Camping at Tällberg – Episode 5: Cold Water Cooking

TallbergPhoto_6John Elkington is leading a very lively discussion on aid and entrepreneurism. “Does aid work?” says a young Kenyan entrepreneur, whose name I missed (he is a late addition to the program). His answer is a clear no, backing up, strengthening, a point made by Iqbal Quadir. Quadir asked Sweden directly — because the Deputy Director of Sweden’s aid agency is also on the stage — to stop giving aid to governments. This, he says, creates a big headwind that slows down people like him (he created the Grameen Phone enterprise, which has transformed the telecom industry in Bangladesh). “Please stop sending aid to poor governments,” he says bluntly.

The conversation has been heating up, just like the tent. Aid is controversial. Iqbal thinks aid to NGOs and entrepreneurs is good, but aid to governments is bad. The young Kenyan from the Youth Employment Summit things aid is bad, period. Anders Wijkman stands to report that he visited Mali with Sweden’s aid minister, and discovered that while decision-making power is devolved all the way to village level, the money isn’t … because the central government does not trust them to manage the money. Aid money is just sitting in the capital, not going where it is meant to go. José Maria Figueres Olsen, former president of Costa Rica, calls for “mer estado y mer mercado — more states that work efficiently to provide regulatory frameworks, *and* more entrepreneurs in the market.” Mia Horn af Ranzien of Swedish SIDA defends her government’s policy as encouraging exactly that. (She and Iqbal are going to have to talk afterwards, says Elkington.)

There is a switch on the stage, and now we learn of a new initiative, born here at Tällberg: the Global Observatory. They intend to observe the Copenhagen climate process, that is, establish a very ambitious network of experts and ambassadors, mobilize public opinion, and hold the negotiators feet to the fire to achieve a stronger agreement.

They make a call for input to the Tällberg tent (which I repeat for them here):

Please suggest 3 Experts (e.g., people like Amory Lovins)
• 3 Ambassadors (well-known or charismatic figures, especially young people)
• 3 Funders (this means people and institutions with money)
• Other resources (what else would help?)
• Your personal contribution (what can you do?)
• “… to reach the agreement humanity requires”
Do you have input? Write them: support [[at]]


Our closing session of the workshop series on the Nile Basin is not well-attended, unfortunately. I’m guessing people are tired: they danced until 2, then some of them got up to participate in a multi-traditional sunrise ceremony at 6 am. (I played guitar by the lake until late, and preferred to sleep.)

But we press forward and look at maps of river flows in the Nile, pictures of drought and flood impacts, prepared by Audace Ndayizeye. Canisius Kanangire briefs us on the actions now being taken by NBI to raise awareness on climate change (levels of awareness are low in East Africa, despite the fact that climate change is already impacting the region, at times severely); encourage integration of climate change impacts in planning processes; and train people to be “change agents” and advocates in the region. Jakob Granit also reminds us that in the Nile Equatorial Lakes region, serious analysis has already happened looking at all the possible sources of power, the impact of rainfall changes, etc.

The Ambassador from Kenya is asking very good questions, and the answers help fill out the picture. What is the role of dams vis a vis other forms of development? Shouldn’t we also build capacity of many kinds? The conversation ranges widely across energy sources, development needs … “Is there any country that has achieved development because of solar energy?” says one participant. “No. I don’t have any example. The clean power generation is mainly hydro.” In other words, dams are inevitable in this region you want to bring electricity (a key to development – a key to education, entrepreneurship, and many other things) to the people, while mitigating carbon emissions.

What is the role of NGOs in all this? To make sure good stakeholder engagement happens, and good environmental impact statements are done. But at least this little group — which includes NGO, government, and inter-governmental folks — seems to agree with worries that environmental NGOs (mostly from outside teh region) are blocking dam building. To them, all dams are just bad. They don’t understand the impacts of their blockage. The lack of power leads to social unrest, and *more* negative impacts on the local ecosystems than a carefully developed dam might do. (Not mentioned here, but mentioned often in other venues, is the inherent injustice involved when northern NGOs — who live in wealthy societies, many of them running on hydropower — object to African countries developing the same resources.)

We learn more about these challenges, from Grace Akuna, of Climate Network Africa, and here’s a sample: Climate change will put, by 2020, between 75 and 250 million people people at risk because of changes in rainfall. And 2050, up to 600 million people will be “severely affected by water stress.” Egypt will have reduced power production from hydropower, even though populations and energy demand will rise. Grace recently flew over Mount Kilimanjaro, and the pilot flew in such a sharp curve that she could look straight down on the ice cap. “It is so small,” she said. Energy brownouts are occurring already from reduced flows through hydropower dams; turbines can’t turn. Sometimes, this lack of access to electricity puts people out of business; people lose their jobs; and this in turn can affect a huge number of people in a family where all are dependent on that one person’s job. (Think 10-20 people depending on each person with a job.)

“Not a very bright future for the citizens of the Nile Basin, but those are the facts on the ground.” And further, “not much happening with regard to climate change adaptation,” at least on the ground (though the Nile Basin Initiative how has a climate change strategy in development). Indeed, the Nile River is “the most susceptible river in the world” regarding the impact of climate change, according to a recent study. The impacts on agriculture, energy production, people’s well-being, and natural systems will be enormous.

Of course, there will be some benefits from climate change, due to rainfall increases — though these will be more stochastic, more storms, less steady. And Grace has come now to the political part, “most important”: the serious need for increase in adaptation funds. All countries of the Nile Basin are pushing that significantly. All Nile ministers of environment are also seeking compensation for climate change. She also recommends that NBI reach out to the more progressive voices in civil society, to strengthen the common voice calling for more attention and support to the people of this world likely to suffer most as the warming, changing, and collapsing picks up speed.

Hear, hear.


Food sack at Tällberg

Food sack at Tällberg

Before I wrap up this series and report on the final session, I thought I’d give you a sense of how I lived here at Tällberg. Here is my tent (see photo above), and my little stool and bag of food (this photo). I brought food with me; shopping for food was part of my “Camping at Tällberg” experience. I went through a large supermarket not far from my home, looking for meals that I could eat that were ecological (organic, so no nitrogen fertilizers), and that would not require either cooking or refrigeration (further reducing energy consumption).

Out of that experience, I’ve just coined the term, “cold water cooking.” In fact, after my weekend here, I’m thinking about putting together a small book with that title, and experimenting further to develop recipes for such a book. Actually, “cold water” is not really right, but I did avoid any form of cooking stove this weekend. Nor, of course, did I invent the idea of preparing food without having to boil water; our ape-ancestors did that. But if the phrase “cold water cooking” becomes some sort of trendy eco-thing to do, like biking and composting, just remember you heard it hear first.

Here are some of the recipes I “discovered”:

* Muesli tastes great with just cold water. Actually, I knew this already — I used to eat muesli with water twenty-five years ago, when I was going through a non-dairy (and generally new-agey) phase. But try it: you actually taste the oats and fruit much better. Make sure you use plenty of water, enough so that you get water with each spoonful too, and not just damp muesli.

* You can make a nice peanut sauce by taking peanut butter and stirring in cold water. This I poured on some organic (pre-cooked) black beans. This was so good, I ate two helpings.

* You can make couscous with just warm water, from (for example) the warm water tap in a campground. You don’t need to boil it. Just mix the dry couscous and the warm water and wait; it fluffs up nicely. I ate this with white beans in chili and lime. Tasted great.

* For lunch, I prepared some peanut butter sandwiches with Swedish crispbread, and instead of jam or butter (which would require refrigeration) I just laid some dried apricots on top. Mm.

I confess that I also ate a piece of ginger cake from a workshop coffee break, and I ate the bag lunch and one evening’s salmon dinner that was part of the opening festivities. And I drank a couple of cold local beers.

Otherwise, it was “cold water cooking,” and my little tent by the lake.

And in many years of attending conferences partly for a living, I can say that I’ve never had a better, more satisfying living experience.


“The tsunami is on the way. … We may have to do the impossible, and the unforgiveable, to address the unavoidable.”

This is Ged Davis of the Global Energy Assessment at IIASA, talking about geo-engineering. We are back in the tent, now dubbed the “sweat lodge” because of the truly sweltering heat. We have heard an otherworldly chorale from a Swedish singing group (and I have not written, as I should, about the magnificent music and poetry that are always part of Tällberg), and the panel that opened this Forum (I missed that) are proving wrap-up comments.

Ged: “The most critical question is, who do you love? Yourself? Your partner and yourself? Your family? Do you have a passion for the planet? When you find out who you love, you will know what you are willing to do. That’s the starting point.”

Chistine Loh is talking about “changing the DNA of humanity,” moving from chrysalis to butterfly, and also reporting candidly about what’s she’s heard as she has flitted, butterfly-like, through various sessions here. People are very active here, she says, networking, running organizations, etc. Some people of less than satisfied, either with their role in society or with Tällberg itself (for not giving them the answer regarding how they can have a stronger role in society to make change). “People seem to use the word system a lot.” But, says Christine, we have not yet found a way of *systematizing* the spread of solutions and case studies, like the one John Liu shared with us from the Loess Plateau in China.

“How can we take each other’s learning, and systematize it, for scaling up an scaling down?”

Jan Eliasson, who is talking about Governance, calls Tällberg a “festival of ideas,” but notes that “the real craps about good ideas is that they often degenerate into hard work.” He invokes the old saw about the British officer who,, after the briefing, said “I am still confused, but on a higher level.” He speaks eloquently (as is usual for him, a former top UN diplomat who is also very genuine and unpretentious) about the real issues we are up against, and emphasizes organized crime, as one of the most urgent problem on the planet, undermining the pillars of our societies. He then warns against despair, and quotes two UN Secretaries-General:

“No peace without development, no development without peace … and no lasting peace or sustainable development without human rights.” — Kofi Annan

“Never look down to test the ground to take your next step. Only he who keeps his eye fixed on the far horizon will find the right road.” – Dag Hamarskjöld

Jacqueline McGlade then encourages us to discover the “hidden planet” — the natural systems all around us, even under the pavement in our cities. She tells two stories: one about the Thisted community, at the far end of Denmark, which was dying. Fifteen years later, every household has a wind turbine. They make biogas. Even the fish processing plants are powered by renewable / reused materials. They export to the German grid. The extra money has revitalized the whole town — schools, libraries. Also, the schools (yes, the schools) run the public transit system, as a vast school project. The initial innovation? Giving every household a license for a wind turbine. That kicked off a revolution in the town and brought it back to sustainable life.

The second story I miss, but it ends with the beautiful image of African fisherman co-existing with the dolphins in their ecosystem.

Then she cuts a mobius strip in half. What does it produce? “A heart — the heart of the planet.” But the paper breaks. “I hope it’s not a broken heart,” says Tom Cummings.

José Maria Figueres-Olsen opens his remarks with a nearly quivering voice. He attended the sunrise ceremonies. He has been through many battles, he said. But at that sunrise ceremony, he realized just how thoroughly exhausted he was. He cites a statistic: all the fishing lines of our fishing fleets would circle the Earth lines 550 times.
But still, he felt it was time “to go into battle,” with a clear goal: 350 at Copenhagen. He has come to a conclusion regarding climate change: “We are going to adapt, we are going to mitigate, and we are going to suffer.” There is no way out, he says, but we can change the mix.

He enjoins us to practice “cathedral thinking” (this is work that will take generations) “with a sense of urgency” (it must be done now). In Spanish and English he tells us that there is no greater satisfaction than doing our duty. “It is time to do our duty.”


And it is time for me to wrap up this record of my time at the Tällberg Forum, while Sweden’s minister of energy reflects on the political road to Copenhagen, and the steps necessary to “remain within the planetary boundaries.” That phrase, “planetary boundaries,” is going to be *the* phrase in the coming months. September will see the publication of the new multi-author paper on the topic I mentioned earlier. Here is one government leader already using it.

Planetary boundaries, personal boundaries. I go home now, to prepare for a month of vacation with family. The tent will find other uses.

We had a round of final discussion, on the question of “What you found, and what you are taking back with you?” I found, or rather re-found, that living simply at these conference gatherings gives me much more pleasure and satisfaction. I may not always be able to camp as I travel around; but I can surely make it a practice to take the principle of simpler living with me, wherever I go (more than I even already do).

What I’m taking back with me?

The growth of the crowd here at Tällberg, the many people here that I do *not* know, this gives me hope. I’ve been working at this “sustainability” thing for 21 years now. And there are so many, many more people now doing the same. That, I will gladly take home … as well as the friendships I’ve made or reconfirmed. That, and the harmonies of a guitar by a lake in the midnight sun.

One thought on “Camping at Tällberg – Episode 5: Cold Water Cooking

  1. Dear Alan, you must have been writing permantly, taking notes of all you have heard. Very intesting for me to follow Tallberg this way. Interesting thoughts about aid.
    Have a safe trip back home! And a good sleep again with warm water nearby.
    Love, Alide

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