Culture plays an enormous role in how the environment is perceived and treated. We learned this week how devout Muslims, as a result of their tradition of generosity during Ramadan, inadvertently contribute to increased methane with their 500 tonnes of leftover scraps; meanwhile, the drive to fuel western consumer culture has sapped the diversity of life so crucial to healthy life. As such, any program tasked with creating a model of sustainable life must include representation from as many cultures as possible. At least, this may be behind the recent decision to appoint Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, the UAE’s Foreign Minister, to a new UN panel.
Root out poverty without uprooting trees
According to James Reini, the United Nations correspondent for The National, the 21-member panel is expected to find the delicate balance between economic growth and climate change.
“The UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, said the body would devise a blueprint for a new liveable, prosperous and sustainable future for all by addressing the global threats of poverty, security and shortages of food, water and energy,” wrote Reini.
Flimsy whitepaper solutions
Co-chaired with the presidents of South Africa and Finland, Jacob Zuma and Tarja Halonen, the panel is expected to provide a report in December 2011 that addresses suitable solutions to the above threats just before the 2012 UN sustainable development conference in Brazil.
“I have asked the panel to think big. The time for narrow agendas and narrow thinking is over. We need to promote low-carbon growth and strengthen our resilience to the impacts of climate change,” Mr. Ki-moon told journalists.
How effective the panel will be, involving as it does businessmen such as James Balsillie, the co-chief executive of Research in Motion, the makers of BlackBerry devices, remains to be seen.
Not only does Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed represent a country that is suffused with oil and gas wealth, but Jacob Zuma is well known for announcing, after having unprotected sex with an HIV-positive woman, that he took a shower to escape infection. This casts some doubt on his ability to heed important climate science while making economic decisions.
Although the panel includes members from various cultures, its representation of diverse social sectors is slightly less balanced. Without guidance from the scientific community, for example, if these politicians and businessmen recommend sound development policies that look past their self-interests, that in itself will entail a cultural revolution.
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