Monday, December 24, 2007

a long overdue hello from wisconsin

Hi everyone,

Its been a long time since i've written you all... mostly because this semester was a whole lot of problem sets, ten page lab reports, and studying for days on end for organic-chemistry exams, intermixed with a whole lot of wishing I had more time to spend on the things that I really care about.

But now the semester is over, and I'm home with family, which is really nice. I did manage to get a few meaningful things into the semester that are exciting and inspiring for me. One is that our bicycle-powered laptop has been placed in the campus gym where more and more people are using it. There are a few videos online about the bike that you can check out if you want.

The next is that on January 3rd I leave for Ecuador, to work with the same community on some lingering technical issues in the water system, as well as start a program (with the help of my mom) where we will purchase traditional ceramics and jewelry from the women in Santa Ana and sell them in the US as an income-generating program and to sustainably support the water system. We've almost got a website up and running for this project, so I'll send it out when we do!

The last thing is a three day symposium on climate change at MIT that Froy and I's environmental group have been organizing for february 2008... we're going to have about 15 events in all sorts of different departments with the goal of connecting and engaging students from all different disciplines to bring their energy and skills to bear on the challenge of mitigating and adapting to climate change.

I hope you all are having a wonderful holiday season with your families and friends.

With much love,

P.S. As much as I think about the climate change issue, I couldn't resist including my latest thoughts on this for those who care to read them:

I have to say that is hard for me to remain optimistic about the future of our planet with climate change. The predicted consequences -- droughts, more tropical storms and hurricanes, flooding of coastal lowlands, etc sound like things we can adapt to, like we always have. And that may be true, at least for a while, for those of us who have enough money, insurance, status, etc to always ensure ourselves plenty of food to eat and a new place to live. But it is not true for billions of people in this world. These are the people who will be hit soonest and hardest, and ironically they have the least responsibility for the emissions that are causing the problem in the first place.

Here's an excerpt from an article from the Guardian

He is quoting a UN report on the state of the planet:

“If present trends continue, 1.8 billion people will be living in countries or regions with absolute water scarcity by 2025, and two thirds of the world population could be subject to water stress.” Wastage and deforestation are partly to blame, but the biggest cause of the coming droughts is climate change. Rainfall will decline most in the places in greatest need of water. So how, unless we engineer a sudden decline in carbon emissions, is the world to be fed? How, in many countries, will we prevent the social collapse that failure will cause?

The stone drops into the pond and a second later it is smooth again. You will turn the page and carry on with your life. Last week we learnt that climate change could eliminate half the world’s species(9); that 25 primate species are already slipping into extinction(10); that biological repositories of carbon are beginning to release it, decades ahead of schedule(11). But everyone is watching and waiting for everyone else to move. The unspoken universal thought is this: “if it were really so serious, surely someone would do something?”

And that's really the problem... Hurricane Katrina, the droughts in the Southeast, Fires in the west... none of this things can be proven to have been caused by climate change, even though all the science says these sorts of events are going to come harder and faster as climate change progresses. So no one has the urgency to say "we need to do whatever it takes to reduce emissions 80% or 98%, and I need to do whatever it takes in my own life" (the number depends on whether you think all countries should reduce relative to the amount they are emitting now or relative to their population size). And no, I'm not a believer in climate change as a complete doomsday scenario. The world will go on, life will go on. The question is whose lives and what world?

Part of the paradox of environmentalism is that in the best case scenario we fix the problem and people should look back say "well what was the big fuss about?" We managed to do enough about CFC's that caused ozone depletion and Sulfur emissions from fossil fuels that caused acid rain to get those problems under control (to a certain extent, the problem is still around in other countries) such that looking back we might be tempted to say, what were all those environmentalists worried about? I hope that we manage to do enough about climate change that you all look back at this e-mail and think "why was she so worried?" But until the world and especially the united states really step up to the plate on this, I'll remain worried.

If anyone wants to contradict or debate, or talk more about this issue more, I'd love to talk with you -- just send me an e-mail!!