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EthicsAndClimate; Donald A. Brown. Widener University School of Law Scholar In Residence in Sustainable Development Ethics and Law
With elegant strokes and lofty language, Wu Hongbo, United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, last month presented an intriguing vision of a 'new world order', one designed according to a post 2015 Development Agenda and characterized by an “inclusive and transparent intergovernmental process” which unites all governments and peoples of the world under the umbrella of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The world faces complex challenges, Hongbo notes, because as we move past the 2015 expiration of the Millennium Development Goals, our efforts to eradicate poverty and move towards universal equality in all areas of development are challenged by the shocks of climate change.

Sustainable development, he writes, is now about working together across the globe to “responsibly manage the earth's life support systems and ecosystems.

"The future we are aiming at is one where poverty is history and where all human beings can achieve the full development of their potential and live lives of dignity, while consuming and producing within the limits of the planet. Such a world is within our reach. This is the future we want.” (Next Steps to the 'Future We Want')

UN Climate scientists, in defining the six main issues relevant to the SDGs -- “thriving lives and livelihoods, food security, water security, clean energy, healthy and productive ecosystems, and governance for sustainable societies --  also stress that human activity has undermined “the stability of Earth systems that allow for continued human development.  Climate scientists have already made it clear that changes in the atmosphere have contributed to the unpredictable and severe weather systems that have caused damage all over the world.   These scenarios are escalating in their damage and their frequency thereby uprooting stable cities and making future development more challenging.” (UN Scientists Identify Sustainable Development Goals to Address the Health of the Environment and Livelihoods)


It's not possible to bear witness to David Bleja's simulation Breathingearth. CO2 emissions, birth rate & death rate simulation without marveling at the sheer unjustness of it all.

For when you observe a 'flat' Earth or even when you view the earth from a Hubble-eye view,

is it possible to determine why one region thrives while others languish?

Why should Bangladesh drown? Texas burn? Africa starve?

Is it Nature?  Nurture? Or just the luck of the draw?

In a recent Time magazine article Can Service Save Us?, Joe Klein writes about the psychological and general health benefits of volunteering, proposing that "a robust national-service program  — like the service corps proposed by the Aspen Institute’s Franklin Project — " just might be beneficial for all of us. Klein dedicates a lot of ink to the philosophy behind The Mission Continues, an organization designed to involve veterans in community-service activism. Across the US, veteran groups are volunteering on farms, in schools, on building sites and in health facilities taking care of other seriously wounded vets.  

Some 7,000 vets are members of the LA-based Team Rubicon which focuses on disaster relief. These vets were the boots on the ground after Hurricane Sandy and in post-tornado ops in Oklahoma.

"When they leave the service," Klein writes, "veterans are catapulted from an intense brother-and-sisterhood where the most serious issues imaginable are confronted every day, and plopped down into a society where they no longer have the comfort and purpose of being part of something larger than themselves. In a perverse way, their reaction to civilian life can be seen as a form of sanity: too many of the rest of us have slouched from active citizenship to passive couch-potato-hood. Many returning veterans find that passivity and isolation intolerable."

Let's imagine a different simulation of BreathingEarth. One that percolates with activity illustrating actions around the world as citizens show up to tackle the problems of climate change. Rather than measuring how many tons of carbon had been emitted since the last time you logged on, orbs would light up to show how many projects and partnerships have begun, how many people have shown up. Real life cells would sprout in marketplaces and malls and on main streets, collaborative spaces for people of all ages and from all walks of life to stop by and share time and skill sets in the global effort to educate, encourage and empower world citizens as they engage in engineering the shift in lifestyle necessary for universal sustainable development.

Information would be fluid, inspirational and thought provoking, illustrating progress on issues like food security and global health, extreme weather events and water scarcity.

Imagine if we all woke up from our ennui. If we gained independence from our learned helplessness. If we overcame our collective PTSD. If our eyes opened up to the universal right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Imagine if we realized we are all members of the same global eco swat team. That your problem is my problem. That none of us are free if any of us are in danger.

Start by doing what is necessary, then what is possible, and suddenly you are doing the impossible.”― St. Francis of Assisi  

Independence Day Special: Climate Change Reports From Across the Globe

Egypt: Food Security

The World Food Program  illustrates Poverty and Food Insecurity in Egypt

Agricultural growth, Egypt
The amount of land devoted to farming near the delta northwest of Cairo increased dramatically between 1972 and 2003, when these images were taken. The most common crops are cotton, rice, corn, potatoes, oranges, and wheat. Land such as this produces high yields and is often harvested two or three times a year. However, areas far from the Nile often cannot be irrigated. FROM NASA: State of Flux. Images of Change. Agricultural Growth, Egypt.
The Sahel: Extreme Weather. Climate Models and Adaptation

IRICS Scientist Alessandra Giannini 10 years ago presented studies depicting how temperature changes in the tropical sea-surface contributed to the shift in rainfall patterns in the Sahel. In a paper recently published in Environmental Research Letters, she pinpoints shifting sea surface changes in the North Atlantic - as opposed to other tropic oceans - as the specific factor explaining the drastic fluctuations in rainfall in the Sahel.


South America. Agricultural Development. Ozone or GHGs?

Climate models reveal that increases in rainfall in South Eastern South America in the late 20th century were perhaps equally caused by the ozone hole as by increases in GHGs.  This finding suggests that regional agricultural and economic development will be dramatically changed as stratospheric ozone levels increase.
"Polar ozone loss consistently produced a southward shift of the jet stream," says IRI's Paula Gonzalez, one of the study's coauthors. "This directly affected the winds at lower latitudes, contributing to increased precipitation across the region."  Ozone Depletion and Rainfall in SE South America

Africa. Climate Change and Health

The World Health Organization and the IRI launch a new center to collaborate on climate-related public health impacts in developing nations, which traditionally lack public health services and basic infrastrucure to insure food safety and security and adequate sanitation. An extensive focus is on the millions of girls and women in Africa whose dependence on rain-fed agriculture for livelihood and nutrition makes them highly vulnerable to insect and waterborne diseases. (The IRI & the World Health Organization collaborate to research impacts of climate change on global health)

India. A New Water Culture?

Sunita Narain suggests that the devastating floods in the Himalayas we question our use of water and examine the possibilities of designing a new ‘water culture.: discusses how runaway development of hydro power and mining plants coupled with more intense Monsoon season and unpredictable and variable rainfall events raises the question about redefining how we use water and how we create resilient plans for sustainable development. (Himalayan blunders)



Help Us Spread the Word About Climate Change



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