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San Diego to Copenhagen: It’s a Small World After All

3p Contributor | Saturday December 19th, 2009 | 0 Comments


By Lee Barken, IT practice leader at Haskell & White, LLP

future_nowIt’s a balmy 67 degrees in San Diego and I’m back home at my local coffee shop, sipping Chai Tea Latte.  A short 24 hours ago, I was in the snow and bitter cold of Copenhagen, Denmark, attending the 15th meeting of the Conference of Parties (COP15) climate summit.

For two brief weeks, people from around the world had been gathered to discuss how carbon emissions are affecting our environment.  Despite a failure to sign a major agreement, the victory of the conference has been its ability to focus world attention on climate change issues.  COP-15 has captured the public’s interest, raised awareness and energized ordinary citizens into action.

Acknowledging the gravity of climate change is a difficult task to consider as I sip a tasty beverage in the comfort of my shorts and t-shirt.  Perhaps the single largest challenge for reducing carbon emissions is to convey a sense of urgency to those who are the least affected.  Has our own comfortable condition lulled us into a sense of complacency?

What, Me Worry?

As Americans, we have enjoyed a cultural bias towards short term gratification.  This attitude is demonstrated by our invention of the credit card and its widespread use.  It can also be found in our cultural icons, such as the famous Popeye comic strip character Wimpy, who proclaimed “I would gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today.”

Americans have also demonstrated that they are among the most generous in the world to respond to international relief efforts following natural disasters such as tsunamis, earthquakes and floods.  Unfortunately, we wait until after the disaster occurs to spring into action.

Climate Refugees?

At the COP-15 climate summit this week in Copenhagen, I took particular note of a group of seven countries that made desperate pleas to save their tiny island nations.  Most countries at these international treaty negotiations have established 2 degrees as the maximum allowable increase in global temperature that the planet can sustain, before catastrophic effects are felt.  However, countries such as Tuvalu and Maldives are now insisting that any increases greater then 1.5 degrees would mean the complete destruction of their countries and require entire populations to relocate to higher ground.

The speeches from these countries were passionate and thought provoking.  Can you imagine being sent to Copenhagen as your country’s representative with the task of saving your homeland?  A few years ago we sent my hometown San Diego Chargers to the playoffs.  When they failed their task and came home empty handed, we still gave them a parade downtown.  I hope the other countries are as generous to their delegations.

“The entire population of Tuvalu lives below two meters above sea level,” said Ian Fry, a delegate from Tuvalu.  In a plenary session in front of hundreds of dignitaries, he ended his presentation by saying “I woke this morning, and I was crying, and that’s not easy for a grown man to admit. The fate of my country rests in your hands.”  You can watch the entire presentation here.

I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing…

If you’ve ever seen the famous 1971 TV commercial, you might think that the solution to world happiness is just giving everybody a Coke and teaching them to sing together.  The problem with this approach, of course, is the consequences of proliferating emissions associated with carbon intensive lifestyles.

If the United States represents 5% of the world population, but is responsible for 25% of its emissions, what happens when every person in China or India decides that they’d like to live the good life, too?  What happens to the environment when everybody in the world wants to drive a Hummer, live in a McMansion and enjoy a standard of living like the one experienced in the US?

It’s not that developing countries want a Starbucks on every corner. Many just want running water and electricity that actually works 24 hours a day.  One tool, putting a price on carbon through cap and trade, creates incentives for companies to reduce emissions.  This stimulates innovation, creates a marketplace around low carbon solutions and provides a pathway for developing countries to grow in a way that minimizes environmental harm.

In other words, the goal is to “de-couple” economic development and environmental damage.  Leveraging the innovation from industrial countries would allow developing nations to enjoy modern conveniences and build out their energy, transportation and construction sectors in a cleaner way than developed countries have historically achieved.

Home Sweet Home

Having returned home to San Diego, it’s easy to sink back into the daily routines of going to work, running errands and living life.  San Diego may not be currently feeling the affects of climate change, however, the indulgence of inaction is no longer affordable.  If there’s anything I’ve learned from my experience at COP15, it’s that the world is interconnected on many levels and our actions (or inactions) can have global consequences.

Interacting with delegates from nearly 200 countries from around the world has highlighted the importance of recognizing common goals.  However, achieving these goals will require a delicate balance of policy and fiscal responsibility in the months and years ahead.  The challenges are great, but we’re a great nation.  With sensible, business-focused objectives, we can protect the planet and the pocketbook.

Lee Barken, CPA, LEED-AP is the IT practice leader at Haskell & White, LLP and serves on the board of directors of CleanTECH San Diego and the U.S. Green Building Council – San Diego chapter. Lee writes and speaks on the topics of carbon accounting, green building, IT audit compliance, enterprise security and wireless LAN technology. He was recently in Copenhagen attending the COP15 conference. You can reach him at 858-350-4215 or lbarken@hwcpa.com.


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