the Gaza Strip functioning, but they are not focused on building a livable Gaza.  They are focused on survival.

Gaza Unsilenced

Yaser, Eman and I wrote about our potential vision for what a livable Gaza might look like, but I didn’t describe that during the presentation. I told the audience that the “process” of building a livable community is more important than our “vision”.

Lesson #4 – Process is more important than the vision or the goal.

The three biggest challenges to building a livable Gaza are:

  1. Lack of voice. A failure to hold elections in over a decade has neutered the Palestinians’ voice in a representative government in both the West Bank and Gaza. The donor community contributes to this problem. Even though donors oppose the occupation in principle, they are financing it; and they are indirectly implicated in a relation of domination that they were supposed to help dismantle. A Livable Gaza will empower the Palestinian to regain their personal agency and power.
  2. Lack of movement. The Israeli/Egyptian/US blockade and siege have resulted in Gaza’s de-development and political/economic/social strangulation. A Livable Gaza must have complete freedom of movement and this must be a top priority for both the international community and for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.
  3. Finally, I mentioned the antiquated laws and regulatory framework. Palestinian legislation is extremely complex and contradictory, a hodge-podge of different traditions which lack coherency for the 21st century. Building a livable community will require a significant reform of the regulatory and legal framework in Palestine.


There must be two tracks working simultaneously but separately towards building a livable community in Gaza.  One is already underway, and has been working for decades since the establishment of the State of Israel and the forced expulsion of many Palestinian refugees to Gaza in 1948.  This track includes 12 UN organizations, 36 international NGOs and 31 national NGOs working in the occupied Palestinian territories. They are monitoring the facts on the ground, distributing aid and resources, and financing development projects such as housing, schools, hospitals and other vital infrastructure. The express purpose of these organizations is to keep Gaza from falling below Raworth’s social foundation, but they are failing miserably.

The second track must address the three biggest challenges, unencumbered by the planning and actions occurring on the first track.



RESOURCES                                                                       PLAN

Building a livable community requires the active support and engagement of community leaders; but in the absence of political engagement and leadership, it’s important to remember that there are many different types of leaders, unelected and elected, at all levels (household, neighborhood, associations, districts and on up.) Many actions can be undertaken today at the local level to build a livable Gaza, regardless of what’s going on in the political sphere. We believe it involves three key components.

The youth are at the center leading a broad community discussion, gathering the resources, and preparing the plan. The youth should be acknowledged as the change-agents for this process. Most came of age after the last election, have experienced multiple wars and tragedies, and many have never left the Gaza Strip. The future belongs to them and to their children.

Lesson #5 – Recommendations must be sensitive to the challenges.

Our current concern for a livable community needs to be replaced with a new and broader concern for ‘environmental sustainability and justice’ in Arabic – ءدل

Justice is the cornerstone for good governance and a sustainable community. The Gaza Strip could be the turn-around example that shows the world by example, how to transition from the brink of collapse to a safe and just place for all life.

Please send me an email to request a copy of our paper.



Filed under Climate Change, Economic Development, Environment, Gaza, People, Uncategorized

Sustainable, Healthy, Just Cities and Settlements (IMCL conference)

The International Making Cities Livable Conference in Rome spanned 4 days and was chock full of ideas, information and energy. I met people from Canada, the U.S., Australia, Indonesia, Japan, Italy, Turkey, England, Ireland, India, Slovakia …… and even someone from north of the Arctic Circle. Really!

There’s certainly a yearning for this type of information, but I wish there had been 3 or 4 times the attendance.

I summarized Day #1 here.  Here are a few of the key take-away messages for me from the rest of the conference:

A livable city must work well for children. Children don’t have the same opportunities to play, socialize and recreate as I did when growing up in Minnesota in the 1950s. Lamine Mahdjoubi from Bristol, UK pointed out how children have vanished from the public realm, living lives of isolation at home in front of their computers and TV. The children in the Mediterranean countries are particularly suffering from obesity because of this rise in sedentary lifestyles.


Mayor James Brainard, City of Carmel, Indiana

A strong, healthy town knows how to leverage public-private partnerships. Mayor Brainard of Carmel, Indiana, USA, explained that when he ran for election, he knocked on many doors to ask people in the community what they wanted. When he synthesized all of their comments down, he realized they were all wishing for a livable community. So he’s succeeded in creating the Carmel Arts & Design District where he’s leveraged public-private partnerships to implement many of the design principles we know make livable communities. He shared amazing before-and-after photos, explaining how tax increment financing (TIFs) have succeeded in putting much of the parking underground. He’s a firm believer in the use of round-abouts too, so much so that the local newspaper made a cartoon of him. IMG_4639Carmel has added 187 miles of bike trails in the city, and between 14,000-15,000 people use them every day. Wow!  I was thinking of Chuck Marohn from Strong Towns as I listened to the Mayor.

Old people and the youth are the indicator species for a livable community. If it works for them, it works for everyone. I didn’t know much about the age-friendly movement, but was pleased to hear a panel discussion about it on Wednesday. Phillip Stafford from Bloomington, IN, USA shared some depressing statistics about our aging population in the US, and noted that our market economy has commodified old age. The disastrous planning of the past few decades, along with unbridled capitalism (the market economy), have actually put most of the aging population in homogeneous sprawling suburbs where they’re stuck, isolated and can’t remain independent. However, there’s a glimmer of hope with a recent APA publication on the topic.

Stafford recommends we focus on collaborative consumption where the aging population has many assets to share including: time, talent, and treasure. By treasure, he wasn’t suggesting their pocketbooks, but rather their community gardens, house share, tool share, car share. How do we make these shareable assets known and connected with others?


Maxim Atayants, St. Petersburg, Russia

An architect from St. Petersburg, Russia discussed how to create a new classical urban fabric by sharing some of the projects he has worked on. In 1984, I visited St. Petersburg (then known as Leningrad), Moscow, Alma Ata and Tashkent and recall the Soviet-era buildings that were such monstrosities. Retrofitting those ugly utilitarian blocks will require new ideas, and new architects, such as Maxim Atayants. What impressed me as much as his design ideas, was his talent as an artist and his obvious passion for his work. I Googled him and found some of his sketches here.


Stefano Serafini, Italy

“Urban designers and architects are a big problem … creating machine-like cities, computer-like cities, Internet-like cities.” Stefano Serafini, a philosopher and psychologist, challenged us (me?) to think outside of our design silos about our communities. I found this interdiscplinary presentation was one of the strengths of the conference, but I’ll have to read some of his ideas here to try to grasp what biourbanism is all about. Honestly, alot of it was over my head.

I was very pleased that he referenced the work of my friend from Albuquerque, architect and planner Besim Hakim.

Besim’s book — Mediterranean Urbanism “brings together historic urban/building rules and codes for the geographic areas including Greece, Italy, and Spain. The author achieved his ambitious goal of finding pertinent rules and codes that were followed in previous societies for the processes that formed the built environment of their towns and cities, including building activities at the neighborhood level and the decision-making process that took place between proximate neighbors.”

Human health and the built environment — go hand in hand. I thought about the environmental engineers I’ve met in Gaza. Mariano Bizzarri from Rome shared alot of statistics showing the links between the built environment and health. It was all a bit overwhelming for me to absorb, but I hope to learn more about this topic if his paper is posted on the conference website. The bottomline is that we easily understand the relationship between the natural environment and human health & disease. There’s a direct corrollary between smog and air pollution and breathing problems. However, now there is more research being published about the impacts of the built environment and human health.

IMG_4685The most alarming fact shared at the conference came from Michael Mehaffy, Executive Director of Sustasis Foundation.  “At the current pace of development, we will build more urban fabric in the next 50 years than we have built in all of history.” OMG!  

Clearly, we’re doing a lousy job of building livable communities now. At this pace, do we have time to unlearn the bad lessons, repair the damage, and move forward on a better path? The Habitat III conference will be in Quito, Ecuador in October this year. “Habitat III” is shorthand for a major global summit, formally known as the United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development. I’m going to learn more about that and see if there’s an opportunity to participate.

Mehaffy talked about the need to change our models of global development, change the tools we use in this process, and also change the rules. What we’re building today is functionally segregated and resource inefficienct — the “crack cocaine” of economic development is the origin of sprawl. He mentioned the work of Christopher Alexander and The City is Not a Tree. I didn’t really understand it until I found this pdf.


A selfie with my team working on the last day of the conference to distill some principles of sustainable, healthy, just cities and communities.

Many of the points Mehaffy made (rather, all of his points) resonated with me from my education and experience as a city planner, a land use lawyer, and an observer of urban life and politics. I’ve been talking for years about the professional silos and group think that pervades the planning and urban design professions. Mehaffy was speaking rapidly, and every point he made deserved some thoughtful elaboration. He ended by saying there’s no need for cynicism and despair that only serve the powerful. “We” need to take the power.

Yes! I want to be on his team.

(Caveat: There were other presenters who contributed dynamite presentations. My head is still swimming. I hope the conference organizers will share everyone’s papers and powerpoint presentations.)









Leave a comment

Filed under Climate Change, Economic Development, Environment, People, Uncategorized

IMCL conference day #1

Rome is an excellent location for an international conference about making cities livable. If my first impressions are any clue, this city has a mixture of both what works and what doesn’t (yet) work as a livable city.


Rome, Italy

On the positive side, I count the historical buildings, monuments and architecture, along with the great public transportation, delicious food, and very kind people. On the other hand, the graffiti is a big distraction (it’s on every surface visible to spray paint). The homeless sleeping under the bridges, and the urban poor are clear reminders of the inequities that exist. I rode a city bus to the end of the line on the far west side of Rome and saw poor neighborhoods that most tourists won’t see.

An Italian architect who helped make the local arrangements for this conference lamented that his colleagues didn’t even bother to show up. “They could learn so much from IMCL speakers,” he said, “but instead we [architects] are making life worse and worse in our cities.”

The four days are jam-packed with presentations. Participants (I’m guessing 100+) are a mix of architects, urban designers, planners, policy folks and elected officials from around the world, and the venue (Pontificia Universita Urbaniana, Vatican City) is well-equipped for the program.

I presented a paper about Gaza on the first day (more in a future blog post) but my two colleagues from Gaza are not here. Israel wouldn’t allow Yaser to leave the Gaza Strip, and Italy wouldn’t give Eman a Visa to enter the country. (More here about the travel restrictions.)IMG_4555

Suzanne H. Crowhurst Lennard, IMCL Co-Founder and Director, opened the conference with words that easily resonated with me about what’s wrong with our city-building today. There are two competing value systems at work, she said. The first is based on GDP, where the city is seen as an economic engine, and its function is to fuel growth and raise the standard of living; while the second is based on the Quality of Life. In this model, the function of the city is the “care and culture” (Lewis Mumford) of people and of the earth.

Some of the highlights from her presentation:  Extreme capitalism creates a consumer society where we find hundreds of ghost cities in China; vertical sprawl in cities like Hong Kong (the least affordable housing in the world); and New York City with its “safe deposit boxes in the sky” (investors are stashing their $$ in high-rises, seen as good investments). In Tokyo’s housing, there are high levels of hikikomori — people who suffer from severe social withdrawal. Some estimate there are more than 700,000 hikikomori in Japan. Teenagers will not leave their bedrooms for days, weeks, even months at a time while their meals are left on trays outside their door. High-rise living can be detrimental to physical and mental health, and we see higher rates of obesity and related chronic diseases. Paris has a population of 20,000 people per square kilometer in 6 stories, but now is considering adding high-rises to its skyline.

Suzanne summarized the IMCL Principles of TRUE URBANISM: (as opposed to new urbanism?)

  1. Facilitate community social life. Key to achieving a high quality of life for all is the way we treat the public realm. The most essential task is to make it possible for people to come together, to form friendships and face-to-face social networks, and to develop social capital and community, but we seem focused on over-investment in private property and under-investment in the public realm.
  2. Facilitate contact with nature, including nature everywhere in our cities, and make nature accessible to children. My ears perked up when Suzanne mentioned community gardens. I wish my defunct community garden in Albuquerque was growing and active.
  3. Facilitate independent mobility. We must focus on balanced transportation planning that first prioritizes walking, second on biking, third on public transit, and lastly on the car. Living streets (“Wohnstrasse” designated by the international blue sign) have been traffic calmed and are safe for children and elders.
  4. A hospitable built environment that frames social life. Human-scale and mixed use environment instead of the mono-culture zoning districts in the U.S. which divide uses.

“Profit is privatized

Loss is socialized”


Richard Jackson (r) and Suzanne Crowhurst Lennard (l)


Richard Jackson, a physician and professor of environmental sciences at UCLA, shared some provocative thoughts when he asked “will we merit gratitude from our grandchildren?” Dr. Jackson says the IPCC (International Panel on Climate Change) has been right about everything it has projected for the past 20 years with the exception of one thing.  The pace of change is occurring much faster than the IPCC experts thought it would. He used many of the same climate change slides that I have used when I talk about climate change —- but one stood out for me.  The IMF tells us that the fossil fuels industry is subsidized to the tune of $10 million/minute!! Estimate of $5.3 TRILLION for fossil fuels, much greater than our total expenditures for healthcare.  (At that point, my blood pressure was rising.)  He said there are 20 Attorney Generals in the U.S. filing a lawsuit against Exxon, similar to the tobacco litigation of the 1990s.

Are we guilty of child abuse?  Maybe, but certainly we are guilty of child neglect by our acts of omission — our failure to protect our children and grandchildren from the ravages of climate change, and subjecting them to a life of inactivity, in large part by the way we’ve built our cities.  There’s a lot of research out about the impacts of the built environment on our children’s health. I’m going to look for the May 2016 JAMA issue when I return home. Finally, Dr. Jackson mentioned British Columbia’s carbon tax which has dropped carbon use by 16%.  It’s working and others should follow their example.

Father Alejandro Crosthwaite, Dean of Faculty of Social Sciences, Pontificia Universita San Tommaso, Vatican City, addressed how the Pope’s Laudato Si relates to city planning.  I read the Laudato Si last summer when it was released, see here. Father Crosthwaite said The Holy See was shocked with the impact of the Laudato Si, especially among non-Christians. A number of good questions followed his presentation. Someone observed that the church hierarchy has been slow to teach and speak about the Laudato Si, another thought the Vatican needs a good marketing campaign to spread the word. Father Crosthwaite acknowledged that a lot more needs to be done and applauded the laity for taking the leadership around the world. The “structures of sin” didn’t come from outer space, they came from each of us as individuals, and so we need to do this both as a community and as individuals. Key for the Pope is “dialogue.” The Vatican city-state is now carbon neutral. They bought a forest to offset the carbon use within the Vatican as well as transitioning to solar energy. The Vatican also works closely with the United Nations, influences the meetings and discussions about climate change.

Richard Economakis, architect and professor at the School of Architecture, University of Notre Dame, shared a presentation entitled “Streets of Hope: Outlining an Urban, Environmentally Responsible Approach to Housing EU Asylum-Seekers”. I want to visit some of the refugee camps on the Greek Islands and was keenly interested in how Richard proposed to meet the challenges presented by this “migration of biblical proportions”. He mentioned that IKEA is producing housing for refugees using PVC components, non-degradable materials and designed to last 2 years. The Swiss government rejected IKEA’s housing as a fire safety hazard.

Professor Economakis stressed the “principle of repurposability” – meaning that designing and building human settlements for the refugees should consider the future reuse or repurpose of the structures once the refugees have moved on. Richard and eight of his graduate students prepared a Master Plan for the creation of temporary Refugee Villages to serve as processing centers for the refugees seeking asylum in the EU. He was kind enough to give me a copy. I hope I can find a way to send it to my colleagues in Gaza.

Statement of Intent

Let us build modest homes to serve as temporary shelters for the dispossessed in those ports and towns of their arrival. We must do so responsibly, using natural materials which have no carbon footprint, and in such a way that buildings can easily be torn down when they cease to be useful, without significantly impacting the environment – or else they should be able to stand for generations. Let us arrange the houses to form real communities of hope, villages that dignify the waves of tired men, women and children while they wait for their asylum requests to be processed. When the crisis abates and the refuges have moved on to new places and new lives, these towns may serve the hosting nations by being converted into affordable neighborhoods, academic villages or resorts.

Are there ideas here that might be applicable to the Gaza Strip?  I think so.



Filed under Climate Change, Environment, Gaza, People, Spiritual - Religion, Uncategorized

Gaza in the Doughnut

Government leaders, a number of international NGOs, activists of all different stripes, and many more have been scratching their heads to figure out how to help Palestine and the Palestinians living in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

Some focus on the politics vis-à-vis Israel, others focus on the economics (jobs, imports, exports), while others are trying to address the social challenges (such as food and shelter). Many of my friends focus on the deteriorating environmental conditions.

The typical response or solution I hear most often from Western politicians and the mainstream media is — “Address the security needs of Israel first and, miraculously, the remaining challenges will be solved.”

With all due respect, they have it backwards. Completely backwards.

No one will live in peace and security until everyone has the basic social foundation for life. No one will have a truly sustainable future until we live within our planetary boundaries.

Israelis may think they can avoid the consequences by building a large “security wall” but that is very short-sighted and they’re only condemning themselves to a future of growing insecurity and instability.

Kate Raworth’s doughnut captures my point. Or, more honestly, my thinking was directly influenced by her doughnut of social and planetary boundaries.

Watch her TedTalk and let me know if you agree. I’d like to hear some feedback.




Filed under Climate Change, Economic Development, Environment, Gaza, Israel, People, Video

CIP for Gaza reconstruction

My city planner friends will appreciate this.

Almost every community in the USA has prepared a CIP (capital improvements plan). In the “old days,” the CIP was merely a wish list of infrastructure that the municipality hoped the state or others might pay for —- like water & sewer pipes, roads, sidewalks, parks, and other things that might be considered a “public improvement.” Planners and engineers typically put their two-cents into the preparation of the CIP, and sometimes they actually consulted the community’s master plan for development.

The CIP evolved into a budget process. How much would the city need next year? in five years? and even 10 years into the future to pay for all of the infrastructure it anticipated it would need, and to repair the old pipes and roads? Most cities found it much more tempting to build new infrastructure sprawling out to the suburbs, rather than repairing any deficiencies in the existing system. Now they’re beginning to pay the piper.

The biggest challenge any American planner might have had in preparing the CIP was collecting all of the estimates (how many new wells or pipes? and how much would it cost?)

getting water in Shujaya 2

Gaza – August 2014 credit – Denny Cormier

Planners in Gaza just completed their CIPs and the documents would look very familiar to any American planner, take a look here and here and here — but there are a few big differences.

  • There was a military assault on the Gaza Strip this summer which lasted for 51 days. Imagine the damage that was done during that time.
  • The sole power generating plant was bombed by Israel. Imagine trying to run pumping stations, sewage treatment plants, wells, hospitals, and anything else that requires power when there’s no power.
  • Israel monitors (approves and denies) everything that goes into the Gaza Strip. Imagine if your CIP depended on your neighboring community to provide the material and equipment for implementation.
  • Israel periodically shells the Gaza Strip (no place is safe) and destroys what was recently repaired. There have been three major assaults in the past 7 years. Imagine if the city council and state legislature issued G-O bonds for your infrastructure projects with a 10-15-20 year repayment schedule, but the project was destroyed in 3 years.

Really, there is no comparison. None at all.

Shujaya 6

Gaza in August 2014 – credit Denny Cormier

Preliminary findings from some communities interviewed during the assessment include the important information that water services which are being delivered by municipalities are not always reaching the affected communities despite the best efforts. This is most likely due to hidden damages and frequent power cuts interrupting network pressure. For instance, in the Ash Shuja’iyeh neighborhood of Gaza City, one carrier line that was not classified as damaged was found filled with mud and debris on Tuesday. Although water was being pumped into the system, households along the street were not receiving any water. Other areas of Ash Shuja’iyeh were reported to only receiving water on alternating days for 1-3 hours, although the service providers were pumping water into the network daily for up to 8 hours.

Shujaya 5

Gaza in August 2014 – credit Denny Cormier

Planners and engineers in the USA don’t have much experience preparing CIPs in war-time or for communities under occupation and a long-term siege, like the Gaza Strip. Can you imagine ever writing the following in one of your CIPs?  “Thanks and appreciations are forwarded to the technical teams who have risked their lives to maintain some of the serious damages and had kept to the extent possible the operation of some facilities during the war.”

I don’t know any city employees or public works officials who have been asked to risk their lives to repair a broken water main while under shelling and missile strikes. Several engineers lost their lives in Gaza this summer when they ventured out to fix busted water pipes in critical areas of the community and were shot and killed by the Israeli military.

Water resources and water supply in the Gaza Strip: The majority of water is pumped from 205 groundwater wells (tube wells) that tap into the Gaza underlying aquifer. Only a small amount of water is imported from Mekorot. Due to the deterioration of the aquifer, the water from the municipal network is not potable because it is too saline. Therefore potable water (i.e. water for drinking) has to be supplied separately. In areas where CMWU has already constructed desalination plants, the water is ‘blended’ with the saline groundwater and then becomes potable. However, in all other areas, potable water is produced by the private sector and is supplied by water rucking. The fact that this water trucking depends on an unregulated private sector has led to major problems in emergency response. An Emergency Water Tankering Working Group, led by the Palestinian Water Authority has been established and PWA drafted a “Quality Standards for Drinking Water in Emergencies” tip sheet. This will help regulate the distribution process and control the prices.

Figure 1: Gaza Strip blockade. Source: UN OCHA

Figure 1: Gaza Strip blockade. Source: UN OCHA

Any rational response to the CIPs prepared by the planners and engineers in the Gaza Strip in August 2014 would be:

  1. Demand that Israel lift the siege.
  2. Demand that Israel absorb the costs of rebuilding and reconstruction. (“You broke it, you fix it.”)
  3. Demand that Israel abide by international law and the 4th Geneva Convention which prohibits collective punishment.

How will donors, meeting next week in Cairo, respond?

  1. How much $$ do you need?
  2. Whose palms do we need to grease before the equipment and materials will be allowed to enter Gaza?
  3. How can we benefit our well-meaning NGOs and donors — their contractors and agencies — in this process?

And the voices of Palestinians in Gaza will not be heard or considered. Forget about an open and transparent public process.

Photo 1: Water crisis in Gaza Strip, Palestinian Childs packaged drinking water from a UNRWA school due to the interruption of water from their homes during the recent war in July-August 2014.

Photo 1: Water crisis in Gaza Strip, Palestinian Childs packaged drinking water from a UNRWA school due to the interruption of water from their homes during the recent war in July-August 2014.



Filed under Environment, Gaza, Occupation, Uncategorized

Message from Gaza: Israeli Policies & Climate Change, Pushing Gaza into the Grave

By: Ahmad Abu Safieh, Gaza, Palestine. 18th September 2014.

This message is from the city of Gaza where the annual population growth rate is 2.91% (2014 est.), the 13th highest in the world. Due to the severe damage from the recent 50 day conflict, there is a limited capability to construct new homes and facilities for this growth. The territory is 41 kilometers (25 mi) long, and from 6 to 12 kilometers (3.7 to 7.5 mi) wide, with a total area of 365 square kilometers (141 sq mi). As of 2014, Palestinians of the Gaza Strip numbered around 1.8 million people. The large Palestinian refugee population makes it among the most densely populated parts of the world with 4822 (individual/Km2). [1]

Gaza has limited available natural resources to restore and sustain infrastructure and facilities, and as a result, Gaza will be increasingly unable to meet the growing demands of the people who live there. The Gaza Strip relies on a water supply from an underlying aquifer that has been over pumped for decades. By 2020 at the latest, Gaza will effectively be without water. Already most of Gaza’s households have little or no water supply, and the water that is available is seriously contaminated and unfit for human consumption. [2]

Photo 1: Water crisis in Gaza Strip, Palestinian Childs packaged drinking water from a UNRWA school due to the interruption of water from their homes during the recent war in July-August 2014.

Photo 1: Water crisis in Gaza Strip, Palestinian Childs packaged drinking water from a UNRWA school due to the interruption of water from their homes during the recent war in July-August 2014.

The economic situation in the Gaza Strip is problematic to say the least. There is a lot of poverty and unemployment figures are very high. Because of restrictions fishing vessels are not allowed to operate beyond a certain fishing zone and farming grounds cannot be reached because of military actions by Israel. Free transportation of people and goods is prohibited, and the airport was destroyed years ago by bombardments.

The Occupation of the Gaza Strip refers to a land, air, and sea blockade on the Gaza Strip by Israel from 2007 to present. Gaza is facing a power crisis as a result of a shortage of fuel, with blackouts lasting 12-16 hours and sometimes reaches to 20 hours a day. The electricity problem in Gaza is severe, and pump stations have become inoperative, factories have been forced to cut production, leading to layoffs, and hospitals are running on emergency reserves.

“Once more, Gaza is quickly becoming uninhabitable,” said Filippo Grandi, the UNRWA’s commissioner-general. “Perhaps strengthening the human security of the people of Gaza is a better avenue to ensuring regional stability than physical closures, political isolation and military action.”

Figure 1: Gaza Strip blockade. Source: UN OCHA

Figure 1: Gaza Strip blockade. Source: UN OCHA

The Gaza Strip has been one of the successive conflict areas in the world for decades and over time a significant environmental problem has developed in the region. Israel has contributed extensively to the worsening climate crisis through war crimes against humanity in Gaza. During the most recent fighting – from 8 July to 26 August 2014 – Israeli Forces conducted a military operation that specifically targeted Gaza. This devastating operation included bombardment by land, sea and air, with numerous incursions into the Gaza Strip by Israeli forces. The environmental situation in this area was already quite serious prior to these recent events, exacerbated by a lack of ability to invest in recovery systems, and a lack of prioritization towards environmental projects.

Figure 2: United Nations OCHA occupied Palestinian territory, Gaza Humanitarian Dashboard September 2014

Figure 2: United Nations OCHA occupied Palestinian territory, Gaza Humanitarian Dashboard September 2014

The most recent conflict has caused extensive damage and increased pressure on already deeply stressed environmental facilities and institutions. The most prominent examples are immediately apparent – the large volume of rubble and the significant damage to sewage and wastewater systems. Water supplies have also been critically affected by the destruction of water wells and drinking water pipes. Other adverse environmental effects include the widespread destruction of agricultural areas, severe damage to smaller industrial enterprises, and an alarming increase in toxic pollutants being discharged into the Mediterranean and the local groundwater.

Photo 3: Palestinian man, standing in front of the flames rising from the only electricity station in the Gaza Strip, after an Israeli raid, July 29, 2014 (Mahmoud Hommos / AFP)

Photo 3: Palestinian man, standing in front of the flames rising from the only electricity station in the Gaza Strip, after an Israeli raid, July 29, 2014 (Mahmoud Hommos / AFP)

The direct damage resulting from these military raids and explosions is immediately evident in the visible destruction of buildings and infrastructure. But there is a much more harmful and debilitating indirect damage that is difficult to calculate since it is long term, and appears gradually over time. An immediate example would be the fires resulting from the bombing, and the remnants of explosive materials and gases which spread and remain stuck in the air, and thus constitute a major threat to life and the environment, and greatly increase the chances of contamination of water, air and soil.

The air pollutant of greatest concern to human health is particulate matter in the form of aerosols, which include haze, dust, particulate air pollutants and smoke. The off-gassing and contaminants from this lead to health damage such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Children, older adults, and those with heart or lung disease are most likely to be affected by this type of air pollution, but for those with heart or lung diseases, premature death can occur as well.

As winter approaches, the air contaminated with these pollutants will turn into rain that will fall on the ground causing more pollution and the destruction of agricultural lands and crops and the spread of diseases. As these toxic substances deposited in the soil reach groundwater and seep into the sea, they will also create an environmental crisis for the wealth of fish that constitute an essential source of food in Gaza. Such damage would not be limited to the inhabitants of Gaza but could also reach to other parts of the world. As a result of ocean currents and weather patterns these contaminants could easily travel to other countries, causing a host of international health and environmental problems.

In addition, on April 2014, the third Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), in the fifth installment of their Assessment Report (AR5), determined that climate change, and the resultant increases in temperature, sea levels, and precipitation, has now become the greatest threat to human life on the planet. The eastern side of the Mediterranean, where Gaza is located, faces serious climate related challenges that will require entirely new policies and environmental strategies in order to successfully cope.

Forecasted climate changes for the eastern Mediterranean mainly affect the start and duration of the different seasons, and the quantity of rainfall. This has two anticipated effects: first, periods of heavier rainfall will be concentrated in a shorter time, with consequent increased run-off and erosion and decreased absorption capacities of the soil. Less retained water will result in lower pasture production, forcing herders to purchase (more) fodder. Second, however, reduced rainfall will result in a lower quantity of water harvested and stored in cisterns, forcing herders to purchase (more) tankered water. [3]

The IPCC predicts that, for the southern and eastern Mediterranean, warming over the 21st century will be larger than global annual mean warming – between 2.2-5.1C◦ according to a realistic emissions scenario (Scenario A1B). Annual precipitation rates are deemed likely to fall – decreasing 10% by 2020 and 20% by 2050 – with an increased risk of summer drought. [4]

Photo 4: The destructive impacts of Storm "Alexa"in the Gaza Strip, following 36-hours of heavy precipitation on 10-14 December 2013.

Photo 4: The destructive impacts of Storm “Alexa”in the Gaza Strip, following 36-hours of heavy precipitation on 10-14 December 2013.

Through the crucial issue of increasing the atmospheric temperature due to  greenhouse gas emissions, their impacts are fraught with consequences in the 21st century for health and human activities, in particular agriculture, fishery, tourism, infrastructures, urbanised coastal areas, water resources and natural areas. In order to minimize as much as possible the economic losses and damages, several adaptation options must be thought out and implemented.

Finally, it is not a game; it’s an open invitation to all; UN, world leaders, international institutions, activists, experts and youth all over the world to act and show their interest through joint action and supportive decision-making positions to save Gaza from the grave. As a citizens of Gaza, there is an urgent need for hard-working, effective techniques and global support to help in these efforts to not only rebuild Gaza decimated infrastructure, but also to prepare it to withstand the increasing environmental challenges that will be faced by many countries all over the world.

Together we should try to build Gaza future in which humans live in harmony with nature. We don’t want only to protect the Gaza environment; we want to create a place where the environment doesn’t need protecting.


Ahmad Abu Safieh is a 24-year-old Palestinian living in Gaza. He holds a B.S. in Civil Engineering from the College of Engineering at the Islamic University of Gaza (January 2013) and volunteers with the Arab Youth Climate Movement (AYCM). He may be reached at


  • Mid 2014, Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS).
  • August 2012, “Gaza in 2020 A liveable place?” A report by the United Nations Country Team in the occupied Palestinian territory.
  • April 2013, Climate Change Adaptation Strategy and Programme of Action for the Palestinian Authority.
  • April 2014, the third Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), in the fifth instalment of their Assessment Report (AR5).

Leave a comment

Filed under Environment, Gaza, Israel, Occupation, People, Uncategorized, United Nations

Why do I want to go back to Gaza?

Family and friends have been asking me “why do you want to return to Gaza?” 

I was very fortunate to visit Gaza between September 2012 and May 2013. I had the experience of a lifetime —- met wonderful people, learned a lot about a new (for me) culture and the cruel realities of Israel’s occupation and siege, experienced the horrors of Israel’s 8 days of bombardment of the Gaza Strip, and grew as a person of conscience.

Boat with Free Gaza flags at the beach.

Boat with Free Gaza flags at the beach.

Maybe the experience of a lifetime can’t (or shouldn’t) be repeated. Seriously. I was blessed once and should count my blessings — learn from them and move on.

But I can’t. Can’t move on, that is.  My conscience wasn’t only pricked, it was stabbed.

Young Palestinians learning to speak English.

Young Palestinians learning to speak English.

Just as a bell can’t be unrung (is there such a word?), I can’t pretend that the Israeli occupation doesn’t exist or that my country isn’t responsible for perpetuating the misery and injustices that I witnessed in Gaza.

So I’ve been thinking about my conscience. About what I want to do, what I should do, which might be very different.

I’m 60 years old — perhaps an old woman to some but in my mind I’m strong, experienced and have many skills and talents to share.  Where and how should I share them?

Beautiful smiles

Beautiful smiles

The window of opportunity is rapidly closing. If I’m lucky, I have only 5-10 years of strength and mental faculties left when I can truly contribute and make a meaningful difference. After the window closes, I’ll be content to sit on my porch and read good books and tend the vegetable garden, if Allah-God-Yahweh grants me more time. When it’s my time to bite the dust, I don’t want to have any regrets.  

I shouldn’t return to Gaza if I’m merely trying to satisfy my own needs. The white savior complex is disgustingly all too real and I don’t want to fall into that trap. (Read this very thoughtful piece about the white savior industrial complex by Teju Cole, available here.)


I don’t want to add greenhouse gases by my air travel unless my purpose of traveling outweighs the potential GHG impact.

I also don’t want to be part of the second occupation. Gaza is occupied by NGOs, many of which have created a dependency for decades and sapped the initiative and desire of many Palestinians to take charge of their future. I have a hunch that some of the NGOs have a self-interest in prolonging Israel’s occupation, so they can justify their work. Foreigners who collect big salaries and drive around in large SUVs waving little flags are rather perverted IMHO (in my humble opinion).

UN predicts Gaza will be unlivable by 2020.

UN predicts Gaza will be unlivable by 2020.

So why do I want to return to Gaza?

I know that a perfect storm is brewing there. I think the next 5-10 years are going to be decisive in determining how Palestinians in Gaza weather this storm. For my foreign friends, here’s the definition of “perfect storm.”

  • The United Nations predicts that Gaza will be unlivable by 2020.  See here. There’s no evidence that anyone is taking this dire warning seriously.
  • The impacts of climate change are not going to bypass this coastal enclave and Palestinians are currently ill-equipped to respond or prepare, as witnessed just this winter with the horrific flooding that followed torrential rain storms.
  • A political solution to the occupation and internal division between Fatah and Hamas appears to be further away than before Kerry initiated the “peace talks”.
  • Gaza is a population time bomb. It’s going to explode – no doubt about it.

So I want to return to Gaza to do the following:

  • See my friends
  • Use my planning and legal skills to respond to this perfect storm
  • Use my writing skills to inform Americans about what I witness in Gaza

549141_10200984400318117_876370149_n (1)


I’d like to hear from friends (either responding on the blog or to my email about my reasons for returning. What should I be adding to this equation?

1 Comment

Filed under Climate Change, Environment, Gaza, Hamas, Israel, Occupation, Politics, Video