I wear a fist-shaped, green necklace around my neck. It beats against my chest when I run. I only take it off when I surf, for fear of loosing it. It’s made of African greenstone, my favorite. The stone is from Zambia — a precious gift given to me during a trip there in 2011. Wearing it reminds me of the Zambezi River, the generous people of Africa, their rich cultures, the profound wildlife, and the incredible 2-month journey in a continent I’d dreamt about visiting since childhood.
Rewind to Bahia, Brazil in 2008. At this time, in Salvador, I purchased a small wood carving strikingly similar to that of my greenstone fist. This image of a fist – called a fig – is considered good luck in both Africa and Brazil. The cultural transmission from the former to the latter must have taken place centuries before. I believe Africa is the mother to us all, but who knows where the fig comes from. Maybe it has its roots somewhere else. Maybe an anthropologist will tell me one day…
I am back in Brazil, currently working with a dedicated group of rural development professionals from Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Bangladesh, South Africa, and Nepal. Here in Bahia, Brazil, where the city of Salvador is considered to be the most African city outside of Africa, there are moments when I forget if I am in Salvador, Brazil or Maputo, Mozambique (also Portuguese-speaking). The knowledge, charisma and dedication of my colleagues from Africa and Asia inspire me more than they know. They are here to exchange ideas within a learning platform called ELLA, which is associated with my partner NGO, Adapta Sertão. Along with the ELLA organizers (Daniele Cesano, Martin Obermaier, Charlotte Heffer, Thais Corral, and Emily Trainor) we have all become fast friends. The stories from their home countries — experiences grounded in an incredible breadth of environmental, cultural, political, agricultural and historical understanding — amaze me on an hourly basis.
We are in the community of Pintadas, Bahia, Brazil. (Interesting side note: I am apparently the first person from the United States here in Pintadas, an intriguing thought.) My research, based out of UCSD, is helping Adapta Sertão determine the best technologies and strategies to help rural farmers in the Sertão region adapt to climate change. Bolstering resilience and improving livelihoods is the name of the game. My climatology analysis is nearly done and now we have to start looking at socio-economic indicators to see the impacts of the regions changing water cycle, especially ever-increasing droughts. The current drought here, starting in 2010, is said to be the worst in over 50 years. During a farm visit with a farmer named, Maceus, we saw how innovative these farmers can be. Deep wells, crop diversification (including varieties of cactus), drip technology, and many other techniques are yielding results and increasing climate resilience. These farmers, this community, and my colleagues from Brazil, Africa, and Asia give me a great deal of hope that we will improve the livelihoods of vulnerable communities around the world.
Tomorrow morning I will run again, and the green fist will beat. Many of us feel that same green beat and we should continue to act on it; in spite of our frustration with the UNFCCC gridlock (fingers crossed COP-18), in spite of the reluctance of our respective domestic governments to agree (fingers crossed 2nd Obama administration), in spite of the skeptics. Just keep running — our sense of direction is sound. Good luck to the good work.
A special thanks to the ELLA participants (below). You are true thought-leaders.
Antwi-Boasiako Amoah (from Ghana); Farayi Madziwa (from Zimbabwe, resides in South Africa); Hedwig “Halima” Nenkari (from Kenya); Leonard Unganai (from Zimbabwe, Unganai means “come together” in Shona); Monica Chundama (from Zambia); Mousumi Pervin (from Bangladesh); Ram Chandra Khana (from Nepal); Sherpard Zvigadza (from Zimbabwe); Simon Shomkegh (from Nigeria); Stephen Awuni (from Ghana); Ujjal Tiwari (from Nepal); Victor Orindi (from Kenya).
Hello everyone — I hope you had a festive Cinco de May weekend!
Here’s what I am planning to attend this week. If anyone has any additional events that they would like to share – this week or next – please feel free to comment.
Tues May 08
On a personal note, I am excited to announce that I will be teaching a monthlong course on sustainability this summer for San Diego State University undergraduates. The course, as part of their study abroad program, will be conducted throughout Queensland, Australia. I will be giving a pre-departure orientation on this day as we prepare to explore, firsthand numerous socio-environmental issues, developing a new perspective regarding our relationship with the planet.
Wed May 09
CleanTECH Advocacy Meeting from 2-3:30pm.
New Ways to Stop Global Warming from 5:15-7:00pm. Professor of Political Science and Climate Change Specialist, David Victor discusses how global warming is affecting our planet today. Professor Victor will explore strategies that would be more effective in addressing issues surrounding climate change. He recently authored a 2011 Economist Best Book – Global Warming Gridlock – and advises countries and companies regarding energy and climate policy.
Here’s an interview I did with Professor Victor while studying with him at UCSD. My Interview with David Victor.
“IF WE DO NOT CHANGE OUR DIRECTION WE ARE LIKELY TO END UP WHERE WE ARE HEADED” – Chinese Proverb
I want a future where equality of opportunity knows no borders and no era. Equality of opportunity in education, health, and economic development. Also, equality of opportunity across generations. Our children deserve a planet with the same environmental health that we enjoy today — if not better. I believe in our ability to achieve a quasi-Utopian future, one in which imperfect (hence the quasi-), but thoughtful societies find a balance, both internally and with their shared environments.
I want a planet where societies make educated decisions that address the needs of now without sacrificing the foundations of our future. Ask yourself, “are we on a path to that future?”. There are lots of statistics, images, peer-reviewed scientific research, and harsh realities suggesting that the answer is “no”, that instead we are running a resource deficit and feeding a process that drives an ever-unpredictable climate and future. Part of this stems from our obsession with economic growth and consumption. Ironically, as a former student of economics and policy, now looking to launch his career, I care about the subject of economics. I want a stronger economy where I can create professional opportunities for myself and others. Still, within a finite world, fast-paced economic growth based on a business model of unsustainable products and services will not create a job that I want to apply for. Such a model is unfair to the whole of our population, and particularly unjust for the marginalized communities of today and the disadvantaged generations of tomorrow. These groups are ill-equipped to defend themselves against the impacts of shortsighted economic growth. Instead, let us look to how we may deepen economic development: doing more for society while manipulating less of our environment. I envision a future where individuals, governments, and businesses strive to achieve comprehensive sustainability by: (1) deepening economic development, (2) providing better information and tools to our communities, and (3) creating models of success in terms of the responsible consumption of resources (especially energy).
I will admit, this vision is vague on details, as it is a vision of a mindset rather than a roadmap. However, it is as much our mindset as it is our pocketbooks that drives our behavior — and I believe these issues all boil down to behavior. We can only technologically innovate our way out of some of this challenge. Therefore, our behavior must change. Otherwise, our environment will most certainly change to the detriment of a population that was unwilling – or unable – to do so itself.
I, for one, am optimistic that this will not be the case. We will innovate in technology and behavior. We will find a solution. I look forward to our shared challenge. Our shared roadmap. Our shared future.
Visit http://futurewewant.org/ to join the discussion.
When I arrived in Durban for COP17, I knew that I would meet a lot of interesting people. But I thought they would all be from the field of climate change. That was until I incidentally ran into Shaun Thompson while I was biking back to my accommodation from the conference. Shaun, who was crowned World Champion of Surfing in 1977, is a hero here in South Africa.
I caught him outside his apartment, dressed in his ‘business attire’ and waiting for the elevator doors to open so he could jet across the posh lobby without dirtying the floors. He struck me as remarkably funny and totally likable, waxing effortlessly about the charm of Durban. He noticed my UN badge and inquired about COP17. In telling him that I was from UC San Diego, I found out that he calls California home now as well.
Noting my optimism for COP17, he commented on the pessimism in the media and among various delegates. After a perfect pause, for comedic timing, he looks to me and says, “If you come to these conferences, you have to cop in — not cop out.” In the end, his requisite was true. This was the longest COP in it’s 17-year history and negotiators worked 36 hours past the proposed end of the conference. Though the final plenary sessions were nowhere near reaching unanimous consensus on several issues – with Bolivia, Nicaragua, and Russia the most vociferous of all – the COP-in nations of the world chose to do so at a crucial time in human history.
The usually calm and collected Stern was hurried by his entourage. I told a friend by my side that something much more urgent was going on than your typical rush between COP meetings.
Turns out that he was headed for bilateral meetings with the EU and BASIC group. As Christiana Figueres told me the other day, this COP is like a duck, “on the surface it looks calm, but under water” those feet as busy as can be.
Maybe this is just what she was talking about. To me, the only duck in this global pond is the EU. But its feet are moving so hard underwater that it is apparent on the surface that it is working frantically to get allies on round 2 of the Kyoto Protocol. Best of luck, on behalf of all of us, I hope that Christina Figueres is right about this COP having a lot of action beneath the surface. 2020 just won’t do. One thing is certain, Todd Stern was approaching his BASIC/EU bilateral with a lot of focus and preparation. Maybe COP17 can get several ducks in a row, giving us an early Christmas present – a breakthrough here in Durban… Warning: this is my youthful optimism speaking.
Avoided Deforestation Parters hosted a fantastic event yesterday where I met one of a childhood hero, Jane Goodall. This woman, calm and confident, left the audience in awe as she brought passion back into the confused efforts of COP17. I thanked her for this and she showed me her appreciation with a hug and said, “that really is it ins’t it. It’s about passion.”
Also on the panel were: H. Clark (New Zealand) & M. Robinson (Ireland) also present. Event host was Avoided Deforestation Partners, and included special video messages from Bill and Sect Hillary Clinton, as well as Pres Obama. All had touching memories of W.Maathai, whose indomitable spirit is the pulse of this COP on African soil. That spirit is needed now, more than ever. At the UNEP Billion Tree campaign event last night, the prince of Monaco recognized that spirit.
Unfortunately, it appears that all is not right at the moment with the REDD+ negotiations. Fingers crossed that consensus can be reached today. Accounting for over a 1/5 of global GHG emissions, not to mention the social and biodiversity aspects (hence the +’s), keep an eye out for any progress at COP17 to save our forests. Thanks to the efforts icons like of Maathai and Goodall, we have cause for hope.