Land and Security: Focus on Migration

CDLS_Plenary_1_2016-31With over 1 million migrants and refugees arriving in Europe, 2015 saw the highest migration flow since World War II according to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM). The degradation of 25% of the most productive lands is forcing farmers and pastoralists to move in search of fertile soil and pasture. These population movements are causing tensions between communities, further degradation of lands and are resulting in conflicts.

The fifth edition of the Caux Dialogue on “Land and Security” thus focused on the potential for land restoration to mitigate migration flows.

A planetary emergency

In his opening keynote, former Secretary-General of the Club of Rome and Gorbachev Climate Change Task Force member Martin Lees, warned that: “failure to take urgent and aggressive on climate change represents a clear and present danger for humanity. The difference of a few degrees can mean our survival as a species”, he added.

With a quarter of human-emissions coming from agriculture, forestry and other land use, the potential for emission reduction and sequestration is enormous. Interestingly, in the US, this is leading to bi-partisan efforts into exploring how to maximize this potential despite political polarization in other areas. Can cooperation over land restoration become a catalyst for bi-partisan climate action?

Land degradation and conflict

As Europe struggles with an unprecedented migration crisis, Grammenos Mastrojeni from the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation warns that: “Europe wants to solve the problems in the Middle-East and Africa, not as a problem for the Middle-East and Africa but as a problem for Europe. That will simply not work”.

The Syrian crisis

A better understanding of what ignited the migration flows is a good place to start.

The Syrian example provides an excellent business case for analysts and geo-political experts. “The policy of promoting water intensive crops like cotton in a dry climate when you are suffering the worst drought in 900 years is a poor strategy” said Adam Koniuszewski from Green Cross. Water over extraction dried up the wells, widespread crop failures ensued and people from rural areas massively moved to the cities as a matter of survival.

For Dina Ionesco who is heading the Migration, Environment and Climate Change section at IOM, the problem is hence not voluntary migration but the forced displacement of people. This is what needs to be addressed and certainly something she understands given her family’s experience fleeing Romania as political refugees to France to escape the oppression of the Ceaușescu regime.

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It takes 2,700 liters of water to make a single T-Shirt! Said Adam Koniuszewski

Forced displacement in Africa and elsewhere is often caused by land grabs. Andrea Staeritz, lawyer at Land Justice 4 West Africa, argues that the inability to enforce land ownership rights results in thousands of people being evicted from their lands and deprived of their livelihoods. Sometimes this results from European companies for palm oil plantations, for infrastructure projects or for reforestation projects that will end up in company CSR reports…

Growing action for restoring degraded lands

Thanks to forums like the Caux Dialogue on Land and Security, political concern and attention is growing for restoring degraded lands and halting desertification. Recent initiatives to promote constructive policymaking in this area include:

  • Future Policy Award to Combat Desertification by the World Future Council in cooperation with the UNCCD
  • Carbon Sequestration and Soil Conference to be held in Paris (Spring of 2017) with the participation of representatives from The World Bank, Organic Consumers Association, Center for Food Safety, Oxford University, Carbon Cycle Institute, Marin Carbon Project, The Nature Conservancy, Land Trust Alliance, Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future, IIAS-Potsdam, Carbon Underground, soil4climate, Healthy Soils Australia, the U.S. Department of Agriculture with the objective of raising the sense of urgency and working to build momentum for carbon sequestration in soils (contact Betsy Taylor)

Around the world momentum is building for soil restoration. The Caux Dialogues and its partners deserve praise for providing an early platform to raise awareness about land degradation and for becoming an extraordinary catalyst for land restoration action and the scaling-up of solutions.

Book launch session: Reclaiming Landscapes for a Sustainable Future, by Martin Frick , Jennifer Helgeson and Ilan Chabay.

61YsZZ-KcGL._SX403_BO1,204,203,200_Many of the experts and practitioners that have contributed to the Caux Dialogues over the years have shared their wisdom and vision in “Reclaiming Landscapes for a Sustainable Future”, a book on land restoration by Martin Frick and Jennifer Helgesson. I am honoured for having been able to contribute a chapter on the impacts of military activities on soil and about promising remediation possibilities. The 600 page book can be ordered directly from the publisher Elsevier.

Silent Spring, by Rachel Carson (September 1962)

SilentSpring

Young people, my interns or students attending my talks regularly ask for book recommendations. With no hesitation my first suggestion is “Silent Spring” by Rachel Carson. Called by some as one of the most important books ever, “Silent Spring” got the American environmental movement started. Al Gore describes it as the inspiration behind his involvement in climate change while Canadian geneticist turned activist David Suzuki reminds us that prior to “Silent Spring” there was not a single country with a ministry of the environment. Within 10 years, the United Nations Environmental Programme was created and the first global conference on the environment took place in Stockholm (Sweden). During the following two decades the environment became a key topic on the global agenda leading up to the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio.

Rachel Carson had been concerned about the negative effects of pesticides since the 1940’s. She finally decided to write “Silent Spring” after receiving a letter from a friend describing how birds in Boston were dying from the effects of DDT and other pesticides. The title conveyed the idea of a morbid spring with no birds singing. It was and remains controversial. It resulted in virulent attacks against her. She was called a hysterical woman that wanted to return humanity to the “dark ages” and that restrictions on the use of DDT caused the unnecessary death of millions. Rarely do critics mention that in most countries the use of DDT is still allowed for mosquito eradication but that growing  resistance to DDT has reduced its effectiveness. President John F Kennedy ordered an investigation by the Science Advisory Committee which resulted in increased oversight and regulation of pesticides.

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In “Silent Spring” Rachel Carson thought us that everything in nature is connected and that all our actions have consequences – most of them unintended. At a time when it was hoped that science and technology would allow humanity to dominate nature this book helped us realize how little we knew. This lesson is just as relevant today as it was in 1962. “Silent Spring” should be a mandatory read for all students and for anyone interested in the environment.

Additional suggested reading: Science and Human Values by Jacob Bronowski

Powering Forward, by Bill Ritter, JR.

PoweringForwardAs “Powering Forward: What Every American Should Know about the Energy Revolution” becomes available for sale today, I am grateful to Bill Ritter, his team at the “Center for the New Energy Economy” (CNEE) at Colorado State University and to Fulcrum Books for providing a copy of the book for this review.

Bill Ritter Jr. knows a thing or two about the energy revolution and the sun that is setting on the fossil fuel industry. As Governor of Colorado, he turned the State into a leader in clean energy and then launched the “Center for the New Energy Economy” (CNEE) to help other states accelerate their transition to a clean-energy future.

Having hosted Gov. Ritter at the Geneva “Green and Inclusive Economy” Conference ahead of the Paris climate summit, I was familiar with his work as governor and at the CNEE including the need to address climate change, the cost of clean versus fossil energy and green jobs. All are well covered, as one would expect in such a book. But “Powering Forward” is different in that it goes much further to address the role of science and education, the need for well informed citizens for a functioning democracy and how biased and misleading media coverage has helped the climate denial industry. But his most important contribution is to shed some light on the government intervention versus the free-market myth and his attempt to turn a divisive energy debate into a consensual and bi-partisan quest for a better future.

The Myth of the Invisible Hand

For many, government intervention amounts to “corporate welfare” and invariably drives up costs for consumers. It may therefore come as a surprise that fossil fuels have been subsidized since 1916 and that American energy utilities have been run as quasi monopolies with no competition. While most will agree that governments should not pick winners or losers, thinking that energy markets are “free” is a misinformed illusion. The reality is that government still largely favours fossil fuels with obsolete policies from the carbon age that are slowing down innovation, artificially restricting consumer choice and undermining American energy security.

The Tea Party Turns Green in Georgia

A good example comes from Georgia where the Sierra Club and the local Tea Party took on the monopolistic energy structure. It did not sit well with them that people could not choose where they get their electricity from and they forced a change in law to allow customers the ability to generate their own electricity and sell it back to the grid.

Consensual and Bi-Partisan

Business as usual is no longer an option. We are at the crossroad and must now decide if we will become the victims of our future or its architects. By working together and reconciling our differences we can turn scarcity into abundance and crisis into opportunity. This is the key contribution of Powering Forward.

Powering Forward Energy Facts: 

– Scientists understood the link between CO2 and the greenhouse effect in the late 1800s

– Lyndon Johnson is the first US president to raise the climate alert in 1965

– In 2006, Colorado College warned there would be no more skiing in the state by 2050

– On windy days 60% of the electricity in Colorado comes from wind

– At $25 per megawatt hour, wind power is over 20% cheaper then natural gas

Centralized power wastes up to 2/3 of the primary energy put into the system

Americans prefer energy conservation to energy production

– 87% of Americans think the US government should act about climate change

– The US Department of Defense sees climate change as a threat multiplier

– The IMF estimates fossil fuel subsidies at nearly $2 trillion including external costs. Most of the income is received by the wealthiest according to the IEA

US fossil subsidies amount to $2,180 for each man, woman and child annually

– The true cost of coal-fired power amounts to some $0.27/kWh

6 of the top 10 solar manufacturers are Chinese

9 of the top 10 wind manufacturers are non-US

Warren Buffet is buying solar power for $0.038/kWh (the avg. price paid by US households is close to $0.12/kWh)

– Arizona’s energy utility installs free solar panels and pays its customers $30/ month for 20 years to feed power into the grid

Happy 85th Birthday Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev!

The book "Gorbachev in Life" is on display at the launch ceremony for a book about former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in Moscow, Russia, on Monday, Feb. 29, 2016. Mikhail Gorbachev turns 85 on Wednesday, March 3, 2016. (AP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev)

The book “Gorbachev in Life” is on display at the launch ceremony for a book about former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in Moscow, Russia, on Monday, Feb. 29, 2016. Mikhail Gorbachev turns 85 on Wednesday, March 3, 2016. (AP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev)

A few days ago in Moscow, Mikhail Gorbachev launched his latest book, “Gorbachev in Life”, a 700-page collection of memories and documents from him and others about his life experiences and the way his glasnost (openness) and perestroika (reform) policies have transformed the world hoping that the book would help Russians better understand their current history.

The Gorbachev File

As he celebrates his 85th birthday, the National Security Archive at George Washington University (www.nsarchive.org) has just released this morning a series of previously classified British and American documents with Western assessments of Gorbachev starting before he took office and until end of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Manifesto for the Earth

5195AFR1PJL._SX314_BO1,204,203,200_But one book that sheds light on Gorbachev’s commitment to the environment and social justice is his “Manifesto for the Earth”. Few would know that when he became Secretary-General of the Soviet Union in 1985, he got access to information about the scale of pollution coming from chemical plants and factories that were poisoning the environment and sickening people. One of the consequences of the glasnost reforms was access to previously classified information. As a result, the soviet people demanded action and over 1,300 of the most polluting plants were closed.

This is how President Gorbachev understood the power of civic engagement and the need to change the relationship and reconcile humanity and nature. Well before the fall of the Berlin Wall he called for the creation of a “Red Cross” for the environment. This idea was then raised during the 1992 Rio Earth Summit. Given the mounting crises of climate change, environmental degradation and social inequality, civil society leaders called for the creation of a Green Cross and for Gorbachev to lead this effort.

Green Cross International

This is how Green Cross International was launched in 1993. Today, Gorbachev is still at the helm of the organization as its chairman and Green Cross continues to work on addressing the challenges of security, poverty eradication and environmental degradation. With offices in some 30 countries, activities around the world and initiatives like the Earth Charter International and the Earth Dialogues, Gorbachev’s Green Cross story is still in the making.

Through his Manifesto for the Earth, Gorbachev describes how the story began and his quest for peace, social justice and a sustainable future for all.

Happy Birthday President Gorbachev!

Photo by Pavel Palaychenkoi

Photo: Pavel Palazchenko, Earth Dialogues in Geneva (2013)

Science and Human Values

It is not the tragedy of scientists that their discoveries are used for destruction; it is the tragedy of mankind.  Leo Szilard, Hungarian-American Physicist

Jacob Bronowski’s “Science and Human Values” was recommended to me by Garry Jacobs, CEO of the World Academy of Art and Science. The book came to mind as he was preparing a conference at CERN in Geneva (November 2015) on proper governance to ensure that science, technology and innovation serve human progress for the benefit current and future generations.

Bronowski was a Polish-born mathematician, historian of science, author, poet, inventor and accomplished chess-player who grew up in England. He worked for the UK Ministry of Home Security during World War II to incorporate mathematics into bombing strategies. At the end of the war, he was part of the British scientific team that visited Japan to document the effects of the atomic bombing on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The barren landscape of Nagasaki that he discovered prompted him to try and convince his colleagues in government and at the United Nations that this desolation should be preserved exactly as it was for future generations to remember the horrors of atomic warfare. In his mind, only “this clinical sea of rubble” would be capable of providing a context for statesman to take decisions with such implications. Regrettably, his colleagues did not agree.

Science and Human ValuesThe short essays that make up “Science and Human Values” were born in the ruins of Nagasaki in light of the “power of science for good and evil” and the dilemma of civilization faced with its own brutal implications.

“Science and Human Values” is just as relevant today as when Bronowski was standing in the ruins of Nagasaki or in Auschwitz after the war.

A thought-provoking book that I recommend to anyone interested in the future of mankind.

The author of this article is an Associate Fellow of the World Academy of Art and Science. 

 

 

Migrants, Refugees and the Promise of Diversity

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In the current migration crisis, people are fleeing to escape disaster, violence, poverty and hunger in  numbers unknown since World War II. But their desperate search for a better life is not always met with understanding and compassion. Hungary has set up a four meter-high barbwire fence along its Serbian border, Donald Trump is calling Mexican immigrants dangerous criminals, and Australia has implemented the world’s harshest policy by turning back boats of asylum-seekers, or forcing them to detainee centers on distant Pacific Islands and making sure they will never enter the country.

In the face of such hostility, it is refreshing to find a book with a different narrative. One where a country that promotes multiculturalism and social cohesion can enjoy the immense benefits of a more diverse society, where migrants truly become agents of progress and development. This was certainly our experience when my family immigrated to Montreal (Canada) in the early 1970s to escape the communist regime in Poland. Today still, Montreal is one of the most multi-ethnic and multicultural cities in the world – a vibrant platform for culture, education and business innovation.

An Unlikely War Hero

diversity_0“The Promise of Diversity” by John Hartwell Williams and John Bond, tells the unlikely story of Jerzy Zubryzcki (1920-2009), a Polish intellectual turned cadet officer in the Polish Army when the Second World War broke. Forced to surrender to the German forces, Zubrzycki escaped imprisonment thanks to a Jewish shopkeeper who may have saved his life. He served with distinction in the Polish Army, the Polish underground resistance and with the British  forces. Thanks to his good English, which he learnt at the Krakow YMCA, he was selected to join a top secret elite team that was tasked by Churchill to “set Europe ablaze”, he underwent intense training in parachuting, explosives, sabotage, intelligence work and extreme survival skills. He even became an expert in the art of silent killing. In a “James Bond”-like adventure, he brought a captured V2 rocket from Poland to Britain, providing crucial intelligence to the allied forces.

Championing Diversity and Multiculturalism

Unable to return to Poland after the war, he became a refugee and decided to study sociology at the London School of Economics. He then joined the Australian National University where he became Professor of Sociology. Having experienced the horrors of Nazi occupation, he dedicated the rest of his life to promoting the integration of Australia’s increasing ethnic diversity. Australia, whose population was 7.4 million at the end of the war, received more then 2 million Europeans in the following two decades. Today still, it is home to one of the largest Greek communities outside Greece (particularly around Melbourne). Later came waves of refugees from Vietnam.

Thanks to his distinguished war record and contacts in the upper echelons of British society, he was able to access and influence the closed circles of Australian government, and successive Prime Ministers, helping them realize that the ethnic diversity is not a liability but an asset and that by enabling these values we enrich society as a whole. Through his influence he managed to “steer Australia towards multiculturalist settlement policies” (The Australian) for which he as been credited as the “father of Australian multiculturalism”.

The Stolen Generation Apology

Zubrzycki also helped in initiatives towards reconciling Australia’s Aboriginal population  with the wider community, initiatives which caught international attention in 2008 when Prime Minister Kevin Rudd led a national apology to the Aboriginal community. His moving address can be viewed here:

As Secretary of the Australian Institute of Polish Affairs, John Williams developed a friendship with Zubrzyzcki, which led him to start writing this biography. John Bond, an author who has helped several Australian public figures write their memoirs, completed the book and is now organizing a Polish translation and promoting the Zubrzycki story in Poland.

John Bond is no stranger to diversity and multiculturalism. Since 1969, he has been a member of “Initiatives of Change” in Australia, the Swiss-based organization that facilitated the German-French reconciliation process following the Second World War. John was elected Secretary of the “National Sorry Day Committee” whose work led to the apology from the Australian government. He was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia for service to the Australian community.

The book provides a wonderful account of how Zubrzycki’s early life experience of being rescued by a Jewish family shaped his belief in the value of diversity and turned him into a  champion of multiculturalism.

If Zubrzycki’s approach to multiculturalism were more widely understood, many of the troubles with migration and asylum seekers could be avoided. But given the unfortunate turn that policies towards foreigners are taking around the world, now more then ever, the Zubrzycki story is worth spreading.

It is high-time to dust-off the historical heroes of the Polish diaspora whose expertise and achievements have been recognized and admired by the world

Related Links:

Ordering “The Promise of Diversity” LINK

Jerzy Zubrzycki Biography in Polish

Transcript of ABC Interview with Jerzy Zubrzycki

Jerzy Zubrzycki Obituary

Blue Future: Protecting Water for People and the Planet Forever – Book Review

BlueFuturePublished in late 2013, Blue Future is the latest in a series that includes Blue Gold (2002) and Blue Covenant (2007) by Canadian water-activist and former UN General Assembly President advisor (2008/09) Maude Barlow. For over two decades, Maude has been working to raise awareness about the global water crisis and was a  prominent leader in the campaign to recognize access to water and sanitation as a human right that led to its adoption by the United Nations General Assembly on July 28, 2010, with the acknowledgement that access to water and sanitation are essential to the realization of all human rights.

Deepening Crisis

Despite this victory for the water justice movement, the crisis is worsening. According to UN figures some 800 million people lack access to clean water and 2.5 billion people do not have access to a toilet. By 2025, it is expected that two-thirds of the world population will be living under water stressed conditions, a situation that is exacerbated by climate change, disruptions in the water cycle and increasingly devastating extreme weather events.

In “Blue Future” Maude Barlow provides a comprehensive account of the global water situation and the way forward if we are to avert a global water catastrophe with mass starvation, large scale migration and escalating tensions and conflicts over access to water resources. Her proposed solution path is based on four pillars:

1) The implementation and fulfillment of the Human Right to Water and Sanitation represents a fundamental obligation for governments across the world to fulfill. This is not a question of charity or CSR.

2) Water resources must be protect, conserved and managed as a “common” that belongs to everyone and for the benefit of all – including future generations.

3) Water is an essential element to allow life on earth and biodiversity to flourish and is essential to ensure the health and resilience of the ecosystems. Our failure to properly manage watersheds and water resources undermines the prospects for human development and progress. Economic development policies must recognize these fundamental laws of nature.

4) Increased water stress can increase tensions, disputes and conflicts over access to scarce water resources. But they can also become a source of cooperation as communities search for solutions for sustainable ways of producing energy and food.

A Crisis of Poor Water Management

Blue Future provides an urgent call for action to address the crisis of poor water management around the world. Modern agriculture is a case in point: it is responsible for  70% to 90% of global water withdrawals for mass-irrigation that are siphoning aquifers, rivers and lakes. Water “mining” is lowering water tables and drying up rivers around the world. The drying up of the American Ogallala  aquifer would destroy $20 billion worth of annual agricultural revenue and turn the region into a giant desert. Withdrawals from rivers by large-scale farming operations reduce water flows to the point that some of the world’s largest watercourses like the Yellow River (China), the Colorado and Rio Grande (USA), or the Murray and Darling Rivers (Australia) no longer reach the sea.

Water Energy-Nexus

The book also provides an fascinating account of the water-energy nexus and the growing impact of our energy policies on water resources, including the consequences of dams for electricity production, the pollution of water from coal powered electricity production, the impact of biofuels, tar sands, fracking, nuclear energy but also from renewable energy – namely large scale solar thermal plants that use water for cooling. By far the largest impacts are caused by coal power plants and biofuels. Ironically, some of the largest coal plants are located in regions that are on the frontline of the water crisis with China accounting for 50% of world production. Biofuels not only represent a threat to food security, they also carry an unfavorable carbon footprint versus fossil fuels and a massive water footprint. Instead of being a response to climate change, corn ethanol represents a threat multiplier that contributes to soil pollution and causes greater water scarcity.

Hope for the Future

Blue Future is ultimately a book of hope. The development of large-scale drip irrigation can reduce water needs by up to 90% and requires a fraction of the energy to operate. Ancient and highly effective solutions like rainwater harvesting can be deployed on a large scale to reduce pressure on aquifers and rivers and compares favorably to the modern practice of water mining. Local, organic and sustainable farming practices can reduce water requirements, improve food security and provide livelihoods. Most importantly Maude Barlow demonstrates that solutions are available. What is missing is the public awareness and the pressure on governments and authorities that will bring about the political will to necessary for their deployment. This story is far from over!

For more about Maude Barlow and her work see the Council for Canadians website.