Haven't I seen you somewhere before?
A few last over-the-shoulder observations from Rob Schmitz, who has at last escaped Copenhagen, after two weeks of reporting for Climate Watch and The California Report.
There goes Nancy Pelosi in a blazing red dress. Over there? Hugo Chavez surrounded by bodyguards and tracked by television cameras. Watch out! Al Gore’s security detail is coming through!
It was getting toward the end of Week Two, and the Bella Center, all but closed now to those pesky, protesting NGOs, was overrun by more than 120 world leaders and heads of state, and you couldn’t get to the restroom without bumping into one of them (or the elbows of their security guards).
With all this power crammed into once place, the folks who seem like bigwigs at home suddenly found themselves standing in line for hours with the rest of us. CEOs, heads of big-name state agencies and the like had to walk more than a mile to the conference Wednesday after protests forced police to shut down the Bella Center metro stop and erect twenty-foot barriers around it. Then, the UN barred access to most accredited NGO participants, enraging many who dropped thousands of dollars to come here and now couldn’t attend the finale of these negotiations.
At one point, I was looking for a table where I might sit down and eat my lunch. This is one of the joys of covering a conference like this: it’s crowded and everyone’s eating at the same time, so the nations of the world share tables (at least they can cooperate at lunchtime). I plopped my tray down at a table of three people dressed in elaborate white, blue, and red costumes, adorned with silver jewelry. As it turned out, they were three presidents of the parliamentary system of the Sami people, the indigenous nomadic reindeer herders of northern Norway, Sweden, and Finland, an area known as Lapland. The three were there to support language in the draft resolution text that would include indigenous peoples when deciding where to build renewable energy projects. They’ve had problems in the past when wind farms and dams were built on their lands. “The reindeer don’t like that,” said one of the leaders, “they’ll avoid anything that’s new, and it disturbs our herding,” she told me. The conversation soon turned to their costumes. “We usually don’t wear these outfits,” said one leader at the table, “but we wear them here, because it helps raise awareness of our people. Television journalists are very interested in us.” But, he said, the costumes were a double-edged sword of sorts. When they wear them at official functions, they have a hard time being taken seriously by officials from other governments, one lamented.
I had a similar notable encounter the day before, when I was reporting a story on what California got out of the climate summit. After wrapping up my interviews, I sat down and had breakfast at the Scandic Webers Hotel. Sitting next to me was a man dressed in a red Wisconsin Badgers t-shirt and grubby Adidas sweatpants. Me being from Minnesota, it was my Midwestern duty to inform him of this.
Me: “Wisconsin, eh?
Me: “I’m from Minnesota.”
Him: “Oh yeah? Well I hope we see you in the playoffs.”
He was referring to the NFL and the arch-rivalry between the Green Bay Packers and my team, the Minnesota Vikings. We proceeded to rib each other about football and had a fun, trash-talking conversation about quarterback Brett Favre. At the end of the conversation, I asked him what he did for a living in Wisconsin.
“Oh, I’m the governor.”
It’s been that kind of week. Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle, dressed in sweatpants on this morning, was wearing suits when he was involved in meetings throughout the week, to urge the US to make a binding commitment to greenhouse gas emissions reductions and for congress to pass a cap-and-trade scheme. But he, of course, was playing second (or third) fiddle to the heaps of world leaders that piled into this conference.
Maybe he should have dressed like a reindeer herder.