There’s a new face to natural disasters and it’s time for modern civilization to do something about it, says Lester Brown, founder and president of the Earth Policy Institute and opening speaker at the 21st World Conference on Disaster Management (WCDM), to be held in Toronto from June 19 to 22, 2011.
“We’re now facing man-made natural disasters, those that are a result of human activity, and it’s time we recognize that,” says Brown, author of World on the Edge — How to Prevent Environmental and Economic Collapse, a thought-provoking look at the effects of climate change. “If we don’t quickly restructure the energy economy and cut carbon emissions, we’re going to be facing problems on a scale we cannot now easily imagine.”
Recognized as one of the world’s most influential thinkers, Brown is known for analyzing global issues and understanding their inter-relationships. At WCDM, he will stress the urgency of understanding our role in preventing natural disasters, particularly those related to climate change.
WCDM — to take place at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre — brings together leading Canadian and international speakers, representing all areas of disaster management, to provide solutions on how businesses, communities and government can prepare for emergencies, and adapt to global and local threats, as well as catastrophic events.
With the theme of Innovative Solutions for a Modern World, the 2011 conference explores the latest developments in emergency preparedness, including pandemic planning, business resilience, business continuity, risk management, crisis management, natural disasters, security, emergency response, emergency health and emergency management.
“As I travel around the world, the one question I get more often than any other is: ‘What can I do?'” says Brown. “I think people expect me to say change your light bulbs, recycle your newspapers and so forth. Those things are important, but we now have to look at changing the system.”
Instead of considering the need to cut carbon dioxide emissions from the point of view of how much is politically feasible, the Earth Policy Institute, based in Washington, D.C., wants political leaders to start thinking about how much is necessary in order to avoid the most dangerous effects of climate change, including worldwide food shortages.
One example Brown uses to illustrate his point is the Greenland ice sheet, already melting at an accelerated rate due to elevated temperatures. If it melts entirely, the resulting rise in sea level of some seven metres will not only put the rice growing river deltas of Asia at risk, but will also have a ripple effect on North American coastal regions where real estate values will plummet and communities like New Orleans are at peril of disappearing altogether, he says.
“The idea that ice melting on a large island in the Atlantic can shrink the rice harvest of Asia is not intuitively obvious,” says Brown. “But if we can’t save the Greenland ice sheet and avoid the resulting rise in sea level — and hundreds of millions of rising sea refugees — I doubt we can save civilization because the stresses will be too great.”
The Earth Policy Institute’s “Plan B” calls for cutting net carbon dioxide emissions by 80 per cent by 2020 in order to prevent concentrations of CO2 from exceeding 400 parts per million and to keep future global temperature rise to a minimum.
The solution calls for investments in energy efficiency to stop global energy demands from increasing, the replacement of fossil fuels with renewable energy sources, a restructuring of transportation systems to reduce coal and oil use, an end to worldwide deforestation, and ongoing tree planting and soil management to help absorb emissions.
“This is the same Plan B we developed the better part of a decade ago; it doesn’t really change very much,” notes Brown. “We can’t control seismic activity and prevent earthquakes, but we can prevent some of the floods and the crop withering heat waves which is what we’re facing now if we stay with business as usual.”
For more information or to register for the World Conference on Disaster Management, visit www.wcdm.org