Viewed through the lens of a still camera clicking off one shot after another there are a host of discrete events worthy of attention in the week just past and the weeks ahead. Earth Day in the United States is around the corner on April 22. And World Water Day was on March 22. The cornerstones of World Environment Day on June 5 are Rwanda -- and Pittsburgh. Rwanda, of course, is home to the famed and rare mountain gorilla, while Pittsburgh is a mere 135 mile from Cleveland, where the Cayuhoga River was once so polluted that it actually caught fire in June 22, 1969, igniting the American environmental movement.
Rwanda Forest Landscape Restoration Initiative RFLR
International Year of Forests (IYF – 2011) at the 9th session of the United Nations Forum on Forests (UNFF)
John D. Liu, February 2, 2011 – UN Head Quarter New York
Today has been a special day for Forests and for me personally. The launch of the International Year of Forests – 2011 (IYF)at the 9th session of the United Nations Forum on Forests (UNFF) marks the strongest political statement ever made to recognize the importance of Forests to the natural ecology of the Earth and the health and sustainability of human beings.
Particularly gratifying is to be in the audience to hear Stanislas Kamanzi, the Minister of Environment of Rwanda, announce the Rwanda Forest Landscape Restoration Initiative. The unique endemic biodiversity in the nearly pristine Nyungwe National Forest filter the waters that feed the White Nile and the Congo Rivers ensuring Rwanda’s ecological importance. I’m extremely grateful to have had the opportunity to participate and catalyze this initiative through introducing IUCN and UNFF to the environmental leaders in Rwanda in 2010.
Tom Rosser the Assistant Deputy Minister of the Canadian Forest Service announced that the International Model Forest Network would work with the Rwandan Government. Monique Barbut, the CEO and Chairperson of the Global Environment Facility (GEF) spoke on Forest Financing and the GEF’S efforts to support developing companies on Sustainable Land Management, explaining that GEF is already providing REDD + funding to 40 countries and specifically increased Rwanda’s allocation to support the RFLR. Stewart Maginnis spoke on behalf of the IUCN and committed IUCN to support the RFLR. Rwanda - Restoring nature for future prosperity
The 2009 Nobel Laureate, Wangari Maathai called for greater commitment to Forests and to people who live in and with the Forests. Her message was a plea to and to some extent an accusation of a political system that has for far too long failed the Forests and especially the people who live in them. Jan McAlpine, the Director of the United Nations Forum on Forests (UNFF), Secretariat was poetic in her descriptions of the importance of Forests and trees for all sorts of uses. Yann Arthus-Bertrand showed a short film “Of Trees and Men”. Lisa Samford described the importance of story telling and introduced the International Year of Forests Film Festival. In one of the strongest speeches, Felix Finkbeiner, now a 13-year-old activist who started “Plant for the Planet” when he was 9, brought several friends, and shared his message of hope and insistence for children and the future. Felix launched the Trillion Tree Campaign
Film clips were used between each speaker and it was surreal to sit in the audience and see a clip from my film “Hope in a Changing Climate” shown in the General Assembly. The film has been named the best of category for issues and solutions at the International Year of Forests Film Festival. It has been a morning of great developments for Forests and it has been very satisfying to be a small part of it.
Asian Coalition for Housing Rights &
Asian Coalition for Community Action
Conference, January 27-29, 2011
John D. Liu, Bangkok, January 29, 2011
I have had the privilege of meeting and learning about community action going on all over Asia, from a very special group of Asian community activists. The participants have come from Sri Lanka, Pakistan, India, Malaysia, Indonesia, Mongolia, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, Philippines, South Korea, Japan, Myanmar, Nepal, Bangladesh, Fiji and observers from South Africa and Kenya to the ACHR/ACCA Conference. They are joined together by the work of the Asian Coalition for Housing Rights (ACHR), which has been working since 1988 to ensure that the poor can have homes and dignity, and a new program supported by the Gates foundation called the Asian Coalition for Community Action (ACCA).
The achievements of the communities represented here include insisting on their rights, mapping their assets and needs, collaboratively building their own homes and urban infrastructure such as roads, walkways, sewage and water. They have also shown how the people have coped with disasters such as floods, the Tsunami and wars. The stories of specific actions being taken by people with almost no access to capital, challenges in accessing education, and often with little legal recourse, are truly inspirational. They have learned to participate in civil action, to collaborate in negotiations, to build their own homes and to work for their collective future.
Into this very active forum filled with very curious people who represent many of the poorest people in Asia I have shared my research and observations from China and other parts of the world about the relationship between natural ecosystem function and wealth and ecosystem dysfunction and poverty. This injects a rather different perspective to the discussion. Much of the existing discussion is about connecting to the political processes set up by the governments, multi-lateral agencies and the donor groups and ensuring that the poor people have a seat at the table. It is interesting to see how these people hear this ecological message. They in many cases immediately see the benefits of ecosystem restoration to themselves, in the creation of jobs, the reduced risk of disaster, and to ensuring healthy fertile soils.
Listening to the perspective of the poor people when they relate how they have reacted to the Earthquake in Pakistan, the Tsunami and Floods in Sri Lanka is very moving. They are not powerless. Women’s groups are organizing the communities to learn to save money and build capital, to build houses, to provide infrastructure like clean water and sanitation. Community Architects, young idealists professionals are sharing their skills with the communities to ensure that robust and safe engineering serves the poor. The groups talk of building houses for 250 dollars. They have to demand that they are allocated land and or have the opportunity to purchase some land. They have to save and raise money even to have a small amount for each family. The dreams of the people are beautiful and deserve to be widely heard.
The accomplishments of these people who have the courage to act even without any funds, shows that results come from commitment and action rather than how much money one has. We are discussing how to include the voices and the stories of these worthy people as we make “In Search of Sustainability”.
SCREENING AT THE HISTORIC WILMA THEATRE IN MISSOULA
Wednesday, May 19, 2010
“Hope in a Changing Climate” was screened in the historic Wilma Theatre in Missoula. While hardly filling the grand 1,100-seat theatre, the audience was clearly energized and excited by the film. The questions flowed, enthusiasm was in the air and people were bubbling with praise for the uplifting and empowering message. Amidst all the documentary evidence of vast ecological problems, our small film stands as compelling evidence that something can be done to stabilize the changing climate, to address endemic poverty and to make sustainable agriculture a reality.
Friday, April 16, 2010
Give or take a few hundred-thousand years, the period of greatest volcanic activity on planet earth occurred about 200,000,000 years ago and lasted for about 600,000 years. During this time, the Atlantic Ocean was formed. The first airplane flew along the shore of that ocean in 1903. And today, a volcanic eruption in Iceland has grounded some 28,000 airplanes across Europe, reminding us of how different human time is from either evolutionary or geologic time.
Measured against the span of human life, 1903 is quite a while ago; few people alive when the airplane was invented are still alive today. An airline flight of roughly seven hours to cross the Atlantic from New York to London (just under 3,000 miles) is really a quite remarkable feat. But from a geologic perspective seven hours is virtually immeasurable. With an upset infant in the row behind you, however, that seven hours can seem interminable.
The experience of time is thus as much about perception and experience as it is about the accuracy of a timepiece. I have been thinking about time as I prepare my remarks for a screening this Sunday on the national Mall in Washington of Hope in a Changing Climate. As part of the celebration of Earth Day, I have six minutes to talk before we play a seven-minute clip of our 28-minute documentary that looks across the sweep of geologic time to demonstrate the power of ecosystem restoration to repair our damaged world.
And as I prepare these remarks, John D. Liu and my other colleagues from the EEMP Beijing office are in Rwanda preparing a new film for UNEP that will air on World Environment Day in Rwanda on June 5. Earth Day was first celebrated 40 years ago, on April 22, 1972; World Environment Day has been commemorated since 1973.
Whether measured on a clock or a calendar, differing perceptions of time drive different behaviors. Actuaries work one conception of time, while marine biologists inhabit another world of time. Flight controllers manage time very differently from someone living in the Amazon whose life may be governed more by natural solar or lunar cycles.
The EEMP calendar for April and beyond is also becoming increasingly full with terrific opportunities around the world and here in the United States to spread the core messages of Hope in a Changing Climate.
Whether celebrating Earth Day or World Environment Day; whether developing a strategic plan for a Fortune 50 company or developing a planting plan for an organic farm; whether measuring time with a quartz watch or by the length of the shadows cast by the setting sun, it behooves all of us to better understand the different ways of experiencing time. We can, and must, choose how we think about time. Species survival and respect for geologic and evolutionary reality demand that we become more sophisticated in how we think about time. Ecosystems need us to better understand the timescales across which they function, become damaged and can be repaired.