OMG Climate: Reflecting Together on the Climate Catastrophe

NASA's illustration of Planet Earth warming process across the years
Credits: NASA’s Scientific Visualization Studio/Kathryn Mersmann.

Planet Earth, May 2019. The UK has announced a state of emergency for climate change and Canada considers the same; we are more confident about our model to capture rising global temperatures, and students all around the world walk out of school protesting the lack of climate action. Yet, not enough of us are genuinely concerned about the role we’ve played on this catastrophe.

A Saturday afternoon of May and a few square meters in Berlin were what a couple of people needed to open– and voluntarily discuss how we impact the Planet to change and how those changes impact us. Topics ranged from radical solarpunk utopia to more down-to-earth and short-term ideas within our generation’s reach today: musings about climate change awareness, sustainability policies for companies, traveling sustainably, tech tools for political change, and how to get out of our bubbles and active listen to other realities.

In this post, I’ll be sharing my personal notes on that engaging and constructive afternoon. There will be, also, references at the end of this post so you can keep yourself posted.

Pitching and picking topics for discussion

OMG Climate is an unconference, meaning that attendees proactively come up with the agenda and topics to be discussed. To kick it off, we got instructed to pitch topics for discussion that’d be prioritised also by ourselves into tracks, attended based off our preferences. Everyone was expected to have at least a certain knowledge, even if rather tacit, about the challenges we’re facing right now with the climate emergency.

These were the tracks of the first OMG Climate:

  • Track 1: “Low-carbon travel” / “Green Mafia” / “How do you sleep at night? Coping with climate anxiety”
  • Track 2: “Tech tools for political action” / “Circular economies: Re-use and tech” / “Company sustainability policy template”
  • Track 3: “Solarpunk, imagination and excitement” / “CO2 Offsets as an API and tracking carbon” / “Climate change awareness in developing countries”

We had enough attendees for tracks to make for productive discussions. Listening and talking to one another, while facilitated by a volunteer, did the job on keeping up an constructive flow between finding root causes and ways to take action.

People sitting in a circle, listening attentively to one
During the "Green Mafia" discussion.

I’ve joined “Low-carbon travel”, “Green mafia”, and “Climate change awareness in developing countries”, so these are the ones I have more insights about. Towards the end, we all got together to wrap it up, and I have to say: all tracks were interesting, so don’t restrain yourself to this post!

The following notes don't reflect directly what's happened or everything that's been said in the event, it's rather my personal perspective. They are also somewhat vague, but I hope you can benefit from them somehow.

Low-carbon travel

Air travel, even when occasional, has an environmental impact difficult to make up for no matter how many bamboo toothbrushes we gift our friends, how often we commute by bike or how vegan is our diet.

With low airplane ticket prices getting more popular than ever and enabling people to travel more, how can we make traveling sustainable when not traveling to begin with is not an option? That was the question we kicked off the “low-carbon travel” discussion with.

Meeting notes

Piece of paper sticked to the wall with sketches
Collective sketch notes about the low-carbon travel track
  • In our circle, everyone seemed to have access to the privilege that is air flying.
  • We began exploring traveling by breaking it down into traveling for work vs. pleasure.
  • Ground travel might be an option; however, it’s rather time-consuming and hence less appealing in a capitalist society where time translates to money. How can we shift the paradigm?
  • Instead of seeing longer trips as wasted time, we should begin seeing the journey as part of the trip.
  • Traveling less: We often optimise our trips to visit as many places as possible; instead, we can optimise for depth and start going to fewer places for a longer time. Think: going to a European country and making the most of it, instead of going to 999 different countries just because they are 1-hour-flight away from each other.
  • Share practical solutions for people to make trade-offs, EcoCost rather than overwhelming scientific evidence.
  • What if companies supported employees whose carbon footprint is the least?
  • Green travel agencies and flying policies.
  • Search engines for flights obviously don’t suggest alternative ways to get to a place when a plane is definitely not the best option.
  • BVG app, on the other hand, recommends walking instead of taking public transport sometimes.
  • Transport apps could also order route options by the least environmental impact.
  • The car industry should be ashamed of its climate record.
  • The train industry is not modernised and integrated, rather rigid.
  • Investment on 10 km of autobahn could pay off the renovation for bike lanes all over Berlin.
  • Globalisation vs. environmental footprint: IT workers immigrating usually go back to their countries often since they have the need and resources. I asked whether there was data available on how that situation in particular could’ve increased our carbon emissions coming from aviation.
  • Business trips by train are possible only among those who have the privilege of a flexible work schedule, such as freelancers.
  • Making the most out of idle time: we tend to be more creative in idle times, while in a train; not hunching over a keyboard or in an office environment.
  • “Fast-moving home/office” as an alternative to turn the journey time into productive time.
  • Frequent flyer levy: A fairer tax system according to how often people fly. Those that fly more should pay more. (More information: A Free Ride)
  • Airline campaigns often promote the image that everyone should become part of a group of young, urban frequent flyers, visiting another city every few weeks for very low costs.

Action points

  • everyone to shift mindsets in regard to traveling.
  • everyone to vote instead of buying a bamboo toothbrush.
  • everyone to use and promote tools with different options of transport within a route, instead of blindly going to specific train or flight websites.
  • everyone to keep consuming local goods.
  • airline companies to stop promoting flying as a status symbol.
  • travel agencies to work out more sustainable ways to travel and consider it in their branding.

Green Mafia

How corporate interests and ideologues work to undermine science and make countries doubt about the risks of climate change? Think what stopped Australia, 25 years ago, to act on climate change.

We should fight back! We mused about beating off lobby groups representing the coal, car, oil, electricity, and aluminium industries using their same sneaky techniques, as a Green Mafia. An intriguing and fun topic!

The brainstorming served as a tool to get a grasp on the way those mafias function, and discuss whether the ethical approach is always the way to go when facing a crisis.

Meeting notes

Piece of paper sticked to the wall with sketches
Collective sketch notes about the Green Mafia track
  • Leverage civil disobedience and tools of intimidation to influence green policies for the climate, fight extreme wealth and weaken existing mafias such as the oil industry.
  • How far should one go with non-ethical practices, such as blackmailing or public shaming of those who harm the planet?
  • What’s ethics after all?
  • Could we use illegal money to fund our causes?
  • Could we use legal money to fund our cases? There are ways to get money from the state in licit ways such as from green parties.
  • What if we made the green cause as profitable for the mafia as oil?
  • Sell a belief system, or use an existing one such as “harmony with nature”.
  • Cyber hacking/hijacking internet algorithms to spread awareness instead of climate change denial and fake news as it happens today.

Awareness in developing countries

The rich, the poor and the Earth.

World’s richest 10% produce half of the global carbon emissions, while the poorest half contribute a mere 10%; but climate change affects the poorest people the most. Moreover, developing countries are the most responsible for climate change now, and vulnerable too.[1]

Coming from a developing country, I was looking forward to this topic! Apart from Brazil, we had people from India too. There was a range of issues that could be tackled within this track, such as the risk of massive displacements of people in developing countries, the need of support to adapt, environment destruction for the sake of economic prosperity, how to approach climate change education etc.

Meeting notes

  • We are building awareness, not “teaching” others about climate change.
  • Climate change is an existential threat to life, but it seems rather remote if you think about poverty, disease and economic stagnation. How do we educate children for the long-term if, for some of them, not showing up at school tomorrow means not eating at all?
  • How do we let them know about the risk of massive displacements of people who have no resources whatsoever to move?
  • Just by existing in a developed country in Europe, our carbon footprint is more impactful than any developing country.
  • Indigenous people are already defenders and protectors of the environment more than we will ever be in our generation.
  • Economic development is a priority in developing countries, and politicians may ignore environmental impact for the sake of it. (See Brazil’s natural resources open for business, says Bolsonaro)
  • Developing countries idealisation of economic development, influenced by “developed world standards”: tall buildings and industries all over the place, where often we don’t see the green implications of “success”.
  • What about a model of development thats puts together the simple living of developing countries with the green development of developed ones?
  • How waste affects developing countries; example of Philippines to sail garbage back to Canada.
  • We could shift the discussion to think about environmental impact in terms of social classes instead of countries. After all, rich lifestyles and “status” in general damage the environment in untold ways.
  • The Swadeshi movement brought back self-manufactured clothing in India to boycott foreign goods, a part of a movement to liberate India from British control and industrialisation.
  • When teaching, consider what’s in people’s context, reach and language instead of what’s “out there”.
  • We should actively listen more to those communities and what’s happening in those countries. Sometimes, instead of thinking that there is something to be taught, we should rather learn from their realities so we can bring about a meaningful conversation.
  • This is a problem not to be approached by technology, remotely. It’s rather about Politics and Education.

Action points

  • everyone to assure inclusivity, cooperation and engagement across boundaries, first and foremost.
  • countries to keep cooperating efforts internationally through policies, institutional frameworks for development and investments in infrastructure.

Conclusion

Well-led communities that strive for welcoming environments enable the best out of people. OMG Climate has shown that – its unconference format got everyone to take responsibility and engage towards constructive and meaningful discussions about climate change.

Participant presenting using microphone, all sketch notes of the unconference sticked to the wall, on background
Final presentations wrapping up the tracks.

Although most of us had a tech background, everyone seemed aware: tech alone will not solve all problems, but we are eager to address them either way.

Learn about Climate Change

More on OMG Climate


  1. Climate Change and Development in Three Charts ↩︎