Monday, November 05, 2007

People and the Planet

Fulbright alumni have to be congratulated for hosting the successful "People and the Planet" conference in Washington DC from Nov 1- 4, 2007. The gabfest attracted 300 academics, policymakers and government officials from the sciences, social sciences and to the humanities. All of the participants were Fulbright grantees.

Rob Bradley of the World Resources Institute reviewed the science behind climate change science and discussed possible scenarios if mitigation is done or not done. What seems to be clear is that human induced climate change is real. The questions that we have to determine is how severe are the effects and at what time scale this will happen. Answers to such questions are needed for a climate intervention strategy.

The USA and China are the number 1 CO2 emitters. Three fourths of all emissions come from industrialized countries with the Philippines now considered as a "moderate emitter".This is some support to Queen Gloriana's assertion that her realm is now a "near developed" nation.

Perhaps the most immediate consequence of climate change are water deficits. Lima, Peru a city of 7 million people is perhaps the most threatened with the city dependent almost solely on Andean glaciers that at present rates of melting have just 20 years left. Rojina Manandhar (Fulbright 2005) of Nepal says the same thingt about Kathmandu which is dependent on Himalayan glaciers.

Water deficits are most severe in sub-Saharan Africa where Fulbright grantees were also doing environment research. Ariane Kirtley did her Fulbright in Niger's Azawak Valley with CARE international. In the last 20 years the rainy season has been cut from 5 months to 1.5 months resulting in a per capita supply of water at 2 liters per person a day. (The UN puts a minimum of 15 liters a day for survival. An American can use 200 liters a day or more). This has tragic consequences for child health where child mortality is 25% or greater.

Political scientists and legal scholars like Armin Rosencranz and Andrew Strauss reviewed the inability of the nation-state system and international law to respond to a global problem such as climate change. They suggest that the emerging transnational system may be more responsive to the problem than sovereign nation states can be. They give as an example that while the US Federal Government won't sign the Kyoto Protocol, US States and Canadian provinces have passed agreements between themselves that commit themselves to emission cuts.

A major point of discussion here are biofuels and what their roles are in the shift to a more sustainable economy. The consensus is that there are just "stop gap"measures in the near term. But it is in energy that the national security consequences of climate change are most apparent. Energy independence is key to national security as Eastern Mennonite University peace professor Lisa Schirch said in her talk. She listed 10 security implications of climate change with water rights the number one priority. All other implications like illegal immigration may stem from lack of water. Schirch says that citizen diplomacy in all levels is needed to prevent conflict.

How do all of these fit into the Philippine situation? I had to report that Filipino awareness on climate change is quite low and our government, NGOs and other advocacy groups may have to translate what science knows into more practical strategies for public engagement. I also had to report that President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo's 10 point agenda for her second term does not include the environment (as what I heard in her latest SONA). This is a sort of policy that parallels US President GW Bush's stand on environment.

Nonetheless business representatives in the conference have said that Bush's policies have cost US companies to lose out in the "green" techonologies market. The EU now leads in this and countries that are pilloried by some Americans for their increasing amounts of CO2 emissions are into it too. India is now the 4th largest producer of wind turbines. They produce it at a substantially lower cost than what the Danes and Germans offer. Thus India is now giving them a run for their money.

Fulbright alumni are found in almost all professional sectors in the USA and other countries. By discussing a timely topic such as climate change, they have a significant voice to make a difference.

I think I should be able to teach environmental science much better this coming second semester.

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