Monday, September 24, 2007

On global warming and "environmental politics"

Reaction to Papers presented in the Ateneo de Naga University, 5 September 2007:
The typical quip “It doesn’t affect us, why bother?” used to be the standard reply among ordinary citizens when asked for opinions about environmental issues. Nowadays however, the experience is real and the effect is widely felt. Fish kill, abnormal weather (including halestorm in Baguio City!), excessively high temperature, frequent flooding, etc. are just some of the phenomenon affecting everyone. Thus, it is indeed timely to reflect on the environmental issues confronting us and discern possible actions that we can immediately pursue.

But global warming as an environmental issue is almost becoming as controversial as the presidency of PGMA. May I outline some of the "political" considerations involved:

1. methodological issues divide scientists thus, findings and recommendations in this area is continually challenged: how accurate are the models in representing realities, are the causes anthropocentric or simply geophysical phenomenon

2. the state of the art may be summarized along the following lines (quoting EPA):

•Human activities are changing the composition of Earth's atmosphere. Increasing levels of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere since pre-industrial times are well-documented and understood.
•The atmospheric buildup of CO2 and other greenhouse gases is largely the result of human activities such as the burning of fossil fuels.
•An “unequivocal” warming trend of about 1.0 to 1.7°F occurred from 1906-2005. Warming occurred in both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres, and over the oceans (IPCC, 2007).
•The major greenhouse gases emitted by human activities remain in the atmosphere for periods ranging from decades to centuries. It is therefore virtually certain that atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases will continue to rise over the next few decades.
•Increasing greenhouse gas concentrations tend to warm the planet.

3. As a political issue, social movements and even political parties are born around global warming: (1)advocates calling for policy reforms and behavior modifications, (2)“cooler heads coalition” focusing on the flaws of doomsday scenario, (3)east-west divide being highlighted: who caused it, who suffers, who will act

4. Thus, this environmental issue takes on a very political dimension (politics referring to any social configuration that involves the struggle for and exercise of power):
•whose findings and perceptions will prevail
•whose recommendations and actions get implemented

5. But to my mind, the bottom-line is about the knowledge and truth that we gain, the actions that we pursue with this knowledge, and the learning that we derive from the experience. Politics is the tool for getting these.

6. Politically therefore, the action points in the international arena will be multi-layered and necessitating several policy interventions within and among the governments of the world. But in our level, much can be done already: (1)reduce, reuse, recycle (2)estimate climate impact of university, (3)get involved!

7. The two-fold fundamental politics in environmental issue: (1)power must be given to the people (knowledge and action being democratized instead of a few countries, agencies, and individuals only) ; (2)scientific studies, findings, and recommendations must be subjected to the most rigid discourse aimed towards truth and accuracy.

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