Is there Hopenhagen after Copenhagen?

That was the title of the 3rd in a series of 8 conferences sponsored by Columbia University alumni association. I was particularly interested in attending yesterday’s session because a very special someone was giving the Keynote speech. Therefore when I got to the venue, there was a long line of attendees who had braved the bad weather, cold and rain to be there for the same reason as me..listen to Prof. Jeffrey Sachs speak. Prof Sachs is well known to most people with even a little bit of interest in economics, energy situation, sustainable farming in developing world and a host of other reasons.

Here’s a little bio on him.

Despite being so popular, it was strange to see him sit all alone playing with his cellphone. I am sure a lot of us wanted to go and shake his hand (I know did!) but felt awestruck! (that’s what I felt!)

He was supposed to talk about business opportunities in the wake of Copenhagen, but ended up talking about something even more important..the reality facing us regarding Climate Change! Here are some of the highlights of his talk:

1. There’s  stock pollutant (sulphur) vs. Fund pollutant (carbon). Stock pollutants accumulate in the environment over time. The damage they cause increases as more pollutant is emitted, and persists as the pollutant accumulates. Fund pollutants are those for which the environment has some absorptive capacity. Fund pollutants do not cause damage to the environment unless the emission rate exceeds the receiving environment’s absorptive capacity (e.g. carbon dioxide, which is absorbed by plants and oceans). Former is more dangerous because it doesn’t get washed away, it just keeps building and building. Thus, C02 in the air will stay for centuries to come.

2. Currently, because of bad media (very much led by WSJ), only one third of Americans believe in climate change and it’s ill effects. Without a majority, no action is taking place in US which is a very dangerous thing.

3.  At the Earth Institute (at Columbia), each and every scientist is very worried and believe the situation is much worse than anyone is aware of and is getting worse every day.

4.  Copenhagen failed primarily due to lack of ownership and leadership from America. Even though media says China and India is the problem, here are the hard core statistics:

a. US CO2 generation per person per year is 20 tons. So, for its entire population it comes to 6bn CO2 generated by America per year.

b. The figures for India are 1 ton per person per year. So even with it’s 1 bn population, the total annual CO2 output is 1/6th of that generated by USA

c. China’s figures are much lower than USA’s but slowly catching up. Last year, China overtook USA in total GHGs emitted.

Although there were 191 countries at Copenhagen, President Obama took decisions that were meant to appease the US senate and that’s the reality of American politics. But Prof. Sachs did end on a positive note saying that it does require money to invest in green technologies but that’s not impossible because a) it’s only 2% of the world’s GNP that would be needed and b) we all at some point have to realize the repurcusions to our planet, our future and our present if we don’t  take necessary collective action soon.

In conclusion, I was very impressed and inspired both by the topic and the speaker and I hope my blog or any of the limitless other sources out there inspire each one of us to take some action; no matter how small it is. Reminds me of a poster I had as a child in my room: The smallest deeds are better than the grandest intentions..So, please do support any positive climate change initiatives and listen, study before taking a stance.

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