25 December 2009

hope springs eternal

There is one part of the world that has come to a stand-still in a despair of lost hope. There is a percentage that is unaware and still others who are still apathetic. The end of the year brings with it a morose close, of failed negotiations and still uncrossable geopolitical boundaries. The decisions made in the high-tables or the back-rooms of Copenhagen have a resounding implication that will affect every facet of human life.

No other environmental conference has seen this amount of turn-out which in itself demonstrates the high expectations of delegates, civil society organizations and governmental groups. No other environmental conference has garnered immense public awareness and pressure from almost every part of the world. Several events, protests, demonstrations and rallies in the months leading-up to Copenhagen has communicated the concern, worry and expectations of millions of people.

Yet for all the effort and the energy; the hopes of many thousands of people have been dashed. There has never been a moment in human history where so many people have been fighting for a different beat in every corner of the globe. Even the smallest nations have fought for a platform to voice their opinions and are prepared to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the biggest giants. The fact that they have been let down does not nullify the gesture. It reaffirms that we can still come together inspite of our discords and if we stick it out long enough, differences can be hammered out.

This is the first time such a large number of world leaders have joined together to make monumental decisions. There are bound to be frustrations, anger, dashed expectations and false hope. However, there is a reason why we do this: we still believe that we can undo damages caused. Today, I am overwhelmingly optimistic and uncharacteristically hopefully that change will come. I only hope that when it does, it is not too late.

21 December 2009

have yourself a merry green christmas

I've always loved this time of the year - everything about it makes it conducive to introspection and time with loved ones. Everywhere, there is an intangible feeling of hope as old things come to an end and new beginnings commence. Like with most festivals, the true meaning of Christmas has always been enveloped in a frenzy of commercialism. How can we remove ourselves from the mall-madness and get in touch with the true meaning of this season?

"Peace on the Earth and goodwill towards Man" can also be extended to mean: more eco-consciousness during the season of festive joy. There are plenty of areas where you can choose to go green and here is a small list:

Trees: Real or Plastic? I hate the thought of plastic trees no matter how convenient or re-usable. Real trees always add more the holiday atmosphere but are not the greenest option; a good compromise is to buy a potted tree that can be replanted in your backyard or donated to parks. There are several options to even rent a real tree and even choose the same tree year after year. If you must buy a real tree then consider recycling it and look into local recycling services in the place where you live.

Lights and Candles: Change your Christmas light to LEDs. They're more expensive, but last much longer and use 80% to 90% less power than conventional mini bulbs. LEDs, which cast a bright white light, also stay cool to the touch so they won't singe the tree - or your fingers. Reconsider the amount of lighting you may use - do you really need to light up your entire house? Consider candles made with bee, vegetable or soya wax which are more eco-friendly than paraffin which is a petroleum product.

Gifts, Cards and Gift-wrap: Think of eco-friendly or green options for gift giving. Click here for a list of green options. Consider home/hand-made presents and eco-friendly gift-wrap while you're at it. There are several sources of hand-made, recycled gift wraps available which do not use dyes and chemicals. Send e-cards or personalized emails instead of paper-cards. If all else fails, you can always donate to charity in that person's name. Tis the season of giving folks! Lap it up. Give the gift of your time and volunteer in a soup kitchen or simply make the effort to spend it with your close family and friends. This is really what Christmas is about.

Decorations: Keep it minimal, use natural sources. Stringed popcorn and satsumas still work as decorations as well as gingerbread houses. Be creative and make your own ornaments which all adds to Christmas fun. There are several green options of decor as a quick google will show you. Consider making wreaths of herbs or a branch of the tree decorated with fruit and natural material. Think of using natural, organic poinsettias, mistletoe and holly berries. With a little creativity the options are endless.

Food and Waste: Be mindful of what you are consuming over the holidays and also be mindful of what you throw out. Try not to over-shop and use all food items that you do buy - both can be achieved with a little planning. Plan a small menu of excellent food instead of a superfluous mediocre one. Go organic, shop in the local market. Think of ways to keep the washing up to the minimal. Keep recycling and composting through the holidays and remember to switch the lights off.

Use this as a guideline, but don't stop here. Be creative, thoughtful and considerate. Merry Christmas!

20 December 2009


The 'historic' Copenhagen conference ended after two weeks of dead-lock with a haphazard all-nighter resulting in an unfinished assignment. Remind you of college anyone? The last-minute agreement which is the Copenhagen Accord has been praised by China, currently the biggest carbon emitter. No prizes for guessing why: the agreement is nonbinding, which encourages major polluters to make deeper emission cuts but does not require it. If memory serves right, thats what happened the last time with Kyoto!

The only silver-ish lining in this whole debacle is that the rich countries have pledged $100 billion a year by 2020 in aid to poor countries in order to implement green technologies. This pledge spear-headed by America already generates several doubts, chiefly - in the midst of a financial crisis, where can they get this money to simply give away?

Whilst several countries have made declarations of internal emission cuts, none of them are legally binding. Developed nations may already have the infrastructure in place in order to commit to these emission cuts. However developing countries even India and large parts of China have no infrastructure in place to deal with rapid development and growth that they foresee - with no legal measures in place, where will responsibility towards the commons come from?

The good guys and the bad guys have not changed one bit and this is disheartening to note. The United States and China are the biggest emitters and they have somehow managed to walk away without any legal bindings in spite of pressure from Japan and the EU. India's over-ambitious plans have no bearing without solid directions for their enforcement.

Inter governmental negotiations are complex as admitted by several delegates and many have expressed disappointment at the current outcome. Many others are hopeful that this is the first step towards the goal of a legally binding treaty. Lack of accountability makes environmental processes haphazard either within international or national jurisdiction. This is further reinforced by the lack of transparency on the part of governing agencies.

Quoting UN Secretary General Ban-Ki Moon it is a "significant first step" although he admitted that, "much was left to be done"

the big Cop out

I have purposely avoided writing about the Copenhagen conference because I decided to keep my sanity. Inter-governmental negotiations are almost always a waste of time and energy; however, as the world doesn't have a better method, we trudge on with it. Disappointments at Copenhagen have been a long time coming and reaching a decision on the last night of the debacle is hardly the way to go about it.

So far my impression on Copenhagen is the following: The Russians are defunct, Obama and his Nobel - big whoop! Brown is going, "Golly, this isn't working". China won't jump on the boat without US support, India won't do it without China. Brazil keeps topping polls as the country most concerned about climate change. The EU of course are the under-dog good guys. Japan is showing signs of commitment but who cares because they are so small. Hilary Clinton says on the last day after an all-nighter that progress is being made. Basically they've put out 46,200 tonnes of CO2 for this all-round joke of a meet and greet.

Copenhagen represents a classical geopolitical dead-lock, a socio-ecological conundrum. The last minute deal called the 'Copenhagen Accord' brokered by Barack Obama with China, India, Brazil and South Africa did not receive universal support from the 193 countries participating. The accord, which gutted a comprehensive agreement to pay poor countries to protect their forests, since the mass cutting of trees accounts for 20% of global emissions, is not binding and does not have a set date for capping carbon emissions. Sudan's chief negotiator, compared it to the Holocaust, while Hugo Chavez, the Venezuelan president, said that the world is smelling of sulphur and referred to Obama as Satan.

Ian Fry of Tuvalu, the drowning island-nation that has become the poster country for the perils of rising sea levels, likened the accord to "being offered 30 pieces of silver to betray our people and our future".

Copenhagen in short, has become a playground of bullies calling each other names, refusing to play nice, not even acknowledging the bigger picture. Leaders of the world, grow up!