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William La Jeunesse

Los Angeles, CA

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Mountain of Waste at Copenhagen

December 16, 2009 - 7:21 PM | by: William La Jeunesse

Use less water. Drive smaller cars. Turn down the heat. Save the planet.

Those are the messages coming from the United Nations climate conference in Copenhagen, but the environmental elite here may have a problem with saying one thing while doing another — at least when it comes to paper.

The green-conscious conference is utterly buried in it. Not just 8×11 white sheets, but the heavy cream-colored paper used in brochures and glossy red-and-yellow papers the United Nations uses to urge attendees to live a low-carbon lifestyle.

“It is so unnecessary,” said Anna, one of about 35 Friends of the Earth employees who flew in for the conference. “Could we use any more paper? I don’t think so.”

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The paper-product gluttony begins in the morning, when attendees entering the Bella Center are offered a 302-page book about how to go vegetarian. Eating meat, particularly livestock, is responsible for about 50 percent of greenhouse gases, say the towering tomes.

Besides, the books say, Pamela Anderson, Ashley Judd and Michael Jackson were vegetarians.

Once inside the Bella Center, more than 100 exhibitors from every NGO, trade union, company and association that has anything to do with global warming are handing out literature.

“It’s appalling,” said a woman from the Costa Rican delegation.

Handouts from the Colombian rainforest exhibit, which appeared to be underwritten by the country’s Ministry of the Environment, were printed on paper that did not indicate that it was recycled. That exhibit also provided documents promoting palm oil, which environmentalists say is being produced plantation-style in former rainforests, creating massive amounts of carbon dioxide from deforestation.

An NGO called Tearfund, which sells carbon credits and works to reduce poverty, offers up a 32-page brochure called “The first cut is the deepest; reducing global emmissions.” Its handout comes printed on thick, high-quality paper that is not recycled.

While the official COP15 cultural guide is produced “completely CO2 neutral,” and handouts from the Rainforest Alliance come with the Responsible Forest seal of approval, they might be the exception. Even the World Wildlife Fund’s “Pocket Guide for a Living Planet” is not printed on recycled paper — although it did use “vegetable ink” during printing.

Then there is the “Daily Programme,” which comes in two parts every day. It tells you who is doing what, where and in which meeting room. Total pages on Tuesday: 56. The total Wednesday was 48, and everyone takes at least one. Do the math: 104 x 15,000 = 1.56 million sheets. And that’s in just two days.

Don’t forget the 30-plus-page “draft text,” which shows the daily revisions made by different working groups. And the daily handouts, summary report and Copenhagen news update.

The odd thing is that even amid these mountains of papers, everyone has a laptop.

“So much of this could be done electronically,” said Luke, an NGO worker from Germany who didn’t want his last name used.

Most of the attendees don’t see hypocrisy in the mountain of paper, let along the summit’s overall carbon footprint. During Earth Hour, which ran from 6 to 7 p.m. Wednesday, the Bella Center turned off the lights to save energy, but everyone clapped when they turned the lights back on — defacing the planet once again, in the opinion of many attendees. After all, Denmark gets 80 percent of its electricity from coal.

Most attendees haven’t exactly been hoofing their way to Denmark’s capital, swarming the city’s airport with 140 private jets, 1,200 hired limousines and a carbon footprint the size of a small country.

Add to that the fact that only about 1,000 actual negotiators actually work on making the deal. The rest — the environmentalists, companies and NGOs — are here just to influence the process and make connections.

So all their plane tickets from Senegal and Australia, the U.S. and China, all their meals imported from Africa, Asia and Latin America, all their taxis in Copenhagen and the massive electricity bills at the Bella Center — all of those blows to the environment are coming to facilitate a massive activist meetup.

Next time, sponsor Cisco could ask if the U.N. would try teleconferencing — to help save the planet, of course.

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