Almost two weeks of work at the edge of the Arctic Circle, provided us with first hand evidence on the advancement of Climate Change:
1. The ice cap is becoming smaller and thinner. Think of how this diminishes the Arctic’s dual capacity of contributing to the global climate system: as a giant reflector of the sun’s rays thereby diminishing earth’s heat absorption; as the cooler of air currents which after blowing over the Arctic descend upon the north Atlantic to cool those ocean temperatures.
2. Towards the end of the spring the ice cap is now breaking up between 3 to 4 weeks before it used to. Think of the consequences to some of the world’s species like the polo bear, whose population is increasingly menaced by shorter feeding and breeding periods on the ice.
3. For the first time ever the Northwestern Passage opened up last fall. Think of possible impacts on Arctic sovereignty issues, and shipping routes between Asia and Europe.
4. Peoples who for centuries have lived in the North creating a lifestyle and diverse culture of their own, are now under pressure as hunting, transportation, and living conditions are affected.
The Arctic is not alone in showing signs of stress caused by Climate Change:
1. The ‘golden frog’ disappeared from the rain forests of Costa Rica. How many other species are disappearing worldwide?
2. Glaciers providing water to the highland villages of Bolivia, are receding. Were will these villages get their water from? Or were will they migrate to if the don’t get water?
3. Just as the snow is disappearing from the peak of the Kilamanjaro in Kenya, so is lake Chad in the Sub-Sahara, reduced today to nothing when compared with its being the 6th largest lake on the planet only 40 years ago. What will nearby dwellers do without water - migrate to neighboring war-engulfed Darfour?
4. In Asia 7 major rivers provide half the drinking water to 40% of the world’s population. They are all born in the high glaciers of the Himalayas, which are melting due to Climate Change. Can you think of the consequences?
5. Small island nations in the South Pacific are being swallowed by increasing ocean levels. In the future, which country will accept these country-less citizens as they are forced to migrate?
We have 3 choices with respect of Climate Change: mitigate, adapt, and suffer. We can act now and cut carbon emissions thereby mitigating its effects. We will still have to adapt to some of the changes underway, but as a consequence of our actions we will suffer less in the long run. We can also choose not to act now and therefore mitigate very little. Our inaction will sow the seeds of much larger adaptations to the new living conditions, and yes, with a greater degree of suffering.
My father often said “the only way of getting things done, is doing them!” Back in 1948 he abolished the army in Costa Rica - a seemingly impossible task, was done. Jonathan Lash, President of the World Resources Institute, one of the most respected global environmental organizations, often says “development is to important to be left in the hands of governments alone”. Jonathan is right, specially when it comes to an issue such as Climate Change.
We need to act now. The ‘we’ in the previous sentence involves building multi-stakeholder coalitions that will work together to surmount the largest challenge humankind has ever faced. We need:
1. Good international agreements outlining shared responsibilities for all nations - developed and developing. Before 2009 we need the nations of the world to agree to a new post Kyoto framework, with mandatory caps on emissions and market provisions to trade carbon fixed.
2. Proactive governments. Yes, the US is the largest carbon-emitting nation in the world, and it will become a positive influence once the new Administration gets elected in November. But China will surpass the US in carbon emissions this year, and also has to be part of the solution. So do all other countries around the world.
3. A business community that sees mitigating and adapting to Climate Change as a good and profitable business opportunity, and therefore brings its entrepreneurship, research and development capacity, and capital to master the challenge.
4. Vigorous and dynamic NGO’s that continue to point out in a constructive way, what areas of policy and practice can be improved.
And yes, to keep all these actors relevant actors on the right path, most importantly of all we need YOU! A reader of this blog from Colombia e-mailed me some days ago asking “what can I do to help?” You can actually make a tremendous difference in many ways. Here are a few suggestions:
1. Start off with your household. Make sure you are using energy and water efficiently. Close the water faucet while you brush your teeth, turn off the lights when not needed, and switch over to purchasing only efficient light bulbs. If you live in climates were air conditioning is used, set thermostats to 21 C in the winter or to 24 C in the summer. 24% of total carbon emissions come from buildings, and we need to get that down!
2. Study your transportation habits. Can you use more public transportation? If not, can you pool-drive to work? If you are going to be buying a car, look at carbon emission ratings before choosing. Transportation is today the largest carbon emitter!
3. Think about what you consume. Is the soap you buy biodegradable? Can you purchase goods produced with good environmental standards? Do you need to buy bottled water if your tab water is perfectly fine to drink? Did you check the energy consumption of the appliance you are thinking of purchasing to make sure it is efficient? If you visit the supermarket, can you take your own bags to pack what you buy? Tell retailers were you shop YOU are interested in environmental friendly products. This will send the right signals to manufacturers and producers for them to get going!
4. Does your community recycle? If not, why don’t you lead the way and organize your neighbors to do so?
5. Visit any of many websites that help you calculate your ‘carbon footprint’. Read and understand how you and your family can cut carbon emissions even further. Then be creative about ways to offset the balance of your ‘carbon footprint’. Challenge yourself to become and lead a carbon-neutral life! Then challenge others to live up to your standards!
Would this make a difference? Absolutely. In the today’s world society is organizing itself in different ways from those of the past. Grass-root movements started by individuals have proven to be highly successful. Some examples:
1. It was individual consumers of their products that forced major global corporations to manufacture globally with a equal respect for working conditions. Those corporations went on to become even more competitive!
2. It was one person with the idea of stopping the use of land mines, that convinced others to join in this effort until it was achieved. Politicians in international organizations felt the pressure and acted!
3. In the environment field it was a bottoms-up movement that eventually convinced the world to agree on the Montreal Protocol, by which CFCs that were creating the Ozone Hole were drastically cut in only 10 years. If we were successful in cutting CFCs, why can’t we bee successful in cutting carbon emissions?
Some short years from now the next generations - perhaps your and my children but if not them, most definitely our grandchildren, will look back to see what we did to address the challenge of Climate Change. If we act as of today they will celebrate our courage, determination and leadership. I f we choose not to act, they will remember us as the most irresponsible generation of all. I would rather be remembered for the first and therefore have worked for many years to advance Sustainable Development. Please join me now!
With Al Gore, signning the first ever Joint Implementation Program between two countries under the CDM of the kyoto Protocol, 1998.