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CAB Highlights: At the frontiers of the climate crisis

The last LFCA event of the year took place on Friday 18th December: the Climate Action Breakfast was again very successful and motivating.

Chiara Canetti, journalist
Chiara Canetti, journalist
December 22, 2020 | 11 min

The last LFCA event of the year took place on Friday 18th December: more than 300 community members gathered digitally to listen to three speakers from outside of our entrepreneurial community, who are on the frontlines of the fight against climate change. All of them are deeply dedicated to contributing in their own unique way - through science, art, or civic engagement - and they are all true leaders in their field.

The year 2020 has been very challenging for everyone and it has put everything upside down. However, in our community we prefer to focus on possibilities instead of limitations. This event should have given us all a necessary input to raise priority of concrete climate action in 2021, despite the adversities that we have to face. Let’s go through the main highlights of the event:

Prof. Dr. Maja Goepel

Maja Goepel was the first speaker of the event: professor, political economist, transformation researcher, co-founder of Scientists4Future, and Scientific Director at the New Institute Hamburg. For three years she was Secretary-General of the German Advisory Council on Global Change (WBGU) at the intersection between science, politics, and society, and has a clear vision of how to use digitalization to drive meaningful social-ecological transformation.

Her engagement in environmental issues started at a young age. The day when she found out about the Chernobyl disaster was a wake-up call that made her realize how everything in our ecosystems is interconnected: something far away and invisible can have an impact on you. It is the same principle that we need to acknowledge in order to understand the climate crisis.

This motivated Maja to be actively involved in the fight with the climate crisis since 2000. The eagerness to act is a driver as she believes that everything we do will have a positive impact in the future and we do not have to waste our time hesitating whether we will be able to tackle climate change, we should just act instead. As she explains: We live in an evolutionary world, you’ll never know exactly how the future will look, especially in a complex system. (…) Incredible things can happen when people come together and really want things to happen.

We should keep on trying to do our best and not give up because we are afraid we will not reach the goal. Therefore, we have to favor the optimism of the will over the pessimism of the intellect if we want to change our future. In her view, now we are approaching a tipping point in our society and from here we can choose the direction we want to follow. This is the very first time that we are deciding which economic system will fit better our future: Right now the future is much more widely open than it used to be.

As Maja explains, if we look at transformation science, a system is composed of a configuration of elements that are in a dynamic relationship in order to move towards a purpose. Economics and technology are the driving forces of innovation but social and cultural relationships are also drivers that determine our direction. For this reason, it is very important that we find the purpose of our direction first, in order to configure the technologies to it.

Digitalization has a special role: it helps to monitor and look at the system in a much more detailed way. Her suggestion is to look at the climate embedded in the ecosystem, look at sufficiency, and how to save resources, and use money and technology to make the ecosystem flourish. We are in a moment where we need to change how we look at our value creation: we need changes in climate policies and to disrupt the usual business model to make ecosystems resilient. We need to change the story, that is when transformation really works: when you change the default.

To conclude, Maja mentioned that the fact that her latest book “Unsere Welt neu denken: Eine Einladung” became a bestseller in Germany this year - gives her hope, as it motivated a lot of people to engage themselves in sustainability. This shows how we should be outspoken, not afraid to take action and the LFCA community is a great example of this.

Felix Finkbeiner

The second speaker was Felix Finkbeiner, a young environmentalist and founder of the NGO Plant For The Planet. He started the initiative of planting trees in Germany when he was only 9 years old. At age 10 he spoke in the European Parliament and at age 13 at the UN General Assembly. In 2018, Focus magazine called him a Person Most Likely to Shape the Next 25 Years. He connected to our event directly from the jungles in Mexico, where he is working on the Trillion Tree Campaign together with the United Nations.

  • Disclaimer: 1 day before this event, the German newspaper DIE ZEIT

    a critical article on the organization Plant for the Planet. In

    they defend their work and justify the numbers. We kindly invite you to read the information on both sides and develop your own opinion. We hope that further information from experts and third parties will help to bring clarity into this important issue.

It all began when in school he heard about the Kenyan Wangari Maathai that started planting 30 million trees in 30 years. So, together with his classmates, Felix started planting trees and raising consciousness about climate issues among children of different schools. During the years, more and more children were involved in taking action, leading Felix and other children to speak at different UN Conferences. To inspire other children to drive the change, Plant For The Planet has organized 1545 academies in 74 countries around the world, where children learn about the climate crisis, how to tackle it, and have the chance to become climate ambassadors.

After the first million of trees was planted, Felix started to look for the next big milestone. He and his team started to look at the planet as one system, and thanks to some scientific researches, they’ve discovered that originally the earth was covered by 6 trillion trees and only half of those trees remain today. Unfortunately, due to different land use such as agriculture and settlement, it is impossible to restore the original amount of trees. Their mission is to restore up to 1 trillion trees at the global scale to increase wealth especially in the global south, and to try to reduce the rising temperature. These projects, however, do not compensate for carbon directly, as it takes time for the forest to grow and the growth can be sometimes disrupted by natural events. For this reason, their partners compensate emission through regular methods and additionally they contribute to reforestation.

The first phase of this ambitious restoration is taking place in the Yucatàn peninsula in Mexico, where the aim is to restore about 22 thousand hectares of degraded forests, with different degradation levels and plant species that were lost to restore biodiversity and contribute to carbon capture. At the moment, Felix is actively working on this project with the support of a diverse team of 131 members. Last year one tree every 25 seconds was planted on average, whereas this year due to Covid-19 the work had to slow down. However, everyone is still working hard and Felix is conducting ecological research in collaboration with ETH Zurich and Imperial College London, on how to accelerate ecosystem restoration.

Plant For The Planet is supported by private donors and large companies, but they also create additional charity projects. For Example, a fair-trade chocolate “Die gute Schokolade” that once is sold, the profit goes 100% to the restoration projects. Indeed, being transparent about every aspect of the project is crucial to show their work to the public and to make everyone feel involved, as Felix highlights: transparency is incredibly important and needed for the global reforestation movement.

For this reason, they have been developing a Plant for the Planet App that clearly shows each project they are working on, with the possibility to learn about the details and send donations directly to a project of choice. The app also features a deforestation map and a tree tracker that shows how many trees a person has donated. The web version of the app has been launched this year in a collaboration with Salesforce. What is more, in partnership with the German government they are building the TreeMapper App that makes it easier to create sophisticated forest modeling plot and this will create the first truly global data set across all these restoration projects to measure and estimate the impact of the work and understand which project is more efficient.

The work that needs to be done is not straightforward and without complications but Felix and his team are determined to pursue their mission and continue to influence people to take direct action to face the climate crisis. Restoring a trillion trees is an incredibly ambitious and difficult mission but it is crucial to prevent catastrophic climate change, to protect the world’s biodiversity and it will also manage to create a lot of wealth in the countries of the global south because that is where the most restoration opportunities are.

Sebastian Copeland

As the last speaker, we had the chance to listen to the dynamic Sebastian Copeland: a photographer, polar explorer, and climate analyst. He has led numerous expeditions to document the endangered Polar regions and addressed audiences at the UN, governments, universities, and many fortune 500 companies warning of the systemic transformations taking place in the polar regions. He was named one of the world's top 25 adventurers of the last 25 years and received many art awards of the highest level, such as the Bambi award in Germany. At the moment he is on the board of an offshoot of the NGO Amazon Watch, called Artists For Amazonia.

Sebastian described his fascination with nature and illustrated the importance of understanding its underlying mechanisms, such as the life of trees, not just as a tool for our survival. “I think we will not solve this clash of culture between the natural culture and the human culture until we start to recognize nature and the fundamental philosophy of this biodiversity.”

It is of extreme importance to be able to recognize and understand the interconnectivity of the ecosystems as our actions have hidden impacts that we are not able to see. For example, he explained, the Amazon, which is the largest land-based carbon sink, is being devastated at an unprecedented rate, resulting in the release of carbon back into the air. In addition, deforestation prevents transpiration, which captures moisture from the environment in order to release it into the atmosphere. The amount of moisture released by the Amazon is equivalent to the daily output of the Mississippi River. Successively, the moisture travels north towards California, where it deposits in the form of precipitations. As a result of the lack of moisture released in the atmosphere by Amazon rainforests, California has been affected by unprecedented rates of wildfires. This example that Sebastian made, clearly shows us the importance to look at the big picture of the system and understand its underlying mechanisms which are interconnected.

Sebastian always wanted to be a polar explorer, so he decided to dedicate himself to his passion for ice. Studying glaciology was very transformative for him and helped him understand better the natural world and its hidden interactions. Even though ice is often seen as an inanimate object, it represents a key element to understand climate change. “I still study glaciology and its interaction in climate models and analyze the confluence of different influences whether they’d be climate or technology and how they relate to socio-politics and geo-economics. (…) Ice, just like trees, is one of those links within this natural chain we belong to.” - he shared.

Therefore, the importance of understanding the philosophy of the living ecosystem is necessary to create a future where humans and nature can peacefully interact. Alongside the positivity of Maja and Felix, also Sebastian sees hope in the non-linear future that we cannot predict. “We are in the best position we have been in years. It’s not the end of the world, it’s the end of a world and hopefully, we can build from that world. “

Call to action

After the exciting and inspiring talks, Boris Wasmuth gave a piece of advice on how to accelerate climate action in 2021: - Offsetting is not enough: focus on reduction - Office scope is not enough: measure your whole business model - Internal actions are not enough: join our Green Week community campaign in Q1 - Support LFCA with a donation and share you knowledge with the community.

We wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. Let’s all recharge our batteries over the holiday season and come back to work next year with carbon reduction goals high on our agendas.