Camping at Tällberg – Episode 4: Stop Talking, Start Planting

Women queuing for water in India. Photo from Ashok Khosla's presentation at the Tällberg Forum 2009

Women queuing for water in India. Photo from Ashok Khosla's presentation at the Tällberg Forum 2009

Morning again. Somehow folks crawled out of bed after dancing and drinking past midnight, and made their way to the big tent by 8:30 (it is full when I get there) to experience the climate change negotiations game run by Drew Jones and other colleagues.

First, Drew Jones — his voice almost wavers with emotion — reports the passage of the first-ever climate change legislation in the US, to the applause of this crowd. Then (I have skipped several steps here, including Anders Wijkman’s briefing on the not-so-inspiring status of the negotiations for the Copenhagen climate summit) we are divided up into groups. Our task will be the world’s task at Copenhagen: “to avoid the unmanageable, and to manage the unavoidable.”

At Drew’s request, half of us are standing: we’re China, India, Brazil, and other fast-growing countries. Christine Loh of Civic Exchange is the leader. Another twenty percent, led by Jaqueline McGlade of the European Environment Agency, are the developed world (that’s where I am, and we’re aloud to keep sitting, hence this text). Tom Cummings’ people — the poor states, the island states — are told to sit on the floor. They get blue blankets, which they lift over their heads at one point to signify the rising seas. One of them cries, “Viva la revolucion!” “We didn’t here that, did we?” says Jackie McGlade, speaking for the wealthy OECD nations.

Drew then leads us, with astonishing rapidity, through a round of “negotiations” that are immediately reflected to us by the climate learning model “C-Roads” on the big screen. You can try this yourself at

Basically, as the model makes clear, what we’re doing now, and currently planning to do, as a world, on climate change, is woefully inadequate. (I guess we knew that.)

But then, if we cooperate as a world (all of us from the sitting/standing/half-drowned world) do pretty much everything possible — including reforestation, methane control and removal, taking better care of our soil, etc. etc. etc. — then Drew’s little orange line moves down, slowly, slowly, finally approaching 350 ppm — instead of the 900 ppm that would result from business-as-usual.

This laughing-serious cacophany of modeling-meets-group-theater is capped off by a classic talk from Amory Lovins. Typically, I cannot remember much of it now — it was so information rich (I’m grateful for web-based video as memory supplement) — but I remember his metaphor: when it comes to energy and efficiency, there is so much low-hanging fruit that it is raining down, filling up the space around our feet then spilling down into our boots, while new fruit falls down on our heads. He referenced “Winning the Oil Endgame” ( and

He also lifted up, as an example of new-fangled Integrative Design, his 1983 house, passive-solar-super-efficient, “which just harvested its 29th crop of bananas” despite being in the Rocky Mountains. Companies he works with regularly achieve “30-60% energy reduction with 2-3 year paybacks.” Then he extends his transformation-is-profitable message to ecological restoration, and tells us to see the Ted talk “Willie Smits Restores a Rainforest” ( “Now this [Borneo] forest is self-protecting, because the people are so much better off, culturally and economically.” And if anyone tries to disturb their forest, well, they will likely kill you; and since, in their history, they were “blow-dart wielding head-hunters, this is a credible threat.”

After Amory came a panel, led off by Bill McKibben, who launched here (and other places) last year, and has grown it to an amazing, creative, dynamic movement of mostly younger people who find hundreds, thousands of creative ways to bring the goal of 350 ppm to the attention of the media and decision-makers. Bill has evolved amazingly himself, over the year, as a speaker. He is on fire, and the crowd is with him — one expects that dozens more 350 demonstrations will result from this short talk.

Okay, now I’m hopping over some worthy things to talk about this young boy, maybe 9 or 10 years old, whose name I never got, whose accent suggested that English was not his first language (but it was as fluent as any other non-native speaker here). He was here launch a children’s campaign called, “Stop Talking, Start Planting.” They were celebrating — could this be right? — the “first millionth tree” of a 350 million tree campaign. Wow! The crowd was … well, wowed. He had cool pictures, too, of this kid putting his hand over the mouth of a range of well-known personalities here.

Stop talking, start planting.

There were other speakers after that, but I think — in deference to the foregoing — I’ll skip most of them (you can watch them on the web), and remark on what happened when Grace Akumu of Climate Action Network in Africa took the floor. She made the case for reparations to Africa for the damage it is suffering now, and will suffer in the future, because of climate change. “A problem that we did not create, but that we suffer the effects of.” She, too, gets the long, heart-felt applause of the crowd, and receives — symbolically — the climate change relay race baton from Jaqueline Glade of the European Environment Agency.

Hmm. Stop talking, start paying …


My main task at this conference is to hold together a workshop series on the Nile Basin, which Tällberg Foundation had invited me to frame and produce. Several of my direct clients are here, senior people from the Nile Basin Initiative, as well as other political and thought leaders from regional countries and other institutions. The group assembled is small, but influential: Kenya’s Minister of Water and Irrigation, Charity Ngilu, and Director of Water Services, John Rao Nyaoro (Kenya has been a strong force in recent ministerial negotiations, I’m told); NBI’s Head of Strategic Planning and Management, Canisius Kanangire; a former Egyptian diplomat, Magdy Hafny, now a water and ethics researcher; a former World Bank official on the Nile Team now working at an Stockholm International Water Institute, Jakob Granit; and others who are either already marginally involved in Nile work or interested in it because of their work on other water systems.

The conversations are something like a microcosm of the conversations that happen in Africa, in the actual meetings of key Nile actors, but geared toward explaining the dynamics to those present who don’t know much yet. (To be clear, I am also still learning about the Nile. It takes a lifetime, I’m told.) And the dynamics among the countries, and between the countries and the World Bank, are not uncomplicated.

But the conversation also reflects the claim that I and others made, in trying to bring this Nile story to Tällberg (where it could be echoed out to the world): there is amazing progress going on in this, one of Africa’s most challenged regions. This is a global-scale success story in the making. Cooperation is advancing very rapidly. The pre-conditions are in place for rapid sustainable development.

And … the situation in the Nile Basin is front line in the struggle against poverty, ecosystem stress, conflict risk, and a big driver there, climate change.

The Nile needs attention, the Nile needs support. In the race against time, I know of few international cooperation projects that have raced so well (see, and see my earlier posts on the topic); and yet, the problems are racing fast as well. Minister Ngilu tells us, for example, that she recently visited an installation that used to be a water intake pipe from Lake Victoria (one of the Nile’s sources) for a region of Kenya. Now that pipe just dangles in the air, because the Lake’s water level has fallen 3 meters (10 feet) in recent years. Summing up our morning talks, the situation, she is saying now, is “fairly complex … but also very urgent.”

Less talk, she says, more action.


And now, we are in the Tent of Dreams, the “collegial sauna” as moderator Charles Handy calls it. It is so hot, the little chocolates they left for us on the table have melted completely and are liquified in their clear plastic wrappers.

And what happens in the Tent of Dreams? Ah, if I wrote that down, it would cease to be dreamlike, yes? Here’s an idea: imagine what *you* would like to see in a Tent of Dreams … spend some time with that thought … then, if you really want to know who spoke and what they said, watch the webcast.

I’ll be back again on this channel, but I’m taking a break now …

Less writing … more dreaming.

3 thoughts on “Camping at Tällberg – Episode 4: Stop Talking, Start Planting

  1. Pingback: Talking Climate at Tällberg « Climate Interactive — The Blog

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