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Edmonton Journal

World Needs to Wake Up to Dangers of Climate Change, says Environmentalist

Linda Nyugen

Undated handout photo of renowned environmentalist Lester Brown, who cautions that the world needs to get serious about reducing fossil fuels if it wants to prevent future natural disasters brought on my climate change. He is the keynote speaker at the 21st World Conference on Disaster Management in Toronto from June 19 to 22, 2011 (Photograph by: Handout, Postmedia News)

TORONTO — The world needs to get serious about fighting climate change if it wants to stop an increasing number of natural disasters seen in recent years, because just changing the type of light bulbs we use and recycling our newspapers is not nearly enough to save the environment, cautions a world-renowned author and environmentalist.

“The basic point is that, it’s the old adage, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” said Lester Brown in an interview last week from the Earth Policy Institute in Washington, D.C. “We know the best way to manage disasters is to prevent them in the first place.”

Brown, who has authored more than 50 books on environmental issues, will deliver this ominous message Monday in Toronto at the 21st World Conference on Disaster Management.

According to Brown, the world is ill-prepared and may not survive an impending colossal natural disaster such as flooding, hurricanes, tornadoes, droughts or record-breaking heat waves that are triggered by climate change.

“At some point, these disasters will be unmanageable at the societal level,” said Brown, who recently wrote a book on the topic, “World on the Edge: How to Prevent Environmental and Economic Collapse.”

Furthermore, a number of recent weather-related incidents should act as a warning for the world to wake up and to spring into action.

For instance, Brown cites that one of the most troubling impending disasters is the current “irreversible” rapid melting of the Greenland ice sheet. If temperatures continue to rise, it is feared the ice sheet will melt completely and raise sea levels by a projected seven metres, which will disrupt rice production in the river deltas in Asia, where 60 per cent of the world’s population lives.

Rising sea levels will also impact real estate values along coastal regions in North America and communities such as New Orleans, which has only since recovered from Hurricane Katrina in 2005, will be threatened and could disappear, he added.

“We should’ve done something about climate change years ago, which makes it all the more urgent now to begin to get serious about cutting carbon emissions,” said Brown. “One of the problems is we don’t know the point of no return. We don’t know because nature sets these determinate thresholds. We can’t see the clock and that’s a real disadvantage.”

He said society has been preoccupied with fighting climate change by taking on a reactionary role, like pouring money into building levees and dikes near high-risk flood areas, as opposed to seeing the big picture.

Significant change, according to Brown, will not occur unless governments overhaul transit and quell the love affair people, particularly North Americans, have with their vehicles.

Nearly 1,500 participants from across Canada and around the world, including the U.S, China and Australia were expected to attend the June 19-22 annual disaster conference.

Organizer Chuck Wright said this year’s workshops will include discussions on emergency preparedness, pandemic planning, business resilience and emergency response to natural disasters, catastrophic events and terrorist attacks.

“The challenge we face here in Canada is that we seldom face any disaster,” he said. “We don’t recognize here in Canada that we need to be prepared, that other countries already have plans in place.”

The conference also will touch on the soaring cost of grain, which is expected to lead to a full-blown food crisis, and how companies can protect themselves from cyber threats and hackers.

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