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Geoffrey Lean's Posts

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Letter from Europe

The iceman walketh

To study the conditions of sea ice, one must walk very carefully across it. Here, two members of the Catlin Arctic Survey team maneuver a supply sled through a rough patch.Courtesy Catlin Arctic Survey To millions around the world, Pen Hadow -- the first person ever to trek to the North Pole alone without any support -- is simply one of the most extraordinary people alive. To me, however, he is also the man who didn't come to dinner. Let me explain. One day last year Pen arranged to come to our village for dinner with me and the local …

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Letter from Europe

Treating climate change as a security threat

Photo illustration by Tom Twigg / Grist Old soldiers, as they say, never die -- and at 97 the legendary Vietnamese Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap seems intent on proving the point. But he does not seem to be that interested in fading away, either. For the man who drove out first France and then the United States is enthusiastically embracing a new battle -- as an eco-warrior. For a European child of the 1960s like me -- for whom the Vietnam War was a youthful defining event -- this is truly riveting news. It is like someone of my father's …

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Letter from Europe

The greening of Sarko

Think of Nicolas Sarkozy, and what springs to mind? Carla Bruni, of course. His platform heels, probably. A somewhat aggressive manner, naturellement. Napoleon Bonaparte, pourquoi non? Al Gore attended the October 2007 unveiling of the Sarkozy government's green program, called "Grenelle de l'Environnment."Courtesy Elysee.frIndeed the French president is often compared to the diminutive emperor with the bellicose mindset, ambition to restore French glory, and glamorous and famous wife. But there's a difference. To Bonaparte, green was just one of the shades that best suited Josephine. To Sarkozy, unexpectedly but increasingly, it is making his policies sage, in both senses of …

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Letter from Europe

Tripping over the fine print on the way to Copenhagen

Punctuation can be the greatest impediment to getting nations to see eye-to-eye on any issue.Jennie Faber via Flickr It was only a comma, albeit a hotly disputed one. For me, the single punctuation mark represents a major reason why the world may fail to get to grips with global warming in time, and why a meeting this week may provide the best chance of a breakthrough. The comma sat there, in all its splendor, deep in a UN negotiating text, penned in square brackets to show it was a matter of dispute. For days top diplomatic talent from the world's …

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Letter from Europe

The Goldman Prize: True tales of bravery

The 2009 winners of the Goldman Environmental Prize. Standing, L-R: Yuyun Ismawati, Olga Speranskaya, Wanze Eduards, and Maria Gunnoe. Front row, L-R: Rizwana Hasan, Marc Ona Essangui, and Hugo Jabini By rights it should be a daunting moment. Every fall a courier turns up at my door with a package containing a thick, densely typed dossier. I know, as I take the delivery, that days of solid reading and hard decisions lie ahead. And yet receiving the package never fails to lift my spirits. Whatever I am doing, I stop, tear it open, and leaf rapidly through its pages. For …

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Letter from Europe

Running out the climate clock

The "Countdown to Copenhagen" clock was front and center at the Bonn climate talks last month.Courtesy UNFCC I suppose what happened to the ticking clock says all we need to know about the state of the make-or-break international negotiations on combating climate change. The bright red digital timepiece was affixed to the podium for the first round of the talks so far this year, held in Bonn during the two weeks running up to Easter. Boldly labelled "Countdown to Copenhagen," it ticked off the days, hours, minutes and seconds to the start of the vital meeting in the Danish capital, …

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Letter from Europe

A teaching moment at the G20 summit

Logs being transported out of the Amazon rainforest. Shazari via Flickr It was a mistake, I know, to try to cross the street last Thursday evening. There I was, not far from the Tower of London, hoping to get across the main road east to the city's former docklands. But every time I tried to set foot on the tarmac, there was a wailing of police sirens, and a posse of motorbikes and limousines sped alarmingly by. Each speeding convoy contained one of the planet's most important leaders, surrounded by associated ministers, officials, advisers and flunkies. They were burning fuel …

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Letter from Europe

How do you solve a problem like Silvio?

G8 officials don't want Silvio Berlusconi to play a leading role in any climate talks that may occur this summer during the July summit in Italy. (Photo Livio Anticoli, Courtesy Prime Minister of Italy's Office) Barack Obama has a problem, one he shares with Gordon Brown. And, for that matter, with Nicolas Sarkozy, Angela Merkel, Stephen Harper, and even Lula da Silva. The problem these A-list world leaders are dealing with is bald, perma-tanned, and once worked as a cruise ship crooner. Oh yes, and he just happens to be prime minister of Italy, one of the most colorful (and …

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Letter from Europe

A mandarin’s plea for climate action

New Year's Day is not, I suppose, everyone's idea of the best time to receive a sobering message. But like it or not, this year it happened to me. The message that popped into my inbox, unannounced and unexpected, would have brought even the most hungover dreamer smartly back to reality. "Today," it opened uncompromisingly, "is arguably the first day of the most important year in human history." That "arguably" signaled the author's nationality. And being a Brit like me, he could not leave it at that, adding immediately: "I dislike the grandiose, so the previous sentence was written reluctantly." …

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