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By Anna Sarkissian
Building a solar-powered building on a flood plain? Not so smart. Developing natural gas installations at sea level? Could be tricky. Constructing oil rigs directly in the path of hurricanes? Sounds like a recipe for disaster.
“People don’t want to think about it because they don’t have the expertise to deal with these problems,” geopolitical security expert Cleo Paskal told the audience during her talk entitled the World After Copenhagen on Jan. 28. “Global warming is not just a political, economic, or environmental issue. It’s going to lead to real conflict.”
Paskal is an award-winning journalist based in Montreal. She is also a fellow of the Energy, Environment and Development Program at the Royal Institute of International Affairs, Chatham House in London and a consultant for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Global Energy and Environment Strategic Ecosystem.
She warned that the United States in particular was extremely vulnerable with its aging infrastructure, eroding coastlines and poor town planning. Paskal predicted that environmental change could take a serious toll unless we address it now.
Hurricane Katrina, for instance, was a category three storm when it hit Louisiana in 2005 and yet the damage was catastrophic. When levees designed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers failed, approximately 80% of New Orleans was submerged in up to 14 ft of water. Nearly 2 000 people were killed. The damage was estimated at $100 billion USD.
“We keep hearing ‘this is a developing world problem.’ It’s not, it’s already happening here,” she said.
Flooding is an increasing concern, Paskal continued. London, which is slated to host the Olympic Games in 2012, was paralyzed by 2 ft of water in 2007. People said it was a one-off occurrence but it happened again last summer. The Olympic park itself is being built on a former flood plain.
She also dealt with the legal and political ramifications of environmental change, such as melting permafrost in the Arctic creating shaky foundations and how to deal with countries disappearing below sea level.
We each have a role to play in managing and preparing for these issues, she said. Attend city council meetings and ask basic questions about infrastructure stability.
“If you don’t like the answers, find better ones of your own,” she said.
Paskal also spoke about the merits of interdisciplinary centres like the David O’Brien Centre for Sustainable Enterprise at the John Molson School of Business. By bringing together business leaders, engineers, scientists and more, we can find the complex solutions we need.
She was the third in a series of distinguished speakers presented by the O’Brien Centre, in association with the Karl Polanyi Institute of Political Economy, departments of Political Science, Sociology and Anthropology and the School of Community and Public Affairs.
Her book, Global Warring: How Environmental, Economic, and Political Crises Will Redraw the World Map, was published by Key Porter Books in December.