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Posts Tagged ‘Swati Ramanathan’

Long-awaited Copenhagen talks yield uncertain results

Posted by collegegreenou on December 20, 2009

By Swati Ramanathan
CG Commentary

The 2009 United Nations Climate Change Conference was held Dec 7-18 in Copenhagen, Denmark. The days leading up to the Copenhagen talks had all the usual ingredients for high drama: hacked E-mails that purportedly throw climate change into question, protests from individuals demanding tangible results, and last minute announcements by various world leaders that they would attend. The hopes were high as well as the stakes. Despite the United States and BASIC (Brazil, South Africa, India, China) nations agreeing to the Copenhagen Accord, clichés abound in world press of the talks being “a lot of hot air.” The denouement, many claim, was somewhat of a letdown, as there is nothing binding about the accord, which will only be formalized sometime during the next year.

Background Information

To recap some of the background surrounding this issue, greenhouse gases such as CO2 trap heat and raise surface temperatures. Although there is much debate over what exactly causes climate change, there is consensus that a considerable amount of climate change is a result of human actions, mainly in the form of post-industrial revolution development. Infrastructure, transportation, industry and a high reliance on electrical appliances and electronics are the hallmarks of development. Activities crucial to development also lead to an increase in greenhouse gas emissions, and therefore global temperatures. Rising temperatures bring with them the threat of rising sea levels, which puts the very existence of low lying island nations at risk. Ironically, these nations typically have small economies and low emission rates themselves and charge the biggest polluters (China and the United States) with the responsibility of curbing emissions to prevent further rises in temperature.

Per capita emissions are very high in the developed world and are steadily rising in the developing world, where carbon emissions are still comparatively low but haven’t peaked yet. Economic growth follows industrialization, so the Kyoto Protocol sought to combat climate change while being equitable to all nations in its specific strategy. The Kyoto Protocol is the protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention for Climate Change, which was adopted in 1997 and came into force in 2005. It places binding targets on the reduction of greenhouse gases by 37 industrialized nations (known as Annex 1) and general commitments to reduce emissions by all other signatories. It allows emissions trading between Annex 1 and non-Annex 1 nations in a Cap-and-Trade arrangement. The Kyoto protocol is almost universally accepted, with 187 countries having ratified it with the significant exception of the United States, which at the time wanted binding targets and timetables for emission reductions for the developing world.

Following the Kyoto Protocol, the America’s Climate Security Act of 2007 was proposed to bring the United States in line with Kyoto objectives. It was killed in 2008 over economic concerns.

Northeastern states in the U.S. started Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative with their own local cap and trade program. California is now in line with Kyoto, and several U.S. cities participate in cap and trade programs. This list includes several Ohio cities such as Akron, Canton, Columbus and Zanesville.

The Recent Conference

The objective of the Copenhagen talks was to create a mutually agreed-upon framework to tackle climate change. The European Union had already committed to binding legislation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions beyond Kyoto requirements. Most countries announced moderate emission cuts, with industrialized nations targeting cuts of around 20 percent below 1990 emission levels. The United States announced a cut of 17 percent below 2005 levels, which translates to a 1.3 percent cut below 1990 emission levels.

With most world leaders in Copenhagen, significantly President Barack Obama, who decided in the last minute to be present during a more meaningful phase of the discussions, it was hoped that a legally binding agreement could be reached. This, however, was thwarted by a leaked document that caused a rift between the rich and poor world, that G77 nations (and China) claimed was not previously negotiated and was imbalanced in favor of developed nations.

The talks, which went on until early Saturday, were not a complete failure. The United States and BASIC countries reached a non-legally binding accord that is yet to be signed. The U.S. and other developed countries have promised $30 billion over the next three years to developing nations and another $100 billion in 2020. It isn’t clear yet where the money will come from.

However, many of the accord’s agreements did not meet earlier expectations. The accord limits temperature rise to 2˚C instead of the 1.5˚C that was hoped for. It also dropped earlier proposals to cut CO2 emissions by 80 percent by the year 2050. It does, however, include a plan to combat deforestation.

Uncertain Results for Southeast Ohio

The effect of the Copenhagen talks on the Southeast Ohio region may not be immediately apparent, or even direct, but just as the Kyoto Protocol encouraged some states and cities to voluntarily adopt it on a local basis, the Copenhagen Accord might spur further action on the issue of climate change. This might include general encouragement of green initiatives, and possibly some form of a cap and trade emissions system. With no binding agreements at this point, it is hard to gauge what the local ramifications will be without being speculative. The local interest (which mirrors global interest) in the Copenhagen talks would at the very least raise awareness on this issue of growing importance.

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Reclaiming Starry Nights: A local campaign to reduce light pollution

Posted by collegegreenou on December 11, 2009

By Swati Ramanathan
CG Commentary

One of the unique and enduring pleasures of humankind is the ability to gaze up at the night sky in rapt wonder. Astronomy was the television of its day, with the stars and moon providing most of the night-light required by our ancestors. Read the rest of this entry »

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International student reflects on Hope Garden’s positive influence on Athens youth

Posted by collegegreenou on October 23, 2009

Volunteer Diana Stafford demonstrates beekeeping to local children at Hope Garden. Provided by Liz Shaw.

Volunteer Diana Stafford demonstrates beekeeping to local children at Hope Garden. Provided by Liz Shaw.


By Swati Ramanathan
CG Commentary
swati.ramanathan@gmail.com

As an international student, I am sometimes shocked that processed food in this country is cheaper and more readily available than raw, unprocessed food. American consumers, and in recent years consumers all over the developing world, value the convenience of processed food. However, the rise in juvenile diabetes and other lifestyle diseases has led many doctors to conclude that such convenience comes at a high price. Doctors now recommend consuming fresh produce and limiting the intake of processed foods.

I first heard of Community Food Initiatives (CFI) and the Westside Community Gardens last summer. Bordered by cheerful giant sunflowers, this garden lies conveniently along the Athens bike path. Before I knew it, I’d signed myself up for a plot.

I had never felt a sense of community like that before — certainly not in my big city hometown in India. There’s something about pottering about in the soil that connects you to the local land, and potter away I did.

The first step in growing my own food was turning over the soil, and Liz Shaw, who manages the gardens, reflects with amusement that I did this in dainty heels. In my defense, I wasn’t planning to turn over the soil that very day! My somewhat messy little garden was my pride. The tomatoes were lovely, sweet and organic. I had squash, cucumbers, mint and peppers. I was excited and spread the word in my graduate department. My garden-less graduate student friends eagerly signed up, and to this day, many continue maintaining their gardens. A friend now grows exotic medicinal herbs that are hard to procure outside of China.

The benefits are obvious: nutritious, local, organic vegetables, and you get to keep 90 percent of what you grow. The remaining 10 percent is donated either to CFI, or to a family or organization of your choice.

I was most impressed, however, with CFI’s other garden, the very aptly named Hope Garden. Hope Garden, situated off East State Street, is part of Hope Drive Apartments, a community for lower-income families. This 3-year-old program is intended to help children between ages 5 to 18 learn about sustainability, nutrition and the importance of growing locally. Other groups can easily replicate the gardening model adopted by Hope Garden. It also ensures that its own band of about thirty young gardeners is able to take on the bulk of the gardening under adult supervision.

The young gardeners prepare the soil with compost and mulch, and handle everything from planting, weeding, trellising and harvesting. They are even involved in the design process and decorate their gardens with recycled or donated art supplies. Not only is it a highly creative endeavor it also doubles as a hands-on learning experience for language, arts, science and multicultural studies. At every stage, CFI emphasizes the use of basic materials with very impressive results.

The slightly older kids, ages 11 to 16, are encouraged to participate in the Young Entrepreneurs at Hope (YEAH) program. There are currently seven participants who grow and make products such as jelly that are then sold at the Athens Farmers Market. These young entrepreneurs are paid based on the hours they put into the garden or kitchen. Besides the valuable life-lessons they learn from earning and managing an extra allowance, this has also made them good marketers.

All the evidence both locally and nationally seems to suggest that this program is achieving its goal of changing mindsets and educating communities. The documented benefits of gardening include a positive attitude toward learning, stronger interpersonal skills and, believe it or not, increased property values and lower crime rates.

Although there have been no studies yet on the positive effect Hope Garden is having on local youth, we know for certain that the program has already impacted the lives of local residents. Shaw tells me that her young gardeners are sent home with nutritious recipes and free produce, and their families often send requests for specific vegetables after successfully trying a recipe. She also notes that the kids are frequently heard discussing the value of eating fresh, unprocessed foods, a lesson that we adults often find so difficult to implement.

Perhaps it is Hope Garden’s unique combination of simplicity and effectiveness that helped our young gardeners win the 2008 Healthy Sprouts Award from the National Gardening Association, beating 359 other entries. Or perhaps it is the dynamism with which CFI operates that has determined its success.

Either way, the end result is an increased awareness of nutritional dietary choices, organic farming and sustainable agricultural practices. More importantly, it helps develop not just healthy ideas about agriculture but healthy children who enjoy spending time in a hands-on learning environment.

The picnic that was held to celebrate the award gave me a chance to interact with the kids and see firsthand the pride they felt in their garden. I toured their lovely garden amid enthusiastic chatter about giant tomatoes and future dreams of becoming neurosurgeons. I can’t help but get the impression that their experiences with Hope Garden will open doors and help them achieve their ambitious goals.

I left the picnic that day with a party favor: a charming handcrafted planter with soil and ready-to-grow thyme. I’m sure you’re familiar with the oft-heard and gratuitously used phrase, “it makes the world a better place.” Along with my little planter, I came away with a sense that Hope Garden was one of the rare things that actually does just that.

Related story: Garden attracts a young crop

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