Turn, Turn, Turn

January 4, 2004

Turn, Turn, Turn By Michael Jessen

"There is a season for everything," says Ecclesiastes 3:1. "A time for keeping and a time for throwing away," it continues. The year 2003 was definitely not a keeper and many are happy to see it go.

It was a year of humility for the human race; SARS, mad cow disease, extreme weather conditions (including hurricanes, wildfires, scorching temperatures, ice storms, torrential rains and heavy snowfalls), electrical blackouts, and reports of continuing environmental deterioration.

It was also a year of scandal at the highest levels of the corporate and government ladders. Human hubris exposed Martha Stewart, Calisto Tanzi of Parmalat, Conrad Black of Hollinger, Dennis Kozlowski of Tyco, and Richard Grasso of the New York Stock Exchange. As the year ended, raids were made on the BC legislature offices of two aides to top cabinet ministers amid allegations of drug dealing, money laundering, and commercial fraud.

One has to hope that humans will learn something from the events of 2003. That manipulating the environment will have consequences. That putting personal wealth accumulation ahead of the interests of shareholders and co-workers will be discovered. That corporate and government leaders have a responsibility to provide moral leadership.

To sum up, 2003 proved that for every yin, there is a yang.

As the year ended, a number of reports alerted the world to the dangers of global warming. The World Health Organization (http://www.who.int/globalchange/en/) warned that global warming is killing about 150,000 people a year, mostly in deprived and tropical areas. The death toll could go higher if efforts are not made to curb climate change.

The United Nations agency said the health of millions of people was under threat as a consequence of rising temperatures and uncertain weather patterns, which many scientists claim are caused by greenhouse gas emissions.

"There is growing evidence that changes in the global climate will have profound effects on the health and well-being of citizens in countries around the world," said Kerstin Leitner, the WHO assistant director general.

The report, prepared in advance of December's UN conference on climate change in Milan, Italy, blames global warming for 2.4 percent of diarrhoea cases and 2 percent of all cases of malaria worldwide. It estimated that, by 2030, climate change could cause 300,000 deaths annually and that a further 5.5 million years of healthy living had been lost worldwide due to debilitating diseases caused by rising temperatures.

"The 1990s were the hottest decade on record and the upward trend in the world's temperature does not look like it is abating," said the report. "In Europe this past summer, for example, an estimated 20,000 people died due to extremely hot temperatures."

The report also said that increasing air pollution might lead to a rise in allergic conditions, such as asthma, and lung and respiratory complaints. A summary of the report is available at http://www.who.int/globalchange/climate/summary/en/.

Earlier in December, another UN report said global warming would not only affect human health, but also limit our recreational opportunities.

Launched by the United Nations Environment Programme (http://www.unep.org), the study says many low-altitude ski resorts face economic hardship and even ruin as a result of global warming.

Experts as the University of Zurich say that the levels of snow falling in lower-lying mountain areas will become increasingly unpredictable and unreliable over the coming decades. Currently, an estimated 15 percent of Switzerland's ski resorts are deemed to have unreliable levels of snowfall.

In the future, between 37 and 56 percent could have such low levels of snow that many, including the Swiss resorts of Wildhaus and Unterwasser, will be facing acute difficulties in attracting overseas tourists and local winter sports enthusiasts.

"The impacts of climate change on winter tourism may be even more severe in countries such as Germany and Austria due to the lower altitudes of their ski resorts," said the researchers.

The study -- Climate Change-Impacts on the Tourism Industry in Mountain Areas -- said that ski resorts in North America and Australia will be impacted too. Indeed, none of Australia's ski resorts will be economically viable by 2070 under a worst-case scenario.

Klaus Toepfer, UNEP's Executive Director, said "this study on winter sports shows that it is not just the developing world that will suffer. Even rich nations are facing potentially massive upheavals with significant economic, social and cultural implications."

The report also had some bad news for Canada. In the Lakelands area of Ontario, the current ski season could, if current snowmaking technology is in use, decline by between 7 and 32 percent by 2050 as a result of global warming.

A water summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia also heard in December that more than 300 million Africans suffer from a shortage of clean water, resulting in 6,000 deaths a year and growing violence over access to water. The scarcity of clean water has increased the danger or social and political conflict in Africa's urban areas, which continue to grow at an unprecedented rate, senior United Nations officials warned.

While experts said there was plenty of water available in Africa, much of it is wasted or poorly managed, resulting in shortages across Africa. African ministers appealed for US$16 billion a year from major financial institutions, like the World Bank, to help address problems. Kinglsey Amoako, head of the UN Economic Commission for Africa, estimated that US$20 billion a year is needed to help get water to 300 million Africans. But just US$4 billion is spent per year on water supply and sanitation, he said.

Anna Tibaijuka, head of the UN agency on housing, said failing to utilize water effectively would undermine important economic and political strides already made.

"This economic recovery could be in peril if Africa fails to manage its water resources efficiently and equitably," Tibaijuka said. She also said impoverished Africans living in slums on the continent are being forced to pay five times as much per liter or clean water as people living in rich nations.

Tibaijuka also warned that within the next 20 years, 500 million people will be living in slum conditions in the continent's burgeoning cities, most without clean water.

"Water scarcity is fast becoming a potential source of social and political conflict," she noted.

One of the most popular movies of 2003 was "Finding Nemo," a Disney-Pixar collaboration that has earned about $340 million at the US box office alone and might earn a similar amount through DVD sales. Nemo's home is the coral reef and a presentation about their importance to human cultures and marine life is found at http://www.oceanfutures.com/Nemo/index.html.

The movie will hopefully alert watchers young and old to the dangers facing the coral reefs of the world. Jean-Michel Cousteau's Ocean Futures Society (http://www.oceanfutures.com) is featured on the DVD and has been influential in alerting the world to the importance of water quality. The mission of Ocean Futures Society is to explore our global ocean, inspiring and educating people throughout the world to act responsibly for its protection, documenting the critical connection between humanity and nature, and celebrating the ocean's vital importance to the survival of all life on our planet.

Cousteau, the eldest son of the late ocean explorer Jacques-Yves Cousteau , also contributed -- along with many international authors including Robert Kennedy Jr., former U.S. President Jimmy Carter (http://www.cartercenter.org) and former Russian President Mikhail Gorbachev (http://www.mikhailgorbachev.org) -- to a new book Water Culture (https://www.phaidon.com/phaidon/displayproduct.asp?id=1679) to focus attention on the human connection to water.

"The tremendous popular success of the Disney/Pixar film Finding Nemo and the surprising success of the independent film, Whale Rider, have brought international focus on the future of our ocean and ocean cultures beyond any news reports, scholarly studies and countless well-designed academic programs," Cousteau wrote in November.

"The educational power of this new "sea-lebrity" is something we should embrace as a worthy ally in our quest to raise global awareness of our embattled ocean environment, and motivate millions of young people and their families to insist on better protection of our ocean world," added Cousteau. "These excellent films have opened the hearts and minds of legions of youth. We must seize this serendipitous opportunity to take those messages and make them grow."

Lastly, a disturbing report by Cancer Care Ontario said up to 30 percent of Canadian adults risk getting cancer because they don't eat enough fruits and vegetables, are obese or don't get enough exercise.

The study found 40 percent of Ontario adults don't get the required five daily servings of fruits and vegetables while almost half are overweight or don't get the recommended 3.5 hours of physical activity each week.

The number of cancer cases that could be prevented by meeting these three requirements is comparable to the number of cases that could be prevented by stopping smoking, the study found.

The year 2003 proved human society is still struggling with the 1960s joke of someone travelling to see a mountain top yogi to ask, "What is the meaning of life?" If the world "society" means the welfare of one's fellow human beings as well as the world's flora and fauna, we have much to learn.

"When man interferes with the Tao, the sky becomes filthy, the earth becomes depleted, the equilibrium crumbles, creatures become extinct," says the Chinese philosopher Lao-tzu in part 39 of his monumental work Tao Te Ching (Stephen Mitchell translation http://academic.brooklyn.cuny.edu/core9/phalsall/texts/taote-v3.html).

By letting go of the disappointments and burdens of 2003, I hope that humans will learn more humility in 2004 in our relationship with the natural environment, each other, and Earth's creatures. May 2004 be, in the words of Ecclesiastes, a time for healing, a time for embracing, a time for loving, and a time for peace. Happy New Year!

Here is a quote to guide us through 2004:

"Hope is the power of being cheerful in circumstances which we know to be desperate." G.K. Chesterton

Michael Jessen is a Nelson writer and consultant on sustainability issues. He can be reached by telephone at 250-229-5632 or by e-mail at zerowaste@netidea.com. His business web site is found at http://www.zerowaste.ca.

All columns archived here are copyright © 2000 by Michael Jessen, all rights reserved. If you wish to print an individual column for your own use, please do so. If you wish to publish any of the columns in either print or electronic format, please contact the author at toenail@netidea.com to arrange appropriate payment.