With Love from Indonesia to the World

Climate change and its impact on all of us

“So, what brings you here?” asked the U.S. immigration officer while looking at my passport and eying my face at the same time.

I was at the Los Angeles International Airport, my gateway into the United States. So, in compliance with U.S. immigration law, I had to go through immigration clearance there — although my destination was New York.

“I am here to attend the UN conference.” I replied.

“UN, you said? So, you have a diplomatic passport?” the officer again asked me.

“No, it is a normal airport ….”

Before I could finish my sentence, he kind of snapped at me, “But you said you were going to attend UN conference ….”

“Yes, as an NGO,” I said, adding, “non-governmental organization.”

“Hmmm, what is the conference about?”

“Climate change, global warming ….”

And, then, as if disturbed by my reply, he looked at me and while stamping my passport commented: “Hmmm, climate change …. What can you do about that? What can I do? What can they do? Ok … next….”

What can I do about climate change and the global warming caused by such change? What can anyone do about it? And, yet here I am in the U.S., attending the conference. Indeed, the very theme of the conference held at the UN headquarters in New York from Sept. 5-7 was: Climate change and how it impacts us all.

The comments made by the immigration officer confirmed my conviction about the theme of the conference. Yes, many of us simply do not know how their lives can be affected by climate change. Many of us live our lives in ignorance of the impact of global warming.

How many of us know that out of 12 warmest years in recorded history, 11 happened in the last 12 years? We do complain, “Oh, this year is so hot ….” But we do not know what the heat implies. And we go about our business, we move on with our lives, as if things were normal.

No, it is not normal. Business is not as usual. We are at the brink of the total destruction of the planet and the extinction of all life.

While attending the conference, and listening to speakers in various workshops, I could not but ponder on what was happening in my own country, Indonesia.

Religious strife, political ambitions, intellectual and material arrogance — I found a large segment of my countrymen and women, of my politicians, the so-called people’s representatives, industrialists, academics and businesspeople busy dealing with issues of no importance whatsoever.

Deforestation continues. Unintelligent construction work continues. In the name of development, we continue to misappropriate our land, water, energy and other resources. Little do we realize that such construction will mean nothing if the living conditions are not life-friendly.

One of the workshops discussed the drinking water situation and its management. In the past we have fought over spices, gold, oil — and now the prediction is that we shall be fighting over water — drinking water.

We could do without spices, without oil and certainly without gold — but how can we live without water? Water is essential to human life. Alas, we have even turned this into a commodity. And, this commodity is fast becoming scarce. Drinking water is becoming scarce.

Countries like ours may be surrounded by water, by the seas — but how do we turn it into drinking water which is safe for human consumption? Do we have the technology? Can we buy it? Can we afford the cost?

For three full days we discussed several important issues on the global level. I wondered if my own people, back in Indonesia, were aware of the importance of such issues. I kept getting reports of my people fighting over regional, even personal issues. Of what importance such issues would be if we lost the planet where we live?

“God save my country and my people” — hopeless, I began to pray in my heart. But, my consciousness reprimanded me: “Even God only helps those who help themselves!”

So, we have to help ourselves.

First of all, we must immediately stop all deforestation activities. Including, but not limited to, unintelligent construction work. We do not need malls, super-malls and housing complexes by the seaside. Clear our beaches. No more golf courses. We need more trees around us. We need more mangroves, more pine trees. We need their help to clear our air of excessive carbon dioxide.

From Sept. 5-7, along with two of my colleagues, I tried to attend all the plenary meetings and important workshops. Very inspiring, we collected a lot of new information, and we shared some of our experiences, including a short documentary on what we have been doing to face climate change.

What is of utmost importance now is to educate our people, to make them aware of the impact of climate change, and to work on the solutions.

Our people here, including some of our authorities are still economy-oriented. Good, but no longer enough. We must have a broader view of things. There has to be a paradigm shift. Of what use is economy and economic growth if we do not have living conditions which are life-friendly?

The deputy secretary-general of the UN, Akasaka, reminded us that, “We do not own this planet. We owe it to our children and grandchildren.”

Perhaps, we do not have to go that far. In our own lifetime, we may already face the scarcity of drinking water, if we do not immediately take necessary actions to save this planet.

At the end of what seemed to be a long, long day we came to some conclusions, some recommendations to be presented to the heads of states to meet at the UN headquarters around the third week of September.

We, from Indonesia, were fortunate enough to have our recommendation incorporated as the preamble of the final draft of the conference declaration, adopted unanimously by all the conference participants.

The initial draft which was threatening and fear based was changed to read: “Recognizing that we share one planet and its environment, as well as responsibility to protect future generations ….”

In another part of the declaration, our belief in “one humankind” and “interdependency of nations” was also incorporated: “All governments and civil society foster an ethical, moral foundation for ongoing sustainable development in our interdependent world making the well being of all of humankind our priority”.

This adaptation of our recommendations is a great responsibility on our shoulders and our souls. “One Earth, One Sky, One Humankind” is no longer a dream. It has become a vision of tomorrow. It is now our potential and destiny. Hand in hand, let us work together to realize this.

Jakarta Post (Opinion) – October 07, 2007 by Anand Krishna

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