California Academy of Sciences - COP15 

January 6, 2010

Post from Saturday December 12th


Its only 3:30 in the afternoon, but the sun is already setting low in the sky when I stumble toward the metro station after a long, sleepless, and cramped flight. Copenhagen is located almost 56° north latitude, the farthest north I have ever been, and we’re less than two weeks away from the shortest day of the year.

In my weary state I am standing around trying to figure out the metro ticket system, looking like a typical disoriented tourist. In less than a minute a kind and fresh-faced uniformed metro worker offers me assistance with perfect English and a perfect smile. I am guided through the ticket purchase and validation system and on to the correct train platform, I need do nothing more than step through the doors. I’m definitely not in the U.S. any more.

I don’t know it at the time, but over 50,000 protestors are marching from the heart of the city to the Bella Center, the main COP15 venue, at the very moment I am looking through the metro windows at my first glimpse of Denmark. The helicopters hovering overhead and the ubiquitous piercing flash of blue police car lights as we get closer to town are a clue that something big is happening. My jet-lagged thoughts are mostly on finding my way through the charming labyrinth of cobblestone streets to my rented studio apartment, so I can dump my bags and begin to orient for the week. Later I run into the San Francisco based author and journalist Mark Hertsgaard, and I learn about this day of grass roots climate action protests from him and the excellent article he posted online at

Straight to the laptop to review the meetings and events going on at different venues all around town, to see if there’s any events with a biodiversity angle that I still might catch, though it’s now after 5 p.m. I learn that earlier in the day, I missed a presentation in the E.U. Pavilion at the Bella Center entitled: Climate Change, Ecosystem Services, and Biodiversity. A side event scheduled for a full two hours, I am impressed the organizers allowed so much time for this topic, given how much competition there is for limited time slots.

The event offered an excellent line-up of speakers, including Pavan Sukhdev, the lead author of one of the most important biodiversity studies of recent times: The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB), a major initiative to calculate the economic value of biodiversity and draw attention to the very real costs incurred by its decline. Also speaking was Johan Rockstrom, who recently garnered international attention with a major study in the journal Nature entitled Planetary Boundaries. It’s a compelling concept that defines boundaries for nine essential Earth-system processes that humanity must stay within to avoid catastrophic change. Ominously, Rockstrom and his almost 30 prominent co-authors suggest that the boundaries have already been exceeded for nine of these, including climate change, biodiversity, and nitrogen cycling.

This side event represents exactly the kind of dialogue we need much more of. Certainly everyone in attendance experienced an increase in their awareness of the economic and ecological dependency of human societies on the goods and services that flow from biodiversity. I can’t believe I missed it! Fortunately it was one of the events in the E.U. pavilion that was recorded as a webcast. Roll over the menu bar line on the right and each speaker’s talk is available for watching. This is a great opportunity to increase your ecological literacy from some of the world’s most important thinkers on the value of biodiversity and ecosystems.

Into the evening I am searching online for other events and presentations in which biodiversity is considered as explicitly as today’s earlier session in the E.U. pavilion. A huge number of events implicitly focus on biodiversity, such as the use of agricultural waste for biofuel, adaptation to storm surge by coastal restoration, or genetic engineering for salt and drought tolerance in plants. But the only other event that I can find (out of literally hundreds) that is as explicit about its treatment of biodiversity is the one I and my colleagues have organized for Tuesday afternoon at the U.S. pavilion in the Bella Center. I have only been here a few hours, and it’s already becoming clear that although so many of our proposed solutions for adapting to and mitigating climate change are derived from biological diversity, there’s still relatively little awareness about just how direct that connection really is.

Filed under: COP15 — lindsay @ 11:25 am

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