Here’s Bill Scott’s latest comment from the NAAEE conference in San Diego.
I went to a session on whether climate change was changing the face of EE. Marianne Krasny, from Cornell University, led the session that used data from work done following Hurricane Sandy’s devastation of New Jersey and New York, and there were contributions from the floor about the effects of Hurricane Katrina, and floods and fires in different parts of the USA and about activities resulting from these. There was much emphasis on environmental justice in all this; that is, that poor folk were ultimately more badly affected than those in richer communities.
The point was made that adaptation was consistent with EE (viewed broadly), and that the development of resilience and associated skill sets might (have to) become a focus of much of EE from now on, and come to be seen as part of the long-term evolution of EE itself.
Thus, this was a session around significant events caused (maybe) by climate change, rather than about climate change itself, and that is understandable up to a point. A consequence of this, however, was that there was much focus on adaptation (think, resilience), and virtually nothing about mitigation.
Someone said that climate change is slow, but disasters are fast; another way of looking at this is that the one is very visible (and visceral), the other is hard to see (and is contested). The problem with arguing back from specific disasters to climate change is that it will sound (to some) like propaganda. There will always be a call for evidence / proof.
But EE will always have to engage with mitigation issues as well as adaptation, as the problem with adaptation is that it will not always be clear what one is adapting to, given that it won’t be clear that or when any change has finished (think, sea-level rise) – or, as someone pointed out afterwards, what previous context should be seen as the optimal or ideal in any rebuilding programme.
I think it is obvious that individuals, organisations and communities can get involved in adaptation; indeed, EE organisations have a long history of this through conservation education. It is less obvious that they can do as much in relation to mitigation, as reducing the flow of greenhouse gases, and then removing them from the atmosphere, will not be achieved one house or community at a time. It will need the sort of concerted, focused, international effort that made the Montreal Protocol so successful, and it is a sobering thought that it is this protocol that has been the biggest reducer of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere so far, with some 135Bn tonnes of gas not entering the atmosphere since 1989 as a result. If we’d all been urged to take personal responsibility to ditch those aerosols, and change our fridges and freezers, one at a time, through well-meaning education programmes, we’d have got nowhere.
It’s also a sobering thought that the UN’s COP meetings are not as effective as the process round the Protocol.
This was a good session; it was informed and participative, and it stimulated thought during and afterwards. NAAEE at its best.