Ice Sculptures, Greenpeace, and Melting Away Obstacles

greenpeace-ice-sculptures-chinaGreenpeace is at it again – this time using symbolism to highlight the impact of impending water shortages. The activist network placed 100 ice sculptures (depicting children) at the Temple of Earth in Beijing Friday – the spot where Chinese emperors used to pray for well-being and bountiful harvests. Greenpeace also placed ice sculptures in New Delhi, India. (According to Greenpeace’s website, China and India, which together account for a third of the world’s population, have per-capita water resources far below the global average.) In addition to the immediate issues of water supplies and human welfare, the gesture highlights several far-reaching implications: the quagmire involved in establishing a global consensus on sustainability.

The sculptures, which are crafted of glacial melt water from the Yangtze, Yellow and Ganges river sources, symbolize the threat to more than 1 billion people in Asia by climate change-induced water shortages. The 100 sculptures also symbolize the 100-day countdown to the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen in December. These talks could be a historical turning point – or breaking point – for the world’s environmental, economic, and sustainable development.

In general, China and India have presented obstacles to reaching a global carbon emissions consensus. Eliminating these obstacles will be crucial to the Copenhagen conference’s success. However, judging from statements (reported on by Greenpeace’s Climate and Energy Managers for India and China (Vinuta Gopal and Yang Ailun, respectively), the sculptures aren’t intended to single out China for its environmental abuses. Instead, the point is to pressure all world leaders to curb climate change. “It is real concern about climate change impacts (like the threat to our water supply) that is driving China and India to pursue a low-carbon development path…,” Gopal said. “If the developed world doesn’t take the opportunity to support developing countries to both adapt to and mitigate climate change, then that balance won’t hold and we will suffer an environmental catastrophe.”

Enter… the quagmire. The role of rich nations in reducing developing nations’ carbon footprint is, in many ways, the heart of the global sustainability battle. Besides the basic issue of immediate profit for some versus long-term well-being for all, additional issues abound. For example, should rich countries be allowed to trade carbon permits with poorer countries? Should they be required to fund developing countries’ carbon offsetting efforts? Should they pay “penance” – compensation for the damage already done, to which developing countries are often most vulnerable? What if such payments hinder the development of carbon-trimming technology? How long can we allow the debate over a global sustainability framework to continue?

If there are clear answers to questions like these, they are complex. What do you think the answers are?


Photo Sources: Greenpeace

Sarah Harper is a professional writer based in San Francisco, California. Her interests include sustainability, government policy, and international politics. In her free time, Sarah enjoys toying with the idea of holistic health, overanalysis, and plotting world exploration.

One response

  1. Art as protest is as old as humanity, but given the severe dilemma of climate change vs. economic growth that these countries face, I’m not sure that an art protest really makes such a big impression on them. I’m also not so sure that this will really be understood as a way to highlight the need for action around the world. I think it can be perceived as a call to the Chinese for (greater) positive climate change response.

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