Friday, October 14, 2011

Lester Russel Brown: Whether We Really Have the Future

October 11, 2011, I along with others MAINS students at Sungkonghoe University had the chance to participate in “The 3rd Year Anniversary: International Symposium” on climate change and global warming impacts in the world organized by Climate Change Center at Ewha Women High School, Seoul.

The center invited one of the great pioneer environmentalists, Lester Russel Brown, and various other local experts in the environment and feminism.  The center also invited politicians from the leading and opposition party but neither one showed up at the symposium.  Personally, I think the leaders not only ignored the invitation from the center but also show their negligence of environmental issues, which clearly legitimized the claim of one of the participants in the discussion  that “the government is a little behind when it comes to governmental efforts for environmental issues but the citizens are very  concerned about it.”
At the Stage, photo credit: Akhi

Brown, the founder of the Worldwatch Institute, and founder and president of the Earth Policy Institute, analyzed the impact of global warming, food shortages, water depletion and energy shortages. At the end of his speech, he also urged the government and individuals to take action that interests them. The talk was followed by comments from the stage and floor.

He highlighted that the extreme weather is having the affect of causing food scarcity in the future. According to Brown, food scarcity will result from four reasons.

Hunger Photo: Facebook

1.      Overpopulation:  The present annual population growth is 80 million people. Tonight, there will be 219,000 additional mouths to feed at the dinner table, and many of them will be greeted with empty plates. Another 219,000 will join us tomorrow night. At some point, this relentless growth begins to tax both the skills of farmers and the limits of the earth's land and water resources. Beyond population growth, there are now some 3 billion people moving up the food chain, eating greater quantities of grain-intensive livestock and poultry products.

2.      Water Supply: The food shortage has also been affected by the supply problem. The large-scale uses of mechanical pumps are exploiting the underground water. Today, half the world's people live in countries where water tables are falling as a result of over pumping. But sooner or later, falling water tables translate into rising food prices. As a result, irrigated areas are shrinking in China, India and notably in the Middle East especially Saudi Arabia, Syria, Iraq, and Yemen. Over pumping may be a potential threat in the future although it will solve the current needs.

3.      Climate Change: Another emerging trend that threatens food security is climate change which has directly affected the existing agriculture and overall temperature of the earth. Of particular concern is the melting of mountain glaciers in the Himalayas and on the Tibetan plateau.
4.      Lack of New Technologies: The agricultural production is shrinking overall resulting from lack of modern technology. The UK, France and Germany stopped growing wheat because they had no new technologies. On the other hand, some countries like Japan increased their production with the help of technologies.
Brown worried about the future and argued that “what we are doing today will not take us further” and urges everyone to follow the process below in order to sustain ourselves and our environment.
a.       Reduce carbon emissions 80% by 2020: Wind energy can be used as an alternative to fossil fuels such as coil, and oil. It is possible to reduce  carbon emissions through wind energy because of 10 reasons
1.        No trouble to anyone because wind energy scales up but does not scale down.
2.       It is carbon free
3.       There is no need for water
4.       No fuel Bail Out
5.       Less use of Oil compared to others
6.       Wind farms only occupy 1% of agricultural land
7.        Double cropping(the land can be used for wind energy and at the same time can be  use for agricultural production)

8.       Locally Available
9.       It can be brought online quickly.
10.   8000 megawatt is enough for the world population
b.      Eradicate Poverty
c.       Protect forests, ecology and the rain forest

Lester R. Brown Photo: Google

On the other hand, Brown also criticized the concept of security, which was interesting to me as a student of critical securities studies. He urges everyone including governments to redefine the concept of security. “Unless governments quickly redefine security and shift expenditures from military uses to investing in climate change mitigation, water efficiency, soil conservation, and population stabilization, the world will in all likelihood be facing a future with both more climate instability and food price volatility” asserts Brown. He inspired everyone and asked every individual to take an action at the end of this talk. “Take any issue that interests you and take action - that is how the change is going to happen” states Brown. Otherwise, he has doubts about the future and panics about the future by asking “whether we really have the future?”

Discussion Sessions:
Jang Pil Hwa, the only female discussant on the stage, emphasized the impact of climate change on women. She highlighted the fact that women and children suffer far more than men from hunger, malnutrition and famine. Therefore, there is the need to incorporate women in environmental issues.
One of the discussion members pointed out the need for public awareness so that individual efforts can also help to reduce at least 10% of carbon emission. The awareness should be the first priority of the state and its actors; however we should not wait for others. He argues that “most of the time we try to escape from issues saying that it’s not our responsibility” which I personally think is very relevant.

During the discussion, Brown also talked about food distribution and is said that there are two types of people in the world, those who are are “too hungry” and those who are “not hungry”. Too hungry is caused by poverty whereas not hungry is caused by obesity which is a big issues in America. he said that the same number of people are overweight as underweight  -the same number!!! It is crazy! For overweight I think he used the worl 'obese' – it means unhealthily overweight

At some points, Brown drew the audience's attention about the unhealthy sustainable economic growth of China. “China achieves rapid sustainable economic benefits at the expense of the environment. On the other hand, China leading cause of death is cancer, which will have a huge and tragic cost in the future”

Lester R. Brown, Photo: Google

One of the interesting ideas was of using real cost prices for carbon use. Brown said, if this were added up, the real cost of oil would be $12!  For example the market price of gasoline in the US might be just a few dollars. But in reality, the cost is much higher – the cost of US military in the oil-producing countries, the cost of medical treatment for people whose lungs are affected by car pollution, etc. He thinks that “If we used these 'real' prices, people would consider using their cars less and making other changes.”

Written By: Sunita Basnet
Edited By” Chloe Simson

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