Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Lessons From Durban: Bottom's Up!

Dark clouds gather over the fifth day of meetings in Durban South Africa, where the world's leaders met to discuss Climate Change.
In the aftermath of the COP17 event in Durban where the Creating A Climate For Change Project was launched, a few things became clear to me.  One was that I had been working very hard without a break for three months, and needed to take some time off.  The other much more important thing was that these large conferences between nations are not delivering the change we need to see in order to lower our dependence on fossil fuels.  Nations are struggling, either with a need to develop or with a need to keep their economies afloat.  When times are tight long-term attempts to reduce fossil fuel dependency are going to be a very tough sell, unless there is a clear short-term financial and electoral benefit.

So some will look at Durban as a huge success, particularly high-end polluters like China and the United States.  They will toast "business as usual" as their economies struggle onward, wholly dependent upon fossil fuel use, without the necessary spending on sustainable alternatives. Essentially the conference skirted all of the major issues and settled for an understanding that we do need an agreement, but that we should decide all of that later, at least four years from now, preferably longer. This is bad news for scientists and farmers who understand that we are really putting ourselves in a very bad future position by not regulating greenhouse gas emissions now.

It became crystal clear to me on this project through Southern Africa that there is an urgency to stop the runaway greenhouse effect, a very real need that is having dire consequences for people across this region and the rest of the world.  I have argued on this blog and in my writing for both Global Post and Link TV that one of the reasons we are in a downward economic spiral is because we are using our planet's resources unsustainably.  Higher food prices, especially basic commodities like corn and wheat, mean less cash in the financial sector and less money everywhere to fuel further growth. Check out these well-made graphs tracking food prices worldwide.  World corn and wheat prices have again shot up by 50% in the last half of 2011, and are higher now than in 2008, and this will again have a knock effect in virtually every part of our global economy. 

In the project I spoke to Dr. Anthony Turton, an economist and water resource manager who looks  at water and food security through the lense of National Security.  This former secret service operative  helped bring the ANC and and National Party together for a dialogue in the 1980s, and eventually helped unveil the new constitution in South Africa in 1994.  He is not an environmentalist, but a realist who at one time received funding from the national and international security establishment to look at environmental problems as national security issues.  He says "Our global economy is a subsidiary of our global ecosystem".  When the ecosystem declines the economy will too, and it is my opinion -and many others that this is exactly what is happening right now.

Barring some game changing energy technology or a cataclysmic event in our personal, political or environmental horizon, it seems we are stuck with government inaction at the highest levels for the next twenty years at least.  However, as I learned at COP17 and in my work, many people are already working across the world at changing the status quo from the bottom up. Small energy projects in places like Mozambique, China's emergence as a huge developer of green energy technologies, grassroots recycling movements, buying an electric car, these are all part of the way we can start to live sustainably with our planet today.  It is obvious that we the people are the only ones who can make change happen now, and the sooner we get started the better.

The Rooftop of the Re-Purpose Center in Durban.  Cabbages and other foods complement local plants and a chessboard in this roof-top garden right in the center of the city.

At the Repurpose Center in Durban a group of concerned citizens and architects got together with the city of Durban to help revitalize the city center, provide more jobs, and create rooftop gardens that preserve endemic South African plants while providing nutrition for underprivileged communities.  This center is an example of exactly how grassroots movements can become mainstream and make a huge difference in their communities.  With enough projects like this, humanity can learn to become better stewards of our environment, and create the changes that will make us all more healthy, happy and help us look after our global ecosystem -and in turn our economy. 

Happy Holidays.

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