State of the Planet 2010
At the State of the Planet Conference 2010 at Columbia University, Prince Albert of Monaco, via satellite, expressed "we are at the dawn of major changes." Here in the West, as we wake up to this new day, there is much yawning and shaking away of the slumber... Letting go of 100 years of combustion, and starting a new paradigm, is an awesome challenge for developed nations who are stuck in their vision of fenced in, lawn-covered yards and oil dependent infrastructure.
Wally Broeckner, a distinguished professor at Columbia, estimates we will most likely double our CO2 in the atmosphere before we shake ourselves into positive action. The Chinese delegation from Beijing, was also not optimistic as to a near at hand solution, as they again reiterated- they are looking to the U.S. to take the first steps in setting CO2 standards. But, ahem, the U.S. is stuck in politics. The lively professor Qi Ye of Tsinghua University, congratulated our country on finally passing a public-good health care bill. But questioned whether “a broken democracy can solve global-good problems.”
The Indian delegation out of Delhi, followed next, and made clear they still believe in democracy and sees progress in international dialogue. But the overall consensus from the panels is that there has been much talk- little definitive action.
What did come across loud and clear is that the implementation of change is in the hands of the developing world. The poorest in the world have put the least amount of GHGs into the atmosphere, and will continue to create the smallest amounts into the future. They will leapfrog over our combustion infrastructure, using many of the West's technologies. But they will also leap from within, as research and development at regional levels takes advantage of local ways and means. Clean technologies that are local/regional, renewable and cost effective, are the answer for the developing world. And it should be noted that the poorest of the world are wards of our atmosphere's health, as they are the gatekeepers of our planet's rainforests.
For the developed world, Prince Albert rightly expressed that “change is not only about technology, but change of lifestyle and political will.” Sir David King, of the Smith School at Oxford, proposed that we also address the sensitive issue of population growth. The addition of 5 billion people on our planet, in this past 100 years, has depleted our resources faster than they can recover and replace themselves. Jeffrey Sachs stated “we can't pull off sustainable development” with the 'medium' population projectory of 9.2 billion by 2050.
President Calderon of Mexico cautioned that we must learn efficiency and “we need to change the way we produce and consume.” The president of Mexico pleads the developed world to take the initiative, but also acknowledged that all countries must participate. He noted the difficulties in finding a common ground, but stressed that we must focus on a prosperity that will last longer... He stated the importance of global agreements that will funnel money to specific programs.
The economists on the panel put forth that governments are responsible for creating the level playing field that the markets of the future will operate upon. And it was suggested that cap and trade schemes should be global, to bring in and benefit the developing world. Matthew Bishop, of the Economist, noted the economic crisis “has pointed out that we had been focused on the wrong numbers." It is also clear that the recent economic crisis has allowed governments to stimulate their economies while putting aside immediate carbon concerns. Ban Ki-moon, later pointed out that “developing countries have no capacity to even think of stimulus packages.”
From the business side, Peter Wierenga, a Philips Vice Pres and CEO of research, set forth that business must switch to a new mindset. A reverse innovation, such as 'small is beautiful'- not bigger, faster, shinier. An example is a book-light, efficiently focused on just the pages being read, verses an incandescent light bulb that wastes 95% of its energy as heat. The challenge of business is to find the technologies ahead of the markets.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, toward the close of the event, told the audience that not only does the President of the United States and the UN Secretary General have responsibility, but “each and every one has a role to play. The people's responsibility is to question. What should the next generation look like?” Will we be handing over “a sustainable world to succeeding generations?”