Small Shifts Cause Large Waves: Paris 2015

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photo from istock 

The 2015 Paris Climate Change Conference, also known as COP21 (Conference of the Parties 21) is the twenty first meeting of what is now a near-universal membership of 195 countries. Begun in response to climate change at the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, the “Rio Convention” included the adoption of the UN Framework on Climate Change. That was the first framework for action aimed at stabilizing atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases. 

The COP meetings exist to review the Convention’s implementation. The first COP took place in Berlin in 1995. COP3 was where the Kyoto Protocol was adopted, COP11 produced the Montreal Action Plan, COP17 was in Durban where the Green Climate Fund was created.


Ed Mazria is the founder of Architecture 2030, an organization committed to protecting our global environment by using innovation to develop bold solutions to global warming. He has called COP21 in Paris “an end to the fossil fuel era.” The historic agreement signed there is a long term goal committing almost 200 countries, including the U.S., China, India and the EU nations, to keep the global average temperature increase to “well below 2 degrees centigrade above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees centigrade.”

According to Ed, “the Paris Agreement introduces a new world, one that envisions an end to fossil fuel emissions and secures a strong mechanism to address climate change.”


COP21 attracted nearly 50,000 participants, including 25,000 official delegates. Multiple forums were held on a variety of related topics. In addition, thousands of demonstrators were permitted to gather on December 12, in spite of France’s tightened security after the recent terrorist attacks. 

The following is a guest post by architect Veronica Schreibeis Smith, of Vera Iconica Architecture in Jackson, Wyoming. Veronica attended the Sustainable Energy for All Conference at the 2015 Paris Climate Conference, held from November 30 to December 12, 2015. I asked her to share her thoughts here.         –Trud


We’ll begin with a few questions:

Q: Veronica, what part of the Paris Climate Conference did you attend?

A: I attended Sustainable Energy for All.

(Referred to as SE4all, “Sustainable Energy for All is a call for both revolution and reform; a radical vision where everyone can access and afford the reliable energy they need to live a productive, healthy, secure life, while respecting the planetary constraints that we all face as a result of climate change.” –Rachel Kyte, SE4All CEO/Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General)

Q: Why did you attend the Conference?

A: “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” Many times, our good intentions have unintended consequences. As the SE4All initiative focuses on powering the world, we need to simultaneously be working on initiatives that empower (people) to make the right decisions on how to use the energy once they receive it.

Buildings consume almost half the world’s power production. If we deliver power to exponentially more people, while only focusing on doubling the efficiency of the infrastructure and doubling the amount of of sustainable energy, we likely have not made a positive impact, but rather have continued on a track of more consumption.

My focus is how can we implement grass roots movements in Third World countries that educate people on how to have healthy and sustainable homes, and make healthy decisions for their families regarding consumption and preservation of culture, once they receive the energy.

To date, my role has been as a participant in think tank type of discussions to brainstorm what initiatives and actionable steps could be viable for making this come true.


Q: What was your takeaway on the most actionable steps?

A: To get involved. Not just wait and see what others are going to do, but to donate your time or money; if you have an idea, to reach out to the United Nations Foundations and share (what) you want to put into practice and just need financing for; to promote and encourage yourself and others to get involved as a public + private relationship to make meaningful change.

What do you think were the key accomplishments?

A: For the Paris talks in general, the level of unprecedented participation from around the globe. There was a social media survey from the UN that was mostly electronic, but in some areas they had paper ballots hand-delivered to UN outposts, and tallied by staff there. For every one thousand humans on this planet, one person responded to the survey. That is 7 million people from around the world uniting to create change and a better life for a healthier planet. That alone is huge. Good will follow–in exponential increments!

From that survey, the UN defined the 17 top priorities for the 21st century. The top five are:

  1. Poverty
  2. No Hunger
  3. Good Health
  4. Quality Education
  5. Gender Equality

The movement asks all of us to become a global citizen. This video explains more:

Veronica continues:

  • Nature is integral to human wellbeing, and a shift in the realization of our interconnectedness to the environment is continually growing. We can see this vast change in only six short years since the unsuccessful climate talks in Copenhagen in 2009. Last month, an unmistakeable belief in a successful outcome for the Paris Climate Talks was clear after the first week.


  • There is no doubt that alterations in timing and logistics played a part. Most notable was the change from the world leaders’ involvement as the negotiators in 2009 to their limited role as speakers and advocates early in the first week, followed by relinquishing final negotiations to environmental and policy professionals. The greatest contributing factor came from outside the closed doors, and even outside Paris.


  • The Earth to Paris movement reached an unprecedented number of people across the planet. The Internet allowed access for all, which diminished the chasm that has distanced us in the past, such as residing in a developed versus developing countries, age gaps, social and economic backgrounds, and more.


  • Thousands of videos hosted by celebrities grabbed our attention on social media, surveys invited us to express our opinions, and finally, the call for Love Letters to Paris invited our thoughts to be hand delivered to leaders behind those closed doors. And it worked.



  • What keeps me going back to the United Nations Foundation discussions is the focus on how public and private sectors can unite to transform ideas into reality, to move from talk to walk. We heard success stories from Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, examples of how companies like Phillips Petroleum are leaping toward carbon-free operations and incorporating holistic, circular economy strategies, and how start-ups are innovating solutions, such as Mobilsol, which delivers off-the-grid solar energy via drones in Africa.


  • A subtle shift in perspective and an increase in awareness, followed by one actionable step after another is the catalyst needed to inspire individuals, companies, and economies of scale to make meaningful change, toward better husbandry of the earth.


  • Small shifts in perspective can cause massive ripples. After all, thoughts are things, and the unification of humanity’s thoughts will certainly cause waves. A connected world is powerful. A united world is power. Join in the efforts. Do your part. You make a difference as a collective part of the whole.



Veronica Schreibeis Smith is the CEO and Founding Principal of Vera Iconica Architecture. Veronica’s entrepreneurial half is driven by the vision of creating company structures that support and empower individuals to reach their highest potential, while the architect in her is driven to raise awareness of the profound effects our surroundings have on our wellbeing. She has practiced architecture on four continents, and continues working internationally. She chairs the Wellness Architecture Initiative for the Global Wellness Institute, and recently founded Designed Developments, a B Corporation that invests in a new model of building to inspire and perpetuate the celebration of the richness of culture, pay homage to the natural landscape,and create environments that nourish our wellbeing and feed our souls. 


A Window to Our Future

design future 2

Earlier this month, I participated in the Leadership Summit for Sustainable Design, hosted by the Design Futures Council, as a member of the Delegation of 100.  The Summit was an amazing gathering of leaders in the sustainable design movement, who share a belief in our ability to shift the relationship between humans and the environment, and to create systems that are truly sustainable.

My involvement with the Design Futures Council is one of several commitments I have in place to work toward a more sustainable earth. It encompasses both my “green” design work and my dedication to educating my clients and readers, as well as a personal passion for protecting the environment.

Trudy in Minneapolis 2DFC Trudy and Jim Cramer

Held this year in Minneapolis (guess whose statue this is!), the participants and speakers inspired me to believe in a future for our children and grandchildren that can support both the growing numbers of humans on the planet as well as the fragile environment we live in.

I’ve heard the term “a conga line of geniuses and scientists” applied to the Ted Conferences before; it certainly applied to the Summit as well.  It was hard to choose what is most important to share from such a list of exemplary individuals, all who exhibit such “intellectual rigor” (one of the bywords of the conference!).  I finally chose architect and author Ed Mazria, for his work with his organization Architecture 2030.  It’s so important for all of us to understand what’s at stake in the world, and what we can do to help!

I am greatly concerned, along with leading environmental scientists, about climate change and global warming.  The risk to us all, and to future generations, is in doing business as usual.  We need to make changes to bring the world’s temperatures back to where they were in the pre-industrial era; at the very least we must keep our global warming to under a 2 degree increase.


The architecture and design community must take the lead in transforming the way we live, work, and utilize the eco-system.  Our built environments must reflect a genuine concern for the next generations, and a willingness to engage with government, business leaders and public policy to find the right balance.

Mr. Mazria has reshaped the international dialogue on energy and climate change to incorporate building design through his organization Architecture 2030.

Architecture 2030 recognizes that buildings are the major source of global demand for energy and materials that produce by-product greenhouse gases.  Mr. Mazria’s impassioned support for innovative sustainable design strategies is leading a new generation of concerned industry leaders to embrace his vision for the future.

Specifically, Mr. Mazria has emphasized the need to keep the global temperature increase below the two degree centigrade threshold.  Entire species disappear when the temperature changes only a fraction of a degree.  The recently released Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPPCC) Fifth Assessment Report concludes that to keep the increase below two degrees, global greenhouse emissions must peak by 2020, and then begin a rapid decline.

Mr. Mazria has focused on China, currently urbanizing at a rate unmatched in human history, as an opportunity to create healthy, resilient and integrated regional infrastructures, cities, towns and buildings that are models of economic and urban sustainability.  Projections indicate that within 20 years, China’s urban population will grow by 350 million people, creating 221 cities with more than one million inhabitants.  In order to take advantage of the opportunity to plan and design sustainable, carbon neutral built environments that protect and enhance natural resources, Mr. Mazria and Architecture 2030 are working toward a carbon neutral China Accord.

Old Chinese Village

The China Accord urges that cities, towns, urban developments, new buildings and major renovations in China be designed to be carbon neutral, meaning they use no more energy over the course of a year than they produce or import from renewable energy sources.  If reaching carbon neutral is not practical, then they urge developments to be designed to be highly efficient with the capability to use renewable energy sources in the future.

Architecture 2030 is organizing signatures from all those who have offices in China, or current or future plans for projects in China, to add their signatures and pledges to the Accord, to influence urban development in China and throughout the world.  More information is available at

Architecture 2030 isn’t just concerned with China, however.  Mr. Mazria’s 2030 Challenge is about reducing the carbon footprint of architecture everywhere, first by eliminating the use of fossil fuels in new construction, and then by cutting the use of fossil fuels in existing buildings by 50% by 2030.  He plans to hit those targets through a new initiative called the 2030 PALETTE:  an online design tool to help produce low impact, people friendly projects.

For instance, this “green” school utilizes daylighting from multiple sides to cut energy consumption.  It provides more even lighting, and reduces glare, often created when light comes primarily from one side. The online tool gives advice on how to properly daylight a building, from providing windows on opposite walls, to incorporating high ceilings and walls with light shelves to direct sunlight deeper into a space.

The online tool provides information ranging from the micro–daylighting in buildings–to the macro–defining growth boundaries to limit urban sprawl.  The work of Architecture 2030 is critical to our future, and will help to determine whether climate change is manageable or catastrophic.

Important work is being done by other concerned groups as well.  In late September, I attended the annual conference of The Nantucket Project, an organization that hosts a gathering of some of the world’s leading thinkers and visionaries to help shape the dialogue on the most important issues we face. I was gratified to attend this year along with Senator John McCain, Chris Matthews, Greg LeMond, Michael Pollan, Louis Schwartzberg, and many others for presentations, discussions and education from experts in a variety of fields.

trudy and john mccain

Here I am with John McCain at The Nantucket Project

I learned so much at both of The Nantucket Project and the Leadership Summit; there’s so much more I wish I could share with you.  Here are three more inspirations:

Check out Jim Harris, the author of A Crisis is a Terrible Thing to Waste.  The book presents hundred of case studies showing how environmental leadership can drive profitability and improve the bottom line.

And available through Netflix, there is a must-see documentary film called Chasing Ice.  It’s environmental photographer James Balog’s record of the world’s changing glaciers, captured through time-lapse photography. He compresses years into seconds to show how these ice mountains are disappearing at an alarming rate.

Last, please watch the film Nature’s Beauty Inspires Gratitude, a short film by award-winning cinematographer Louie Schwartzberg shown at a TEDx talk.  His time lapse photography captures breathtaking images through, as he says, “beauty and seduction–nature’s tools for survival.”   I was so moved by his film treatise on water, “One Drop.”  I hope it becomes widely available for viewing soon.


Our world is vast and fragile, and climate change is real and deadly.  I”ll continue to share my thoughts on how we can take action together.  I’d love to hear your thoughts, too.

The Most Powerful Weapon on Earth to Fight Climate Change

“The most powerful weapon on earth is the human soul on fire.”
– Marshal Ferdinand Foch

In Fall 2011, I attended the Design Futures Council’s Leadership Summit on Sustainable Design, and was impressed by the number of thoughtful, committed architects, designers and builders who are determined to create a more sustainable future in American cities.  At the Summit, our mantra was “you must stand for something, or you will fall for everything.  Never has this been more true than in addressing the risks of climate change, and identifying ways to counteract this dangerous warming of our earth.

I have long been a believer in the “power of one,” the power of each individual to stand up, speak out, and make a difference.  Now is the time to do so.

Summer 2012 has been a dangerous season for heat, drought and wildfires, exemplified by the blazes that scorched parts of Colorado and blackened hundreds of thousands of acres of New Mexico wilderness.  The August issue of Food, Nutrition & Science called this summer’s dry heat the worst American drought in nearly 50 years. Corn crops have been hit particularly hard; their decimation reminds us how fragile our environment really is.

Missouri has been hit hard by drought, as seen in this withered stand of corn.

(For an excellent discussion of the perils of wildfires throughout the U.S., read Timothy Egan’s opinion piece from July 2012 in the New York Times here.)

Even on the island of Nantucket, fire walls are being built, and the Nantucket Conservation Foundation is working on a Wildfire Risk Reduction Program, including brush cutting firebreaks and scheduling prescribed burnings.  The goal of this effort is to identify land management strategies that will reduce “fuel loads” of highly flammable vegetation on Foundation properties, especially where they occur in close proximity to homes.

Photo courtesy of Jim Lentowski and the Nantucket Conservation Foundation.

In a world where people still debate the concepts of climate change and global warming, in spite of overwhelming evidence of steadily increasing temperatures, I turn to James E. Hansen, the director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) for a clear-eyed view of our future.  A member of the National Academy of Sciences, he received the Heinz Environment Award in 2001 for his climate research. Research at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) emphasizes a broad study of global change, addressing natural and man-made changes in our environment — from one-time events such as volcanic explosions, to seasonal and annual effects such as El Niño, and on up to the millennia of ice ages — that affect the habitability of our planet.


In an opinion piece he wrote for the Washington Post on August 3, 2012, (Climate Change Is Here, and Worse Than We Thought), Hansen discusses a new analysis of the past six decades of global temperatures, which reveal a stunning increase in the frequency of extremely hot summers.  He is emphatic that the analysis shows that for the extreme hot weather of the recent past, there is no explanation other than climate change.

On June 20, 2012, published a list of 23 ways the earth has changed in the 20 years since the first “Earth Summit” was held in Rio de Janeiro.  (Read more here.)  Among the trends they’ve identified are:

  • There are about 1.5 billion more people in the world, an increase of 27%
  • The average person eats 20 pounds more meat each year.
  • Carbon dioxide emissions increased 36%, from 22 billion tons to 30 billion tons.
  • The ten hottest years since records began in 1880 all occurred since 1998.
  • Artic sea ice has declined 35%.

Who’s Taking Action?

A movement called Architecture 2030 is underway, driving a national grassroots movement to foster private/public partnerships to create sustainable urban growth.  The 2030 District Model brings property owners together with local governments, businesses, architects and planners to provide a solid business model for urban sustainability.  First established in Seattle, today more cities are joining the effort.  This month, Pittsburgh joined Cleveland and Seattle by launching a Pittsburgh 2030 District.

2030’s mission is to rapidly transform the U.S. and global Building Sector from the major contributor of greenhouse gas emissions to a central part of the solution to the climate change, energy consumption, and economic crises. Architecture 2030’s Edward Mazria will deliver a lecture titled “The Next Built Environment, Today” on Monday September 10th at Carnegie Mellon University.  Read more about the movement here.

What Can You Do to Help?

The scope of our activities that generate carbon dioxide emissions are great, including driving our cars, turning on a light, and heating or cooling our homes.  But you can make a difference by taking action:

  • Plan your errands to make fewer short car trips.  Cars emit the most carbon dioxide when the engine is cold.
  • Properly inflate your car tires to prevent excess fuel consumption.
  • Turn down the heat or air conditioning a fraction.  Even moving the thermostat up or down a degree or two can make a huge difference.
  • Recycle whatever you can.
  • Take shorter showers.
  • Switch off appliances not in use at the wall.  Anything connected to an energy source uses standby power that can consume unnecessary energy.
  • Before buying anything, ask yourself, “do I really need this?”  Rampant consumerism plays a huge role in carbon emissions.

Look for more ways to help, by visiting or

As James Hansen says, “This is the world we have changed, and now we have to live in it…There is still time to act and avoid a worsening climate, but we are wasting precious time…The future is now.  And it is hot.”