There are those rare moments, among the denier-propaganda and barrage of depressing news stories, that restore your hope in humanity. The Opening Ceremony of Climate Week NYC was one such event.
Initially, I couldn't even find the entrance. With so many high-level personnel to attend, the ceremony was cloaked in secrecy -- the location was only revealed to the media a couple days in advance. "Media should enter through the loading dock at the back of the New York Public Library by 11:30," my directions read. It took a few walk-backs to finally be sure the unassuming opening was indeed the official door. The funny thing was that the many passerbys, like myself, had no idea what was happening inside the library, just a few hundred feet from the sidewalk. Granted, I'm told true New Yorkers don't stop for anything; guess I'm just a suburbian at heart.
Oddly, I still managed to be early -- 11:21 a.m. to be exact -- and had my pick of seats. The room couldn't have been more beautiful: medium-sized, oval-shaped, with an arched cieling, granite walls and gold molding throughout. A large stage was set up in the front, flagged on either side by two large flat-screen TVs, with a podium and tables for panelists. "You don't want to sit there," a photographer said, as I began to place my bags in the dead center of the second set of chairs. (The front rows were reserved for dignitaries and high-level reporters.) "All the cameramen will be right in front of you." I thanked him and scooted three over, beginning to read my plethora of promotional literature.
At 11:43 I began to think that tall reporters should be banned, or at the very least be confined to the very back rows, as the team of unusually-large New York Times reporters set up camp in front of me. The room was packed by this point, and I remained in my school uniform -- skirt, sweater, the whole nine yards -- among a sea of suits and high heels. I'm almost positive I was the only person in this ocean who could say the names and ages of all three Jonas Brothers, but the are-you-lost looks were easy to ignore. I was uncontainably excited.
Come to think of it, hair gel should be banned, too. Since when does newspaper dress code allow reporter mohawks?
"Ladies and gentlemen," a calm voice said over the speakers, "the event is about to begin." 11:57 -- very prompt. The tech team (I can only imagine) was sweating bullets as an introductory short movie froze numerous times on the TV screens. But quickly a quiet murmur fell over the room before the movie had the chance to stop again -- there they were! The dignitaries had arrived!
Ban Ki-moon! Tony Blair! Hugh Jackman! (He does, by the way, look brilliant in person.) First these three recognizable faces stood next to two other equally-important-except-in-recognizability men in gray suits on center stage. Then the other panelists file in -- I count 14 in all -- and the giant cameras snap away. I attempt to catch a group shot with my pathetic-in-comparison Flip camcorder, with limited success. As the eco-paparazzi calm down, Paul LeClerc, the President and CEO of the New York Public Library, gave the short opening remarks. Like a true bookworm, he stated his motivation for fighting climate change: rising sea levels would flood the building. Save Friedman!
One of the initial unrecognizable gray-suited personas now approached the podium, introducing himself in a pleasing British accent as Steve Howard, the CEO of the Climate Project. He disclosed that Climate Week was nothing more than an idea a few months ago, and the event only seemed all the more impressive. Hugh Jackman was next to the podium, and his speech was surprisingly funny and informed, spelling out -- from first hand knowledge as an Ambassador for World Vision -- the moral imperative of helping the poor with any climate agreement.
Ban Ki-moon gave his address next, a shy sense of humor peeking through now and then again, followed by Tony Blair, who gave the most informative talk of the afternoon. Tim Wirth, former U.S. Senator and current President of the U.N. Foundation, moderated a discussion with the inspiring Connie Hedegaard (Denmark's Minister for Climate and Energy and host of the Copenhagen Conference), Todd Stern (the U.S. negotiator for climate change), Su Wei (China's negotiator for climate change) and Jairam Ramesh (India's negotiator for climate change). All three emphasized a willingness to work for a deal.
Finally, Jean Charest, representing the local government aspect of the equation, put his mike to good use, as did Kumi Naidoo, the Chair of the Tck Tck Tck Campaign, in a rousing speech for the needs of civil society. Lastly, representatives from the two major corporate sponsors, HP and Swiss Re, gave remarks from the business opinions. Steve Howard closed out the event.
Phew. All this in just over an hour!
The thoughts of these remarkable individuals couldn't help but bolster the idea that maybe, just maybe, a climate change solution could be achieved. Each speech deserves a post in itself, and as this is long enough on its own, I will be writing a more detailed report very soon -- in case you're interested in more details than just the color of Ban Ki-moon's tie. (Which was appropriately light green, by the way.) I even have audio files of all the talks, so stay tuned!