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Marseille, March 2012: the next World Water Forum

Posted by Jean-Louis Oliver on 27 September 2010

On March 21, 1997, the first World Water Forum was created in Marrakech, Morocco to coincide with International Water Day. International events periodically bringing together professionals from various fields or occupations of the water sector have long existed and still continue to do so. The World Water Forum’s specificity is to bring together, every three years during the third week of March, all the public, private, and associative players involved in the management of water resources and its different uses.

The World Water Forums have thus taken place successively in The Hague, Netherlands in March 2000; in Kyoto, Shiga, and Osaka, Japan in March 2003; in Mexico City, Mexico in March 2006; and in Istanbul, Turkey in March 2009. The World Water Council, created in 1995, organizes each event from its headquarters in Marseille. The Council today extends to over 400 organizations from 70 countries.

The World Water Forum has become the largest global gathering in favor of water. It is a meeting place, a point of dialogue, a system of debate and cooperation to advance shared causes.

The 6th World Water Forum will be hosted by France and the City of Marseille in March 2012. Over 30,000 participants are expected. The Forum’s appearance in Marseille, a multicultural metropolis, offers a unique opportunity to advance the effective implementation of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in the critical area of water supply and access to sanitation, notably in terms of the disadvantaged.

Water issues in African countries and those around the Mediterranean Basin will assuredly constitute a major portion of the Marseilles 2012 Forum agenda!

As preparation for this next forum are being undertaken, a number of themes must be included in the program:

  • the right to water and sanitation,
  • water and health
  • the cultural dimension of resource management and water uses,
  • the joint management of transboundary waters, including shared aquifers
  • water and climate change.

Paris will host a two-day work session to discuss the initial guidelines on November 18 and 19.

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From a just war to justified torture

Posted by Georges Tsaï on 31 August 2010

The Fondation Chirac invited me to write about conflicts and peace on its blog from time to time. Though I belong to a generation that is ante-blog (though not necessarily anti-blog), I was very attracted to the idea of an electronic dialogue over a theme that is as old as humanity. I will therefore present three texts in the coming months. After this trial period, we will see if there is interest and whether it is worthwhile to continue the experiment.

My first text concerns torture, especially the mental contortions performed by its supporters to justify it. This subject has received extensive coverage, especially since the beginning of the war on terrorism undertaken by the United States. I have nevertheless chosen it because I believe many of my contemporaries display a certain indifference to torture, even tacitly supporting its use.

It goes without saying that the ideas expressed in this blog are yours and mine and do not therefore implicate the Fondation Chirac.

The six conditions for a just war

Caught between the “eye for eye, tooth for tooth” of the Code of Hammurabi, the Old Testament, and the Sermon on the Mount of the New Testament, generations of scholars, both religious and secular (from Sun Tzu to Michael Walzer, without forgetting St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, Francisco de Victoria, Francisco Suarez, and Hugo Grotius), have sought, over the years (and swords), to define the conditions needed to defend a just war and thereby allow their sovereign – be it the State or the Church – to engage forces with a clear conscience.

The modern theory of a just war is well known with its three installments (before, during, and after the conflict) and its sometimes rather twisted casuistry, which appears at each new conflict. The war in Iraq is the most “perfect” of recent examples. It states, for example, that six conditions must be met to justify a war (a declaration by a legitimate authority, a just cause, the right intentions, means that are proportional to the ends, a reasonable hope of success, and as a last resort).

These same theorists, or others, were much less daring in their efforts to provide a moral basis for torture. According to the American psychologist Stanley Milgram, who conducted controversial research in the 1950s and 1960s, almost any human being is capable of becoming a torturer. This may explain why, despite an international legal framework that clearly prohibits any form of torture, many states continue to torture. They either are directly involved or have it carried out by complacent regimes ready to do the “dirty work”, free of undue protests by public opinion.

I know, there are admirable organizations and individuals who struggle incessantly against what the Canadian author, Serge Patrice Thibodeau, called “the disgrace of humanity”, but it sometimes feels as if they are preaching in the desert. Indeed, major countries with strong democratic traditions, and who, for the most part defend human rights, continue to turn a deaf ear to calls to halt this practice.

Torture, an unjustifiable act

The justifications given are essentially twofold: first there utilitarian considerations: the famous scenario of a suspect who may perhaps have information that would help locate and defuse a ticking bomb and thus save tens, or hundreds, even thousands of lives.

The second argument given by proponents of torture is that we are no longer dealing with painful physical torture. Since the beginning of the Cold War, thanks to an army of psychologists and research centers affiliated with prestigious universities, mostly U.S. and Canadian, humanity possesses refined, psychological ”means”, which have nothing to do with the vulgar forms of torture formerly practiced by the Inquisition or dictatorships of all kinds.

Neither of these arguments stand up to even a quick examination. In sum, there are very few concrete cases that prove the usefulness of torture (it can sometimes win a battle – that of Algiers, for example – but it will always contribute to losing the war). Furthermore, the argument distinguishing between physical and psychological torture – an argument used systematically by the United States – is hypocrisy of the most sinister sort, because we know the lasting effects of what is euphemistically called in English “enhanced interrogation techniques”, often coupled with moderate physical pressure.

Another finding: in order to be effective, torture must be used on a large scale (the return on investment of selective torture would be most inconsequential). We can therefore paraphrase Arnaud Amaury: Torture them all, God will recognize his own.

George W. Bush’s government appealed to leading academics to justify certain forms of torture. Alan Dershowitz, a distinguished Harvard University Professor proposed a legal framework for torture with the use of warrants that would-be torturers must obtain from judges. We can only imagine the holder of the public office waking a judge in the middle of the night, “Hurry your Honor, please sign this warrant – I think I have a suspect that perhaps knows that there may be a bomb waiting to explode somewhere in New York”.

As for Michael Walzer, always ready to confront the most complex ethical dilemmas, he rejects the idea of legalizing torture, opting instead for an approach based on each individual’s personal conscience: torture – because it may sometimes be necessary to do so – if your conscience so dictates, but be prepared to accept all the consequences (trial, imprisonment, etc…) that may result from your decision.

Why do the media and politicians maintain such discreet silence when it comes to torture?

In conclusion, I have two questions for the readers of this blog: why do the media and politicians maintain such discreet silence when it comes to Torture? And of the four basic positions one can defend concerning torture, which do you prone?

1. Any form of torture is justified when State interest is at stake

2. Torture can be performed in exceptional circumstances within a clear legal framework

3. Torture is justified in exceptional circumstances on the basis of the principle of individual responsibility

4. Total prohibition of torture

Suggested readings:

  • Michel Terestchenko, Du bon usage de la torture : Ou comment les démocraties justifient l’injustifiable, La Découverte, 2008
  • Alfred W. McCoy, A Question of Torture: CIA Interrogation, from the Cold War to the War on Terror, Metropolitan Books, 2006
  • Sanford Levinson (ed.), Torture: A Collection, Oxford University Press, 2004
  • (the following work includes two important essays: Michael Walzer’s Political Action: The Problem of Dirty Hands and Alan Dershowitz’s Tortured Reasoning)
  • Serge Patrice Thibodeau, La disgrâce de l’humanité : Essai sur la torture, VLB Éditeur, 1999

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Do We Need Nature to be Happy?

Posted by Geneviève Ferone on 23 June 2010

In these rather grim times dominated by political and scientific procrastination on environmental issues, where can we find a bit of reassurance?

Far from the tedious calculations and conceptions of models performed by climatologists of all persuasions – agnostics, skeptics, or apostates – can we approach ecological issues from another angle, with the humanities? Is there an ecology that is capable of making us happy, a gentle ecology that reconciles man with his environment?

We believe that beauty is structuring. Living in a beautiful environment, regardless of the highly subjective nature of beauty, is a source of well being and healing. Some environments are clearly healing for they allow us to keep at bay our difficulties and problems, creating a sort of psychological frontier beyond which a new space and time unfolds.

The behavioral sciences have largely highlighted the aesthetic qualities of certain places that elicit calm wonder and awe over those who contemplate them or merely walk through them.

Are we then justified in wondering if being connected to nature really does lead to a happier, healthier, and generally more mindful individual?

The American biologist Edward Wilson is father to the concept of “biophilia”, from ancient Greek and meaning “he who became friends with nature”. According to him, Man is attracted to nature, a drive that expresses his innate need to establish connections with the living world.

We are already perfectly aware that man maintains a utilitarian relationship with nature, upon which he depends for his very survival. Even separated, at least in appearance, from his natural environment, man continues to be attracted culturally and aesthetically to Nature.

The hypothesis of “biophilia” however goes further. It suggests that our genes have maintained the memory of the millions of years when man was one with his natural environment. Therefore, even disconnected, living in artificial urban environments, we protect this memory, this particular affective tie. Thus, experiments in behavioral psychology, with highly strict protocols, have shown that even broadly defined links with nature had a beneficial effect on human wellbeing. A hospital room or office overlooking a natural landscape would increase feelings of peace and reduce stress.

Happiness is not incompatible with the environment

If this hypothesis holds, then amputating all natural subjects from man’s existence would be depriving him of a source of personal development and happiness. Paradoxically, this same individual would also be deprived of humanity, as he would no longer be able to (re)connect with his inner nature. Jean Jacques Rousseau would approve…

Before sinking further into the planet’s wide spin, let’s examine the debate from another angle. Happiness is not incompatible with the environment, quite the contrary. There is no room here for sterile lamentations on paradise lost through human fault; those choruses will be put aside. We are here to find our way back to happiness, lightness, and grace. A calmer, more peaceful relationship with nature is part of this journey. It is in everyone’s interest not to permanently alter this universal bond for between me and myself lies Nature.

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The new CAP should also be a pact with developing countries

Posted by Joaquin Munoz on 10 June 2010

As Europe prepares to negotiate a new common agricultural policy, we want to emphasize that in today’s world, it is impossible to consider the issue without also examining its inevitable corollaries, such as the quality of our diet, maintaining biodiversity, climate change, and the development of rural areas in emerging countries.

We must first reaffirm the urgent need for agricultural policies in both developed and developing countries. Agriculture is a unique sector of activity. It is the foundation of our diet and it has an impact on our environment, our economy, and our territories, all the while being subject to the vagaries of climate. It is both essential to life and constitutes a defining element that structures the identity of our societies. This is the reason why it must be guided by political will and not be buffeted by market forces. Post-war European leaders understood this on a profound level, which led them to the creation of the CAP.

However, the policy’s limitations started to be felt in the 1980s. Support through price control and export subsidies warped the original intent; leading to negative environmental consequences and the export of surplus products at below market cost to developing countries, which then jeopardized local, unsubsidized production.

European agriculture should not produce imbalances in developing countries

Despite successive reforms of the CAP, it is vital we guide European agriculture so that it does not produce imbalances in developing countries. While agricultural policies enabled the United States and Europe to protect and develop their agriculture, developing countries, forced by international institutions to open their borders and deregulate their markets, witnessed the disorganization and discouragement of their agricultural. Their food sovereignty was thus endangered.

Therefore, the new CAP must stop the antagonistic competition between farmers. If we maintain a CAP in Europe, we must also establish a genuine pact with developing countries.

This requires us to change our approach; we must move away from state led decisions to a true cooperative process within concerned sectors

Preserving family farmers

Worldwide, eight hundred million peasants are family farmers. This traditional production method plays a fundamental role in structuring societies. Wherever appropriate, it is crucial to preserve this model in order to avoid a mass exodus. We must strengthen the model, transforming it into a pillar of agriculture organization. To do so requires encouraging family farmers to consolidate into cooperatives, which may in turn develop into organized entities within the sector, first at the national then the sub-regional levels. These organizations can then take part in participatory processes to stimulate market regulations.

Fair trade markets are current examples that these regulations are possible. Within such a context, guaranteed minimum prices are determined after consultations with networks of producers and other economic players in the field.

Thus structured, players can acquire a real working knowledge of markets and related issues. It is indeed a necessary condition to maintain competitive balance; he who possesses information, possesses the power. The choice of products can thus be made consciously, in full awareness.

An agricultural pact between Europe and emerging countries must also include sustainable land management by local communities and a verifiable list of environmental specifications to promote environmentally sustainable production methods that preserve ecosystems.

In addition to the involvement of farmers in the different networks and channels, we must raise awareness amongst citizen-consumers concerning the conditions and stakes of production. Agricultural products should no longer be regarded as merely a flow of interchangeable products. Prices should also incorporate the producer’s survival and development costs as well as that of territorial management. These new prices must also take into account hidden costs such as pollution and the loss of biodiversity, which must no longer be shouldered by the taxpayers or future generations.

The lack of organized stakeholders in developing countries

These measures have already been successfully tested in the life-size laboratory embodied by the international label Fairtrade / Max Havelaar. They could inspire future agricultural policies for both developed and developing countries, particularly in the management of transnational, agricultural industries. This entails overcoming several obstacles. The first is the lack of organized stakeholders in developing countries; their emergence must be encouraged all the while dissipating problems linked to corruption. In many countries, this means strengthening the vigilance of non-governmental groups.

We must also utterly change paradigms by extracting agricultural commodities from a logic of total liberalization issued from WTO negotiations. Finally, we must invest to both improve yields within the framework of ecological sustainability and secondly to reinstate regulatory tools for agricultural raw materials.

Joaquin Muñoz

Directeur / Executive director

Max Havelaar France

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World Environment Day should not exist

Posted by Emmanuelle Grundmann on 5 June 2010

World Environment Day should not exist. Yet every year, on June 5, it is crucial to continue reminding everyone – citizens and especially political figures – just how vital the health of our planet is. This is true not only for the environment and the resulting biodiversity, but also for us who live in it, who use and too often abuse its resources. We must maintain the pressure for our food, our health, our survival depend on the quality of our natural environment. Unfortunately, the fact that World Environment Day continues to exist demonstrates how much more still needs to be done in order to generate greater awareness regarding the nature that nurtures us.

Saving the environment means paying into life insurance for the future

June 5, 2010 is branded by the millions of gallons of oil that are spilling across the Gulf of Mexico; let this not overshadow the other dramas that are taking place far from media spotlights. In Madagascar, Mozambique and many other countries, land is being sold off for a song to foreign multinationals, depriving people of their agricultural resources and pushing them even further into food insecurity. The commodification of water is on the rise even as more than 880 million people lack access to drinking water. Unbridled forestry and the quest for short term profits have decimated tropical and boreal forests to almost nothing and in so doing, deprive many people of resources, their habitats, and their culture. The list of environmental damage is long, far too long, and it marches forth hand in hand with irremediable social and economic disaster for those individuals with no other resources than this very environment on which they depend each and every day.

Saving the environment means paying into life insurance for the future. It is not only our future at stake but also all those small populations who are witnessing globalization engulf their languages and cultures. This is why ensuring access to water and quality healthcare, fighting deforestation and desertification, defending cultural diversity, alongside all the other projects developed and supported by the Foundation Chirac should be a priority for us all so that we will one day no longer need a World Environment Day.

Emmanuelle Grundmann


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Africa’s billions – the 50th anniversary celebrations of African independence

Posted by Jean-Michel Severino on 7 April 2010

I wanted to share with you a project that is particularly dear to me in this year 2010 that is marked by the 50th anniversary celebrations of African independence (symbolically, as this is an average). It is an essay entitled “Africa’s billions”, which I have written with my colleague Olivier Ray and that was published in French by Odile Jacob on March 18 (the English version is due to be published early next year).

This book was born out of amazement and arose from an encounter.

We do not understand Africa

The amazement lay in the fact that we do not understand Africa, and that we are blind to the tremendous interplay of forces which give life to Africa. Is China’s arrival on the continent a good or a bad thing for Africans? Is sub-Saharan African over- or under-populated? Will the region be able to feed its fast-growing population? What are the effects of climate change to the south of the Sahara? Should we expect increasing outbreaks of civil war and wide-ranging genocide, like the one which tore apart Rwanda in 1994? Or is the peace process initiated at the turn of the new century likely to carry on in the long run? Should we fear hordes of African migrants? Or, on the contrary, is the economic growth of the last few years here to stay, turning Africa into the next emerging power? Does Africa have a place in a multipolar world?

Africa is the subject of countless works, but they speak of another place: historic Africa. Our key texts are now out of date, so much so that we are unable to make sense of the events that are transforming Africa before our very eyes. Two out of every three sub-Saharan Africans are under the age of twenty-five. Unlike our sclerotic European societies, the dynamic demographics of Africa are setting an unrelenting pace for change in the sub-Saharan region. In 1960, the Ivory Coast had a population density of just 11 people per square kilometre. That figure stands at 60 people today, and will rise to 110 by 2050. If France had experienced the same rate of population growth as the Ivory Coast between 1960 and 2005, today’s population of France would stand at 240 million – including 60 million foreigners!

Africa is experiencing vertiginous changes of scale and of direction. Given the speed and extent of those changes, we ought to be looking several miles ahead down the road to have a chance of following the right track. And yet, we are watching Africa hurtling along – in a rear-view mirror. We should not be surprised by our inability to follow its trajectory. There are profound differences between our view of Africa, one that has not changed since the last century, and the contemporary realities of the continent. Public debate has depicted sub-Saharan Africa as an accursed land that is marginalised and set apart from globalisation. The region is viewed as being worthy of compassion and evokes a charitable response at best. At worst, the region is viewed as a problem that needs to be contained. Its inhabitants face a dark future, one in which international solidarity, like a dose of pain-relieving medicine, does no more than attenuate suffering and reduce convulsions. Charity work has largely been sub-contracted to humanitarian and philanthropic organisations. Containment is carried out by UN bodies and by African states themselves. This view, whether it describes itself as charitable or “lucid”, is in line with the realities of an Africa that is emerging painfully from several decades of crisis. However, it ignores the upheavals affecting the continent, changes of which few grasp the extent or the opportunities today. Unsurprisingly, it is the “youngest” players of our global society – Chinese, Indians, Brazilians – who seize the opportunities of this incredible adventure. Is it known that since the turn of the century, African economies have experienced a rate of growth far higher than that experienced in Europe and the USA?

Europe is abdicating its position

And yet, the time is not so distant when we felt we “knew” Africa, where our industrialised countries had identified “interests”. However, since the end of the Cold War, Europe has turned away from Africa: our large southern neighbour has fallen to the bottom of our list of public policies. The societies on the northern shores of the Mediterranean, especially their economic actors, largely turn their backs on Africa. At the start of the 21st century, Europe is abdicating its position whilst new actors on the stage of international relations take an interest in the changes affecting Africa and in their relations with the continent. We no longer have a strand of public thinking that is considered, coherent, and searching with respect to Africa. It is now time to get to know Africa afresh.

This book is an attempt at thinking through a subject that is at once complex and unsettled, one that challenges us to go beyond our standard reading grids. This thought process is based on a refusal to allow oneself to be trapped by past certainties. It relies on a process of observing changes that are happening before our very eyes. Finally, it locks on to the few landmarks that we have in the future. We already know that the population of the sub-continent will double in just a few decades. We also know a majority of the population will live in urban areas. The way in which Africans live, travel, define themselves, and interact with their environment will determine the path followed by their societies.

It is not a case of predicting if the Africa of tomorrow will develop “well” or “badly”, or to decide whether to praise to the skies or play the blame game. The pages of the book are not part of the sterile debate between “Afro-optimists” and “Afro-pessimists”, who have long monopolised discussion on the topic. The time has come to consider the consequences of these seismic changes for Africa, her neighbours, and the world at large. By examining the present and looking into the future, we can detect the strategic re-emergence of Africa, with all the risks and opportunities that the continent presents.

1.5 billion inhabitants

Africa is complex, and perhaps never more so than at the time of its metamorphosis. Any prospective analysis of a subject in flux is fated to deliver crude diagnoses and erroneous forecasts. We take on these inaccuracies and mistakes, convinced that complexity should not paralyse the thought process. It is important to be in phase with this moment in history in which we find ourselves, otherwise we risk having chaos on our doorstep, chaos that no humanitarian aid would be able to contain. Africa, with its 1.5 billion inhabitants, will soon make its presence felt in the globalisation game. If we do not come up with coherent, flexible policies, we run the risk of having Africa barging in on our internal politics. The changes affecting Africa mean that radical choices have to be made in the field of public policy.

We met Ibrahim in a taxi in Johannesburg. The drive from the airport to the city centre was long, and took us through heavy traffic. We sympathised with the driver, a Malian of about thirty. When asked about the reasons for his emigration to South Africa, he told us of his journey after leaving the village of his birth, in the north-east of the country. After several years of scarce rainfalls, cereals were in short supply on the market. Speculators quadrupled prices during the lean period between the end of the dry season and the beginning of the rainy season. Ibrahim’s father’s standing as one of the wealthiest men in the village counted for nothing: portions at mealtime began to shrink for Ibrahim as well as his six brothers and sisters. Unlike his cousins, Ibrahim refused to join the rebels, for he felt no anger towards the government. “What can the government do? It has no money in its coffers; it cannot even pay the village teacher.” Ibrahim’s story fitted: at the time, Mali was going through the lean years of structural adjustments*, and had borne the full force of the fall in cotton prices.

The tale of a great migration, one that is unique in the history of the world

Ibrahim decided to leave, and began wandering through the principal cities of West Africa. He was in Abidjan when the crisis befell the Ivory Coast; it was not a good time to be a foreigner in that country. However, whereas his friends decided to set out on the long haul to Paris or London, Ibrahim decided to head South. He had heard of Mandela’s “New Africa”, bursting forth after the apartheid era. It was not immediately easy: Ibrahim found himself in a township, where he spent time doing odd jobs and living precariously. Ibrahim noticed that we were looking at the small rosary hanging from the rear-view mirror; he told us that he had changed religion. A small evangelical community in the township did a lot to help him when he first arrived. Money borrowed from churchgoers and from an American charitable organisation helped Ibrahim to set himself up in business. Today, he owns five taxis, each linked to the other four by a state-of-the art radio system. He was planning to buy a minivan to run a service between hotels and airports – “like the Chinese”, who have also entered the sector. Another few months and he should be able to give up driving and concentrate on managing his business from the small, fully equipped office that awaits him. What next? Ibrahim has big plans: he would like to get married and have children, but first he wants to move house: his priority is to leave the township and buy an apartment in the city center. And what about returning to Mali? His answer: “No. Africa is my country. I am at home here. What’s more, business is good in South Africa.” When questioned about the anti-immigrant violence that led to bloodshed in the townships during the winter of 2008, Ibrahim changed the subject.

To us, this seemed to be a tale of Africa in motion, an Africa that is anything but static, and not at all on the sidelines, perhaps even a tale of an Africa that works. The tale of a great migration, one that is unique in the history of the world. This book tries to tell the story of this African change, a change that is rich in opportunities and challenges of a new order. A metamorphosis that will affect the planet as a whole, and before which no human being can remain indifferent.

I hope that these initial thoughts will make you want to discover this book, and to join the discussions on Africa in the 21st century. We warmly invite you to discuss our intuitions, and share your own experience of Africa’s changing social, economic and political landscape, the challenges and hopes that it unleashes. You can do so here in the columns of this blog, as well as on the forum of the book’s website:

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Can there be a post Promethean vision of development?

Posted by Geneviève Ferone on 2 April 2010

We are depleting our resources and disrupting our ecosystems. Humanity’s future will unfold on a fundamentally different planet from the one we know in this century. This perspective remains theoretical, too distant and far too abstract to impact the course of daily priorities. What lessons, in a general and a literal sense, can we draw about the training of our elite, those individuals who will be confronting highly critical trade-offs between precautionary principles and principles of innovation?

“Sustainable” economy can be compared to a long-haul flight

Compared to an economy based on the extensive exploitation of limitless resources, “sustainable” economy can be compared to a long-haul flight that requires us to minimize the quantities loaded and maximize the range of self-sufficiency. To accomplish this, we must streamline new interconnected systems, optimize flow management, adapt our metabolism, and invent new ways to reduce intelligently and efficiently our environmental footprint.

We must be humble and curious

Tomorrow’s engineers will contribute fully to this challenge. We are looking at a transformation of our civilisation for it is no longer question of man’s technical domination over the environment but rather humanity’s adaptation to the functioning of the overall balance of our ecosystems, which makes life on earth possible for 6.5 billion individuals. We must be humble and curious for we still ignore almost everything about these natural systems. Yet, we can not reduce our environmental footprint if we do not understand and we can not measure what we are destroying.

We need to leave behind the narrow logic of over-specialisations

Faced with these challenges, not only the field of engineering but also its range of skills must expand. We need to leave behind the narrow logic of over-specialisations and open up to other sciences – social sciences and environmental sciences – that will greatly contribute to understanding complex systems and the creation of Environmentally Sound Technologies (ESTs). Conversely, if we remain locked in overly rigid scientific compartmentalization, if we are unable to provide a collective meaning to the technological breakthroughs that are available today, we run the risk of exacerbating the gap between science and governance.

Under the sometimes violent rejection of scientific study on global warming lurks an obvious difficulty to conceive the world in other terms than as part of a Promethean concept of man. This conception is built on faith in the individual and in his freedom and power. It rejects any form of conformism and constraints that society may impose and values above all else the rationality of our choices and actions, devoid of feelings and moral considerations. This stance is the best antidote against mediocrity and intellectual or political totalitarianism.

The Promethean hero dominates nature through his scientific spirit or his qualities as an engineer. He defies the elements and through his courage and commitment encourages us to surpass ourselves. Such a hero is radically against any form of “politically correct” thought and rejects all compromise with the supposedly more gullible and malleable. Ecology, presented by some as a new totalitarian cult that calls for an immediate and planetary communion, clearly collides with the referential framework that is the very foundation of our present civilization.

However, the challenges we must take up demand we display boldness, humility, and solidarity. Until we accept and integrate these new dimensions of dialogue and interconnectivity between various disciplines and communities, our faith in technological progress is will remain a marvellous, magical, promethean wish.

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World Forest Day

Posted by Stéphane Guéneau on 2 April 2010

The conference on climate change that took place several weeks ago in Copenhagen has once again highlighted the role of forests in the ecological balance of our planet. Deforestation has been recognized as one of the main sources of greenhouse gases. During this year of biodiversity, let us not forget that forests, especially tropical forests, are the main reservoirs of the Globe’s biodiversity.

Despite the obvious ecological impact of the deforestation and the deterioration of forests, governments still are slow to find solutions. Negotiations in Copenhagen reveal the complexity of international cooperation when it comes to such important environmental questions.

Furthermore, in the past several years, non-State organisms have proposed and implemented pragmatic systems that carry out actions in parallel of international negotiation. The FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certification is one of the systems supported by the major NGOs. It guarantees consumers that the wood and paper products they purchase come from responsibly managed forests. This guarantee is translated by the presence of the FSC label on products.

Since its creation, the FSC has certified rapidly expanding forest surface. There are currently nearly 300 million acres of FSC certified forests. Compared to the 32 million acres of forest lost yearly, as assessed by international organizations, these certified areas could seem unconsequential. However, within these millions of certified acres of forests, forestry management respects current laws and the rights of local populations, paying particular attention to the protection of biodiversity, bettering security and work conditions, etc. All of these elements are documented and are proof of the positive impact of FSC certification.

Stéphane Guéneau

President of FSC-France

[1] See: Karmann, M., and Smith A., 2009, FSC reflected in scientific and professional literature. Literature study on the outcomes and impacts of FSC certification. FSC Policy Series No. 2009 – P001, FSC International Center

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An end to “climate change”

Posted by Fondation Chirac on 2 April 2010

What would a map of climate change look like? We are all aware that climate change or hydric stress will not be identical everywhere. A map of climate change is not a question only for scientists or the curious; it is a political issue. The capacity to convince and mobilize opinions, which have become skeptical, hinges on this question.

The temptation to renounce preventing climate change

If scientific statements do not provide observable proof, then we will certainly throw the baby out with the bathwater… This is even more true as the temptation to renounce preventing climate change grows stronger. States that should be showing the example have been drained by the crisis. The world is divided. Everyone is focusing inward, looking for examples to rebuff, to doubt…. And what if by chance, climate change were simply a myth? Each of us could start to imagine the scientific smokescreen that would dispense us from making the daunting sacrifices demanded by the Stern report.

How can we convince Europeans to fight against global warming after one of the coldest winters in the past decades?

Climate change is far from a myth elsewhere. The drought in northern China is unprecedented. A large part of the Middle East is thirsty. Eastern Syria needs trains of water wagons to answer its demand, in a place where rain-fed agriculture was first created and where nothing has grown in the past three years.

If we want to continue to mobilize opinion, climate change should no longer be exclusively associated with the idea of warming. The concept must be perpetually associated with its own, precise map; one that clearly identifies in a recognizable fashion for each and everyone.

What does a map of climate change look like ? What will happen should the theory prove to be correct?

− First there is the increased continentalisation of temperate latitudes: with more rain, snow, floods, lower temperatures on seaboards of temperate latitudes. The phenomenon is much more noticeable on the western edges of the continents of the Northern Hemisphere: the United States, western China, Japan…. Rainfall is on the rise in mountainous regions, accompanied by all the dangers of increased torrential forces downstream. At the same time, aridness and drought are increasing at the heart of continents: the great American plains, especially west of the Mississippi; the mountain plateaus of Eurasia from the Don River to the plains in North-East China….

- Then, there is the increased aridity of almost all the tropics and the ensuingconsequences for subtropical zones: northern India, the Mediterranean, South Africa, Mexico, Central America will all be subject to increased hydric stress.

- A more complicated situation faces the Equator with pluses that could become catastrophes but also localized deficits that could upset fragile ecosystems.

This data, gathered by organisms such as the German Advisory Council on Global Change, deserve to be better known. It means that water is at the heart of tomorrow’s political issues in ways that are even more essential than foreseen by the Camdessus report, and that investments to re-equip all over the globe will be considerable. Solidarity around water issues – to prevent the damage it could engender, to compensate and manage its lack, to ensure urban water supplies – is as important as preventing the emission of greenhouse gases.

Find maps created by German Advisory Council on Global Change

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Scientists, politicians, and the Sumatran tiger are all in a boat….

Posted by Geneviève Ferone on 17 March 2010

The sometimes violent reconsideration of the work performed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, IPCC, sharply highlights our society’s fault lines; emerging from the confrontation with unprecedented issues of governance and an economic crisis that has strangled western economies. Debates have become highly confused and issues have changed fields without lessening in number.

The summit clearly delineated the limits of our institutions

Thus, before Copenhagen, the key question was how to contain global warming under the cap of 2 degrees. The question now calls into question the amount of trust we should place in our scientists, especially when it comes to human responsibility in global warming. The summit clearly delineated the limits of our institutions. The 192 politicians would never have met had it not been for the work of the IPCC scientists. Scientists though can not dictate politics. Two groups of people are therefore in the game: a group of experts who understand the stakes but were not elected and a group of elected individuals who do not fully grasp the ramifications.

This protest is not meant to heap scorn on the scientific community whose rehabilitation has become urgent. Is this a simple phenomenon of isostasy, a normal and healthy return to a balanced middle path, or signs of a deeper unease? Our elite, today’s deciders, are not adequately steeped in scientific culture and the last minute activists sometimes ignore almost everything about the subjects. To forge ahead, we must invent a reconfiguration of these two groups, both political and scientific, whose social involvement is more than ever a necessity.

In our rush to solve an inextricable problem that we would all like to be rid of, we are in grave danger of throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

In sum, climactic anomalies and an erosion of biodiversity can clearly be observed, but humans have nothing to do with it. What a relief. We will finally be able to resume our daily activities free of the guilt constantly fueled by defenders of an ever more virulent clerical ecology. Indeed, how can we poor, frail creatures pretend to battle on the same level as the sun, tectonic plates, the clouds, and oceans? All our efforts to be more frugal, all our little green acts won’t change a thing. Time will surely take care of things; scientists need to be able to continue exploring our planet step by step. We should all adopt the well known position that relies on the fact that no problem can resist for long against the absence of a solution. We should however, avoid raising such a stance to the level of a political model.

The limits of prosperity are much more dependant on available natural capital

In the name of a code of ethics for researchers (fortunately some of them do have one) and of the great complexity of barely explored domains, science will never be able to provide an absolute answer, free of margins of errors, for our political deciders. Meanwhile, increasing numbers of people and industries, evermore capable and competitive, increase pressure on ecosystems. However, the limits of prosperity are much more dependant on available natural capital than on current or future technological prowess. While technology continues to postpone the depletion of resources by providing materials that seem cheaper and cheaper, it is an illusion for their production costs do not include the disappearance of forests, the accumulation of toxic waste that is dumped into our rivers, the depletion of soil, and the erosion of cultures.

It is neither oil nor copper resources that are limiting our development but rather “Biogée”, term coined by Michel Serres meaning the earth and life. It is not the limits of pumping power but rather the drying up of aquifers that is threatening access to water. There are dozens of other examples.

The stock of natural capital is collapsing rapidly

Humanity has inherited a natural capital of 4 million years. At our current rate of use and deterioration, there will be very little left at the end of the next century. It is neither a dogmatic nor moral question but rather a subject of the utmost importance for our society and for human beings. Despite innumerable articles, books, and conferences on the state of the environment, the stock of natural capital is collapsing rapidly and the vital services it offers are crucial for our survival.

Despite all of this, our collective survival instinct has not yet been triggered. The tiger of Sumatra is forced to leave his island because when it comes to protecting the tiger’s natural habitat or maintaining palm oil revenues, the choice is foregone.

Unemployment is more widely feared than the destruction of the environment because it strikes cruelly at the heart of each family in each country. We share nonetheless the same struggles without realizing it: the flourishing of our species within its dependant ties with the Earth.

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