Scenes from the (Cold, Cold) Ground in Copenhagen

Scenes from the (Cold, Cold) Ground in Copenhagen

Climate negotiations broke down today in Copenhagen. It's heartbreaking, because if nothing comes to pass here, we all lose.

That was the only really important thing that happened here today. < Tuesday update: after a long night, talks are back on.&rt; There are many places you can read about these global events, but in keeping with the "personal journey" nature of my blog, I'm going to tell you about my day. Maybe it will make you wish you were here; more likely not.

I arrived yesterday, having waffled for many a week over whether the time and cost of my attending the climate talks made any sense for EMC or for me personally. Oddly, even after the day I've had, I'm gaining confidence that it did. But more about that as the week plays out.

So here's how it went.

When I arrived Sunday, I was informed that the Bella Center -- venue for the talks and locus of registration -- was closed for the day. I knew right away I'd have to compete to get registered on Monday at 8:00, so planned my Monday arrival carefully. I left my hotel in the outskirts of Malmo, Sweden at 6:35 this morning (frankly dictated by the 6:30 availability of coffee). Walked the 5 or 10 minutes to the bus stop, hopped the local 33 for which I did not yet have a travel pass, dug through my Swedish currency (to the annoyance of the locals) to find 20 SEK, and jumped off at the train station. Twenty minutes over the bridge to Denmark and to the appropriate stop in Copenhagen (having convinced the conductor that I should be allowed to ride free, since I hadn't been able to register yet), and from there one metro stop to the Bella Center.

7:30 A.M. So far so good. Stood 5 or 10 minutes in a queue to find out it was for badge holders only, and sent to the back of a secondary queue for those yet to register. Back. Way back. A couple of hundred people maybe?

15, 20 minutes go by. They moved the end of the queue around to accommodate more people. It was freezing. And dark. But shortly after 8, we started to move.

8:45. I'm halfway to the front of the queue. Cool -- maybe I'll make my 10:00 meeting.

9:45. It's getting light -- and colder. We've moved maybe 6 more feet. Speaking of feet -- I can't feel mine. We've all started to become friends. The very sweet Romanian journalist standing with me found a cup of coffee from one of the environmental groups setting up shop in the metro station and shared it with me. The German delegate on my left went to check to see if they were moving and brought back a report that nothing was happening quickly.

10:30. So much for my 10:00 meeting. Still hoping for the 2:00. We've moved another 6 feet. All of a sudden, people from the back surge up the side to create another line. And on the left, where the badged folks were going, another unbadged bunch surges up. I, the Finnish delegation in front of me, and the representatives of the coalition of Israeli NGOs behind me try to hold our ground. That doesn't last long.

11:00. We've devolved into mass chaos. Sarah, from the Boston area, comes back with a rumor that the registration system has broken down. Some people start leaving.

11:45. We've compressed into a multinational clump of humanity. People are probably stepping on my feet, but I can't tell because I can't feel them. A UN official comes out to tell us that it will be another 1-2 hours for those near the front (that's me, by now), and 3-6 hours for those in the back. Then he says "Be patient". We actually laugh. After all, sense of humor is all we have left.

1:23 P.M. My colleague (and now much owed friend) Steve from CA, whom I was hoping to meet before 10, emails me that he's going to bring out food and coffee. I'm worried he's going to be mobbed, and am very ambivalent about the coffee given a) my frozen fingers and b) the lack of toilets. Many people have given up and left, and one might wonder why I haven't. But -- this is what I came for. And more to the point, I really, really, really didn't want to do this again tomorrow. Anyway, Steve shows up, cleverly with a pocket of chocolates to bribe the people between him and me to pass me a sandwich, cookies, and cup of coffee. They all get split in four (imagine the comradery now -- I'm actually sharing a single paper cup of coffee with people who had been utter strangers a mere 6 hours earlier). It's snowing.

4:20. After many false alarms, a little bad information, and lots of no information at all, I manage to convince a Danish policewoman that I'm here with a delegation. And I am indeed, but it's an NGO delegation. By the time I get through the crowd, and past the barriers, she has learned she's only to let in national delegations. She asks if I'm with a national party and, ever the truth-teller, I say 'no'. She says I have to go back. I look miserable, say I'm inside already and my feet are numb and she says "OK, just go". Malcolm from Saskatchewan, with whom I've been standing for the last 6 hours or so, says "I'm with her!" and tthe two of us make haste to the back of the inner (but still outside) queue.

5:15. We're let in! And it's WARM!!!! We have to go through airport-style security (as Dan from NYC/Germany points out, this whole experience tends to tempers one's frustration with the TSA). And then another, oh, 1.5 hours on an inside queue for registration. At this point, I don't care as long as I'm indoors.

6:45. I have my registration. My picture's been taken (a lovely 45 seconds during which I got to SIT DOWN!), and I have my travel pass. First things first -- ladies' room! And then some fluid. And head back to Sweden where I'm typing this over a bowl of really hot soup.

So why am In not miserable? Well, for one thing, as the day gets worse, expectations are lowered and I actually did get my badge. I've heard that upwards of 5,000 other accredited attendees never got that far.

Secondly, meeting people under conditions of adversity creates an amazing comradery. Not only my Romanian, Finnish, Israeli, German friends from above, but the grad school, college, and high school students from US and UK, the Scotsman working in London, the Englishman working in Scotland, the Dane working in Belgium, the young Dutch woman working in Bangkok (she gave us some amazing insight into the political situation in Thailand), the Indian woman from Philadelphia, the nun from South Africa, the Australian activist from Singapore, the Nigerian woman living in Sweden, the Frenchman in The hague, the delegation from Nigeria... It was a truly amazing set of individuals, passionate, knowledgeable, rugged (clearly), who shared stories and knowledge and opinions.

The irony shouldn't pass unnoticed though -- that the attendees are a multicultural group of individuals whose own lives have crossed so many borders. And yet, it is nations that are negotiating. And none too well, at this point. Just food for thought...

Kathrin ("Kate") Winkler is senior director and chief sustainability officer at EMC Corporation, where she has a history of taking on entirely new roles in which she has to fill in the interstices between more traditional functions.

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