Climate Change & Me

Yesterday in my classes, I showed “An Inconvenient Truth” (the film about climate change starring Al Gore). Overall is what a great success. The film discusses the science of climate change (much on the minds of my students in light of the Copenhangen Accord), but also touches on the Election of 2000, Darfur, tobacco, China, and a whole host of other issues related to American domestic and foreign policy and environmental law.

Four thoughts came to mind:

(1) Dear Al Gore: A sequel is needed. The science is better, the results of greenhouse gas emissions are more pronounced than expected, and much has happened on the global stage.

(2) The sequel needs a far more of global perspective rather than an American one. More of my students had seen the disaster movie “2012” than this film because “2012” is pitched to a Chinese audience. In Gore’s film, he makes the argument that America can do anything citing the American Revolution, ending slavery, landing on the moon, and ending Communism showing the fall of the Berlin Wall. The last example resulted in huge snickers and laughs. (While I have not yet meet a single American or single Chinese that has a good argument that China is Communist as opposed to a single-party state with a market economy, such comments in Gore’s film have an American-centric tone that do not help dialogue and international diplomacy. Though it seems Obama’s long-term strategy of a mild and friendly foreign policy tone is not working out well in the short term, e.g., no Olympics in Chicago; no climate treaty.) The sequel should look at the challenges of dealing with climate change when countries are trying to develop and raise standards of living (see China, India, Brazil, many countries in Africa like South Africa).

(3) The movie left me quite depressed…the effects of climate change are staggering especially for island nations and the poor, especially in Africa; the disappointment of the American political system and Supreme Court in the wake of Bush v. Gore with the presidential winner leading us to the invasion of Iraq; how I miss American music now (the film ends with the Academy Award winning song by Melissa Ethenridge); my concerns for US-China Relations in light of China’s Prime Minister’s initial “snub” of Obama at Copenhagen and the different developing stages of our two countries; the continual drive towards increased consumerism, production, and consumption in the US and China.

(4) The relationship between American comsumerism and China’s development, and the imapct on the environment: Let me make this simple. Lots of goods are manufactured in China, especially Guangdong Province. These good are sold cheaply in the American market. The goods are cheap due to low wages for workers, few environmental constraints, and sometimes diffcult labor conditions. I’m not a WTO, International Trade, GATT expert, but it seems in order to lower the global carbon footprint the American appetite and importation of cheap goods made in factories fueled by coal must end. This requires a change in American consumption patterns, an understanding of the true costs of consumer purchases, and some very difficult domestic and foreign policy choices.

An final note: Once I return to the States, I am no longer buying or accepting greeting cards and consumer products that were made far way (a waste of paper and fossil fuels), and I hope anything I buy or gifts I receive will be as local as possible made in the most sustainable way possible. E.g., Call me on of phone to wish me a happy birthday or happy holiday (no card); etc. This mandate is in addition to resuming my vegetarian, local and organic food consumption…it’s time be more intentional about sustainability in my other areas of consumption.

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