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Earth Day 2012: United We Stand, Divided We Fall


More than one billion people will call for the protection of our planet today as they gather around the world to celebrate Earth Day. Their mission: to raise support for a more sustainable future as climate change continues to wreak havoc across the globe.

Frustrated by the lack of "green" policy at the international level, campaigners are now calling for a new deal to be signed at the Rio de Janeiro Earth Summit this June.

Forging a new agreement couldn't be more critical -- the Kyoto protocol, which legally binds us to curb global carbon emissions, will expire this year.

After the Copenhagen talks collapsed three years ago, world governments promised to sign a new deal in 2012. But, they are now backtracking on that pledge. Instead, they are looking to 2020 as their new timeline.

According to Lord Stern, author of a landmark paper on the economics of climate change, "postponing an agreement until then marks "a collective failure" which "is taking considerable risks with the planet."

Last November, the United Nations predicted that there will be a rise in "wild weather" over the next century. A week later, the International Energy Agency (IEA) warned that the world is on the brink of irreversible climate change. According to its research, global warming will hit the point of no return in five years in time.

That gives us five years to act; five years to draw up a plan, put it into action and make sure that it works. In other words, we're entering a state of "emergency." According to Nasa climate scientist Jim Hansen, we have created a dangerous weather system which will be impossible to fix in the future unless we take action now.

He believes that we have an overriding moral duty to hand over a safe home to both our children and our grandchildren: "Our parents didn't know that they were causing a problem for future generations, but we can only pretend that we don't know because the science is now crystal clear."

Hansen regards human induced climate change to be a grave "moral issue" on par with slavery. British barrister Polly Higgins adopts a similar view. She believes that environmental degradation should be treated as an international peace crime just like genocide and other crimes against humanity.

She has asked the UN to accept "ecocide" as the fifth crime against peace: "Ecocide is in essence the very antithesis of life. It leads to resource depletion, and where there is an escalation of resource depletion, war comes chasing behind."

One need only remember the global food riots of 2007 and 2008 to recognize the huge potential for social unrest going forward. Some analysts believe that it was higher food prices that unleashed last year's Arab spring. As Sandra Postel of the Global Water Policy Project points out, "What's emerging is an interconnected web of risks, with the threads of water stress, food insecurity, rising population and consumption now magnified by extreme weather and climatic change."

Clearly, we can not wait until 2020 for a new "green" deal. But, as Christiana Figueres, the UN's top official on climate change points out: "Making an agreement is not easy ... What we are looking at is nothing other than the biggest industrial and energy revolution that has ever been seen."

According to Jim Hansen, we need an immediate 6% cut in annual CO2 emissions. Failing to cut now means that by 2020, a more radical incision of 15% will need to be made.

If we don't get a new deal in Rio, individual countries and companies will have to embrace this challenge on their own. According to Sir David King, the UK's former chief scientist, this may be our best hope for curbing emissions.

Scotland already derives over 30% of its power from green sources. And Denmark plans to run on 100% renewable energy by 2050. Other nations will have to follow suit.

On a company level, we have to enter "a new paradigm for business characterized by responsibility, a re-alignment between cost and value, and scarce resources," says Ed Dowding founder of Sustaination: "Like any paradigm shift, there is a turbulence and a lack of clarity about how it will turn out, but the trends are clear for those who choose to see."

And on the individual level, we all have our part to play. "A sustainable society will only come about through the accumulated actions of billions of individuals," says Alexandra Cousteau, a National Geographic Emerging Explorer.

"The moment we become purely concerned with nature as something that sustains us, rather than something that feeds us spiritually, psychologically and emotionally" we have veered off course, says theologian Martin Palmer

So, on this Earth Day in the year 2012, let's all think about what we can do to help. Let's not look back on this time, 30 years from now with any regret -- our window for opportunity is still open. We still have time. In the words of Albert Einstein, "those with the privilege to know, have a duty to act." So, let's all come together and act, for "united" we shall stand and "divided" we shall fall.





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