Friday, 20 November 2009

No place to hide, but room for hope -- Dr Florangel Braid

She is an award-winning journalist, consultant to UNESCO and other international development agencies, one of the 48 authors of the Philippine Constitution. Her 13 Nov 09 column in the Manila Bulletin is shown here with her permission.
From the findings of several scientists regarding the state of global warming and prospects for the future, some of us would probably just give up and do nothing as we await the arrival of doomsday. A global change analyst, Julian Stargardt, notes that there is no place to hide from climate change. In our interconnected world climate change is related to problems of resource depletion, deforestation, economic crisis, competition for water, pandemic, environmental degradation, all of which are making tremendous impact on the global economy and our entire society. Another writer, Clive Hamilton raises the question: "Is it too late to prevent catastrophic change?" [RSA lecture, Australia 21 Oct 09] as he noted the acceleration of the world’s greenhouse gases emissions.

In the 1970’s and 80’s, global emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) from burning fossil fuels increased at 2 percent each year, then trebled to 3 percent after 2000, and is expected to double every 25 years. Both point to China as a country where for the past 10 years the GDP doubled, and with it a greenhouse gas emission of about 23 percent of the world’s total. This is expected to grow to 33 percent by 2030. China and India (with over 6% percent of the world’s emissions and rising) did not achieve their GDP and pollution growth in isolation.

China’s phenomenal increase in foreign investment and demand for its products [by developed countries] can be blamed for its present state.

At the Copenhagen summit next month, the relationship between the economic growth of these countries and other large economies with carbon emission will be on the top of the agenda. China has implemented policies to cut its emission but the expansion of its economy has swamped efforts to lessen its carbon pollution. They and several developed countries may not be ready to commit to massive cuts in greenhouse gas emissions as this would mean loss of economic competitiveness. There will be skeptics (and these have been quite visible in talk shows) and arguments based on surveys which would influence the crafting of a consensus on a global plan of action.

Shortly after Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth graphically portrayed a grim scenario (floods, droughts, melting glaciers, coral destruction, etc.) as a consequence of global warming, three kinds of deniers and skeptics dominated the environmental debate: The first are those who tell us that the climate isn’t changing in unusual ways, or if it is, human activities are not the cause. Then there are those who tell us that we are right, but it does not matter – or OK, it is changing, but it won’t do much harm. And finally, those who would tell us that it matters, but it is too late to do anything about it (It is going to do some real damage, but it is too difficult, or too costly to avoid that, so we will just have to suffer).

Many predict that it might be difficult to arrive at a consensus during the [Copenhagen] summit as world leaders will be divided – between those who think that it is too difficult to do something, and those who are committed to achieving a consensus on a resolution on drastic cuts in carbon emissions.

The assumption of the latter is what most international treaties are anchored on – that we can stabilize the climate at some level, that reducing emission level is feasible, or that we can accommodate 2 or more degrees of warming by adapting to it. The former say it is too late and that this is laughable.

But the less pessimistic observed that the summit must go beyond merely hoping to attain the target of 25-30 percent reduction in emission -- that it must focus on the overload of heat energy and carbon dioxide that is already in our biosphere, and investing in renewable energy resources – organic wastes, treatment of polluted dumpsites, and converting wastes into energy resources.

The Cassandras present a scenario of a runaway climate change challenge – that we cannot regulate the climate; the climate regulates us. The Earth may demonstrate that ultimately, it cannot be tamed and that the human urge to tame nature has only aroused a slumbering beast. [example: Lovelock, The Revenge of Gaia]

Yes, there may not be much time, that we are now almost at the point of no return, but like the optimists, we believe that through skillful strategies in adaptation, mitigation, innovation, and communication, we may still avoid the worst of the damage that climate change can bring about.

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