IN COPENHAGEN, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change is ending today. It started two Mondays ago on December 7th. I had been considerably excited about this, very much hoping for a more concrete plan to combat climate change to come out from this conference. There are many opinions out there on the issue of global warming and what should be done about it. Many have been living in denial of global warming – apparently it’s just not convenient, or they believe it costs too much to even think about fixing. Some refuse to believe that we could be responsible for it. But really, we are all responsible for it, and we are all responsible for stopping it. When it comes to discussing a topic as important as climate change and the effects on our dying world, I become pretty passionate. And my passion takes many forms. This is a topic that has become very dear to me – I become empowered, angry, saddened, and excited about our future. But mostly, I become hopeful. Because we have to have hope. There’s no way we can avoid this for long. God knows too many have tried. Do you know that we are the only animal to actually destroy the habitat that we live in? So many of us take, take, take so much from our earth, and give relatively nothing back. I believe it is time to really start to reverse the trend and give back to our Earth that has given us so much, sustained our lives for years and years. This isn’t a problem for the next generation to handle… it’s what we have to handle right now – it’s up to us to secure a future for the generations to come. I think it truly hits when you actually have children of your own. I have talked to so many people, heard stories, read about how everyday people, businessmen and women who were so set in their ways, trying to turn a profit viewed climate as “inconvenient” and just “tedious rules and regulations,” wasting their time and money as they continue to knowingly pour pollution into our world. But then they realized something. A child, a niece or nephew, or a grandchild was born into their world, and they couldn’t ignore it anymore – they wouldn’t. And suddenly they knew what they had to do – they wanted to create a future for those dear to them, their generations to come… and they knew that the power was in their hands. They began to look into cleaner energies, greener methods, all the facts and figures… and they realized that they would actually be saving money… and all the while creating sustainable development… a future for those to come; their loved ones… and even the ones they haven’t met yet. There is another huge contribution that they can make that will benefit us all: Awareness. Believe it or not, this is actually our greatest ally. For as many people as possible to truly know what is going on in the world they live in – the actors, the stakes, the state of the world, the consequences of what will happen if we don’t try to reverse them – the truth. Most of all, they need to know that they do make a difference. That they need to come together, as individuals, as communities, with a specific belief of what is worth saving: A 4 billion year-old legacy.
I say this because since the 1992 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change took place, global carbon-dioxide emissions have risen by a third. Wow. That’s just in 17 years that we’ve turned away from our responsibility, and here are the consequences: At the current rate of increases in greenhouse gas emissions, there is a 50% risk of global temperature increase of 5° C. Let me put that into a frame of reference: The current average global temperature is only 5° C warmer than the last ice age. An increase in global temperature like that would yield to devastating consequences. It will raise sea levels – warm water takes up more space because it expands, so when the ice caps melt… guess what. A one meter rise, as scientists are predicting for 2100, would put Philadelphia underwater. And sooner than that, Florida’s biggest cities such as Miami, St. Petersburg, Tampa and the Keys will be underwater. The Gulf Coast will be affected much more, as well as the NW of the United States, and all coastal areas will be in trouble. Downtown Washington D.C. will be flooded. In Manhattan, subway entrances would be at the water level, making them useless. That’s just talking about the U.S. by the way. Hundreds of places around the world will be underwater, and the islands that we know of now will be something of the past. Across South East Asia coastal communities are already battling rising tides, with their food production and means of revenue in trouble. The rise in sea levels would create millions of climate change refugees all over the world. The frequency of floods, severe storms, and wildfires have already increased and will continue even more drastically. There will be great reduction in crop yields, collapsing architecture in poor countries, endangerment of species, drought, and heat waves which will lead to health impacts such as spreading of infectious diseases. A very important issue is the loss of trees and coral reefs, both of which create much of the oxygen that we breathe. Very soon you will start to notice changes around you – if you haven’t already. I have actually, firsthand – a whole ton of Jellyfish! And even though I think they are amazing creatures, I probably shouldn’t get too near them. I was sailing with my class and as we were coming closer to shore the teacher started yelling something in French from her motorboat (the class is in French so I can’t believe I understood half of all their words… except this one: Jellyfish). As we got closer to the shore to dock the sailboats, we saw dozens of purple jellyfish everywhere and we didn’t know why. We sort of ran through the water away from them… haha. The reason for this strange phenomenon lies with cruise ships and where they dump their waste. Normally they dump them off the coast of Spain, but now they are not stopping near Spain, but waiting until they arrive off the coast of Antibes. What happens then is that jellyfish double in physical size as well as population.
Our earth is unbelievably beautiful, captivating, and mysterious. Above all, we know so very little about the intricacies of the interaction of the planet and its life. We do not understand just how much we throw off the balance that has been kept for billions of years. We are unaware of the beauty that is out there, and we know so little about what has transpired – billions of years of growing, nurturing… life. From the delicate balance of the earth and the intricacies of its inhabitants, its ecosystems, the life from the smallest organism. We are the only species to actually destroy the habitat in which we live in. Even animals considered “lower” than our superior beings understand the balance of the life that the earth creates and gives it, it understands that it is inextricably tied to it. We could stand to learn from these being who are so fine-tuned to this ever-important balance. Our minds are brilliant and creative. We have seen civilizations rise and fall, made countless inventions and discoveries…people live and die, passing on a part of their life onto the next. We – and our great minds – are capable of so much, of contributing so much to the world. Why do we consciously and subconsciously use them to destroy the Earth that gave us so much. Why not use our minds to creative technologies that work alongside nature and its inhabitants? It is not too late, and certainly not impossible if we put ourselves to it. In fact, it’s more than possible – it’s happening right now.
Countries all over the world are taking action and have been for years. Vietnamese foresters who are now working with the Australian government to develop improved varieties of trees that can sequester the maximum amount of carbon. Germany has an entire city, Freiburg designed with solar technologies. Their Heliotrope was the first building to create more energy than it uses. Costa Rica has reversed its deforestation trend by redistributing their military spending to conserve and cultivate their beautiful rainforests. The United States government and environmental groups have agreed to pay $26 million of Costa Rica’s foreign debt in exchange for the conservation of their rainforests, making it the largest debt-for-nature swap on record. As I mentioned before, hundreds of companies all over the world are reversing their ways, going in a completely different direction – towards sustainable development. One such company is DHL, who has created a whole new company “DHL Neutral” in this direction. The Carbon Capture Project, in which six leading energy companies are participating: BP, Shell, ChevronTexaco, Norsk Hydro, Statoil, and Suncor Energy Inc. Through this highly-anticipated project, the aim is to develop effective methods to capture significant amounts of carbon dioxide emitted from power generation and industrial sources and store the gas in geologic formations below the Earth’s surface. Another giant leap towards dealing with climate change is the concept of carbon offset credits. How this works is that companies who pollute the atmosphere with carbon dioxide must offset it in some way, and what the World Bank does to make this possible is to become a middleman. The company who adds polluting emissions to the atmosphere must pay the World Bank, who in turn funds another company to go into a developing country and perform certain approved projects that will help the host country in some way. Although it is important to note that there is controversy over certain companies abusing the resources, the native’s rights and environments in the host countries where these projects are being completed. The system does not yet work as effectively as it has the potential for, but there have been many improvements and monitoring of this system. Policies are beginning to reflect the fact that economic strength and environmental stability are mutually dependant rather than mutually exclusive. Those companies who continue to turn a blind eye to climate change and the steps needed to combat it are losing much time, at the very least. While they sit back and do nothing they are falling behind as the market becomes very competitive with forward-thinking companies who have already jumped ahead in the game, using creative strategies and tactics towards a sustainable business plan. On the architectural side, buildings are rarely designed to save energy, because those who put them up do not usually pay the bills, and those who occupy them choose them for their looks, not their energy-efficiency. To that, I say we just meet them in the middle – give them what they want while we get what we need. We will create attractive designs with sustainable interiors and exteriors, all the while being innovative in their energy technologies and its efficiency.
The problem is not a lack of low-carbon technologies. Electricity can be generated by nuclear fission, hydropower, biomass, wind and solar energy; and cars can run on electricity or biofuels. Nor is the problem an economic one. A percentage point of global economic output is affordable for a worthwhile project. So the problem is both simpler and cheaper to fix than most people think. But mankind has to agree on how to share out the costs, both between and within countries.
Things are looking better for the 2009’s United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen. Developing countries are required to come up with “actions,” and it’s about time. It’s been mostly developed countries that have abused the Earth for more than a century (and especially during the past 50 years) a prime example being the U.S. and Europe after WWII. While they were busy rebuilding their economies after the war, they were also pouring tons of greenhouse gas emissions into the air. China is just now getting to rise to the top as a superpower (and now the biggest emitter of greenhouse gases) and they aren’t quite ready yet to give up the reigns by drastically curbing their industrial boom, saying it is “their turn now.” But what we need now is to look past this sort of destructive selfishness. The realization will dawn that we may not have a world for future generations if we keep going on like we are – doing nothing to stop the downward spiral towards an indefinite future for generations to come. We can only hope that the few extra hundred years of civilization on the earth has given them the understanding and ancient belief that nature is inextricably connected with human life. And hopefully the importance of this balance has reached them, because China has recently announced a target for cutting the carbon-intensity of its economy by 40-45% by 2020. That’s pretty decent, but the U.S. says it’s not good enough because that’s around where China would get to anyways based on its existing policies. Heh. Big talk coming from a country who’s own emissions-cutting bill is still stuck in the Senate. Obama plans to push forward though (at least he actually attended the climate conference instead of sending a representative, thank God =) and he is brought with him this greenhouse emissions guarantee: to cut them by 17% from 2005 levels by 2020, by 30% by 2025, by 42% by 2030, and the most ideal of 80% by 2050. Many are disappointed with the low target for 2020, however Obama still has to keep in line with what the Congress can deliver, but at least this is actually promised to happen by those dates. In fact there has been a bit going on to get excited about in terms of U.S. policies, such as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act — which was signed in February. It includes more than $42 billion for advanced energy research, cutting-edge projects, and much much more – including 1 million plug-in hybrid electric cars on the road by 2015. So I have decided that my first car is going to at least be a hybrid, if not something that uses more advanced, cleaner energies. We’ll see what affordable greener technologies emerge in the near future, shall we?
So when the government doesn’t act in time, certain towns take it upon themselves to take action. These are called transition towns, and it’s actually pretty interesting… I don’t really view them as amish-like, but basically how it goes is that companies within a town will hire mostly locals, believing that it will cut down the amount of pollution spread by commuters coming in from other cities. Most of the people grow their own gardens to supply food for themselves and cut out the middlemen. See, what I like about learning about all of this, is that I can take from it what I feel I would like to add to my lifestyle. For example, I am not so sure I would like to live in a town where everybody knows everybody sort of thing. While it does have a certain sense of belonging and homey feel, I would rather live somewhere I can branch out a bit. However, one thing I did take from this is the bit about growing a garden – I think that would be a great idea. I mean, you have the freshest of vegetables, and depending on how green your thumb is you can have a whole harvest right in your backyard! You can get creative, make it look spiffy (have you seen Coraline- the film adaption of Neil Gaiman’s “children’s” book? I want to make my garden into patterns of colors and design like her father did). And lastly you can cut out the middleman and save tons of money – don’t have to go shopping as much, just walk outside and voila! Glorious. The problem that many people have is that they think the word “frugal” means living in poverty, or having the same car, living in the same house – living a stagnant life. That’s not true at all – it just means that you use your resources wisely. =) God knows we could all use a little creativity – why not go one step further and give back to the earth that gave you so much, treat it with great humility and respect as it deserves? We can co-exist with nature, it’s not too late.
So many of us have forgotten the beauty around us, not far from our doorsteps. When was the last time you just stood in the moment, surrounded by the beauty of the Earth, and embraced it for all it is? We sit in front of our computers, ignorantly wasting away the precious resources and energies that destroy the Earth we live on. We have let ourselves get too tied up in material things, and our happiness level decreases every year- it takes us so much more to be happy, to be satisfied. Why? When did we forget about the simple, beautiful things in life… when did we take it all for granted? One very important thing to consider is taking a huge step back from consumerism, from making our lives about the material things – they are just objects. And it now takes insane amounts of these “things” to make us happy, in which almost half of them end up in the dump anyways. What we are doing by this is fueling the companies and industries whose factories pour out literally tons of carbon dioxide into our dying world. Our demand grows higher and higher, while we become more and more unhappy, more and more selfish. That doesn’t sound like a very healthy correlation. What do we do when we become unhappy? Most of us go out and buy material objects, trying to make these “things” patch the hole. Maybe it’s just simply that the piece doesn’t fit, and it was never really meant to. Maybe we have been looking in the wrong places for too long. A great length of time which has created enough space for destructive consequences to take place. And now our Earth is paying the consequences. Literally. We owe an alarming amount for all the resources we have “borrowed” from the Earth. If the U.S. goes on consuming the amount and resources at the same rate, it will need 10 worlds to fulfill its needs, and Europe will need 3. Yet, we only have one. Our planet has given us so much in return. When was the last time you did something to give back to the Earth?
Indeed, what can you do? You can start with the simplest of things you can do that I am pretty sure you always knew you could and should have done. If you walk past a light that doesn’t need to be on: turn it off. Hibernate or shut off your computer, turn off your power strip (adapters draw power even when not used), wash your cloths on the cold water setting (“bright colors”) avoid unnecessary water usage, and take shorter showers. I used to sit idly by when energy was being wasted, taking forever long showers- those who know me remember, I’m sure. Then two things happened when I came to France: Ethics class, and the fact that the hot water ran out in my shower after five minutes. We also had seven students living together, so we often bundled up in sweaters to avoid paying too much for heat, and we got used to it. It really wasn’t that hard after we started. But think about this: you are actually paying for the extra energy you are wasting. So why not get into the habit of saving energy early on, save yourself a lot of money, and hopefully think about what your actions are doing to help the earth by doing this. You actually have a lot of power, and amazing to think what we can accomplish just by communities, groups, and individuals acting out. There are thousands of environmental groups all over the world actively doing something, anything… to stop climate change just in time. Our greatest ally for confronting climate change is to generate global awareness.
I want to help spread that awareness… at the very least. I want to reach out, see what I am capable of, see what we are capable of. I want to share with you a part of a discussion that I had recently with a very good friend of mine: So I have a theory, you know, just up in the air… that… do we go on, live with half of ourselves, just showing the surface… less vulnerable, or do we dive deeper… do we allow this? Who I am … who in part I have always been and lately it has proven to be the case tenfold, is that I believe in being all of yourself. One life. One grand adventure. I want to reach out… pull all my surroundings in… truly experience life… I am only just recently realizing how much of it I have contained… I have stayed relatively quiet for most of my life. Now, I really want to make some noise. It’s bubbling up inside and I can hardly contain it – I don’t want to anymore. Show what I am, who I can be… and I have learned a few very important things as well. Such as, when reaching out… just how much of a difference I make. I never really used to believe that I made too much of a difference… I don’t know how I could have been under that assumption most of my life… but it makes a few of my mistakes make sense. The important thing here though, is to learn from them.
In the near future I plan to research green technologies, business methods and sustainable development that could be applied to a few of my dreams. Whichever ones come to pass, be it be opening my own restaurant, bakery, bed & breakfast, a traditional Japanese onsen and inn, or possible others, come what may (I am very ambitious!).
I hope you enjoyed “HOME.” Another well-constructed and powerful video to watch is called “11th Hour” which is more documentary-style but very moving. The meaning behind the name is that Earth is in its 11th hour before midnight, but lets the viewers know that it is not too late, but that we must act fast. They had some pretty neat innovative ideas for green architecture design, as well very creative ideas on how to generate energy. Imagine this: The floors of dance clubs and the like constantly have energy being pulsed through the floors by the exertion of force of those above it jumping, dancing, etc. If somehow they can find a way to extract the energy from that underneath the floorboards and store it for usage elsewhere, that would be amazing. This was one of the innovative ideas brought to light in this movie, and it hopefully it will spark more from those who watch it. It is just more to think about, that we can co-exist alongside nature and the Earth, and sparks are moving through the minds of many. I am very excited to see where we go from here, and I would greatly like to get involved – to make a difference.
This fight for our Earth cannot be achieved by one nation alone. It cannot be achieved in only one sphere – economic, political, military or cultural. It will require types of partnerships never before witnessed in human history. From those who won’t wait for the world to die in the hands of politicians before acting on their own; communities who are taking charge to construct their towns under a sustainable structure; thousands of environmental groups across the globe who work endlessly to keep our Earth clean and healthy, battling those who consciously destroy the environment on so many levels; economists who watch the world and the interactions and policies go back and forth, debating the twists and turns of cause and effect of the decisions of all the players in the global arena; scientists who devote their time and efforts to research, acquire the knowledge needed to develop, explain and predict phenomena that would thus change our world as we know it; forward-thinking men and women who rise against those who lack the proper vision, to provide a new standard for sustainable development in many sectors throughout business, paving way for something beautiful; those who rise up to lead their countries through trials and tribulations, the battles that come – fighting several at a time, working towards peace, stability, and breaking down walls of resistance in order to provide a greater future for all. And never forget that we, as individuals have much more power than we may think. And if we all chose to reach out, in our own ways? The result would be… beautiful, just as we are. We must work harder to achieve a harmony between us all… We all have our stories to tell, all our hard work put to a purpose so monumental, and towards what is worth saving the most – the fate of the earth and all generations to come, and it is in our hands. I promise you that we can do this. We’re marchin’ on.