Whether man-made or part of a natural cycle, the 2007 report issued by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concludes that the world is warming. What is unknown is the impact of such changes in temperature on human institutions and ecosystems.
As the world heats up, key natural resources come under increased strain. The world’s most important limited resources, such as oil, gas and potable water, face higher demand and fetch higher prices. A barrel of crude oil hit $100 during the first week of January with less fanfare and fear than would have been predicted even a decade ago, largely because the demand for oil continues to grow in spite of its rising cost. In this presidential election year, candidates continually address how the competition for, and cost of, limited natural resources is affecting U.S. economic, social and foreign policies.
Consider the following facts about the world’s nearly 6.5 billion inhabitants: The United States holds just five percent of the world’s population, but consumes 24 percent of the world’s energy. Americans average 159 gallons of water usage per day, whereas more than half the world’s population lives on 25 gallons per day. Nearly one third of the world’s population lacks access to clean drinking water.
Energy resources tend to be at the cornerstone of most discussions of climate change and environmental conservation because of the level of consumption and the resulting release of greenhouse gases. It takes energy to heat and cool homes, run businesses, transport goods and people, and generally live in the kind of comfort to which most people are accustomed in industrialized societies. In addition, it takes energy resources to produce energy resources: it takes energy to grow and harvest corn, to convert corn into ethanol and to get the corn to the processing plants and the ethanol to the pumping stations. While it is only one part of the equation, energy consumption clearly factors into most discussions of climate change.
Renewable energy is a common topic of discussion in Illinois. The state offers tax incentives for installing and utilizing renewable energy sources and methods of conservation, like adding insulation or driving hybrid vehicles. Wind farms and solar systems dot the countryside. Clean coal technology is also a pressing issue for this state, as is the biomass potential of Illinois. In addition to dedicated energy crops like corn, Illinois has other biomass potential in agricultural residues and urban wood wastes. Yet Illinois is an active participant in the global community and is therefore impacted by the same strains on limited resources that our nation and neighbors face. How the competition for the world’s limited resources plays out affects us here in central Illinois.
“The Geopolitics of Climate Change: Competition for Limited Resources” is the topic of the 38th annual Central Illinois World Affairs Conference, and will be held on February 15th and 16th at the Hotel Père Marquette. The conference will not address the causes of global warming; rather, the theme assumes that climate change is occurring and, therefore, examines the impact of such change and potential courses of action that may be pursued.
Henry Henderson, regional director of the Natural Resource Defense Council (NRDC), will open the conference on Friday evening. The NRDC is often associated with the work of Al Gore, and Henderson will examine some of the more radical approaches to dealing with the impacts of this man-made climate change on the world’s most vulnerable resources.
The conference will close on Saturday afternoon with a more conservative approach to environmental stewardship proposed by well-known conservationist Terry Maple. As co-author of the book Contract with the Earth, Maple will address a number of ways entrepreneurs and average citizens alike can preserve natural resources and manage the impacts of this natural cycle of climate change.
The panel discussion on Saturday morning may prove to be the most dynamic segment of the conference. Kenneth Green of the American Enterprise Institute will address market-friendly responses to climate change, focusing on entrepreneurship and innovation as the key elements of successful action. International law expert Wil Burns, on the other hand, will examine the possibilities of using international law to compel the states of the world to take action to reduce the impacts of climate change on natural resources. Robert Engelman, a resident scholar at Worldwatch, will propose that environmental sustainability, economic sufficiency and universal public health are interlinked and should be pursued apace for the mutual benefit of the global neighborhood.
Regardless of one’s conclusions about the causes of climate change, the world’s citizens have no choice but to examine the broad range of impending impacts on our limited resources. Whether this climate change is permanent and progressive or cyclical, with the potential to recede, people today and in the next several generations will need to take steps to mitigate the possible economic and environmental doom related to climate change. The Peoria Area World Affairs Council hosts this annual conference as a forum for engaging national and international experts in a candid discussion with the average citizens who are affected by the policy decisions that are made.
For more information about this conference and other opportunities for lively discourse in world affairs, please contact the Peoria Area World Affairs Council at (309) 677-2454 or visit www.pawac.org. IBI