Tue, Aug 21, 2007 - Page 8 News List

Letters: Reform UN to save Earth

The problems we human beings face, such as global warming, appear overwhelming, but there is a way out. However, in order to find that way we need a reformed UN as a compass.

I recently read An Inconvenient Truth, the book by former US vice president Al Gore on which he based his award-winning documentary. In his book Gore convincingly presents the case that global warming exists, that it is serious and that it is caused by human beings burning fossil fuels and destroying the planet's forests, jungles and other vegetation.

Unfortunately, an inconvenient truth ignored by Gore and many others in the debate is that the solutions usually being proposed -- simply reducing the use of fossil fuels and increasing reforestation (what I call the Kyoto approach), will not be adequate. Carbon dioxide levels are already so high and the built-in momentum so strong that it is hard to imagine any mechanism, short of all-out nuclear war, that would even slow the trends (and I hope we all agree that all-out nuclear war would make our situation even more difficult).

In order to manage global warming we will have to combine the Kyoto approach with some global engineering. For example, we could make use of the global dimming effect to cool the planet's surface by injecting large quantities of very fine particles into the upper atmosphere. We know this would work because we have seen the effects of large volcanoes doing the same thing. One estimate puts the monetary cost of this approach at less than US$1 billion per year.

Other approaches, such as putting sun shades in orbit around the Earth or balanced in the Lagrangian point between this planet and the Sun, would cost more at present but will probably become much cheaper as our technology develops.

The question is: Who decides? No course of action, even doing nothing, is without costs and risks to the entire human race. Some group of people will have to sit down, look at the options, develop a plan of action and then implement it -- and we all will have to live (or die) with the result. The UN is the obvious candidate, but it is generally regarded as undemocratic and lacks credibility.

In 1987 and 1989 I walked 4,000km across Canada (from Clearwater to Toronto) to publicize a petition for reform of the UN. While an interesting experience for me, that walk and its petition did not achieve the results I had hoped for.

A short while ago I received a letter from Fergus Watt, executive director of the World Federalists of Canada, that told about a new petition for UN reform launched by a coalition of non-governmental organizations. The petition calls for formation of a UN Parliamentary Assembly (UNPA). At first this would be an advisory body to the UN's general assembly and would be made up of members of national parliaments or houses of representatives (the general assembly is made up of delegates appointed by their respective national executive branches, while the UNPA would come from each nation's legislative branches). Later the parliamentary assembly would be directly elected by the people of the world. This is how the European parliament started and it is now a democratic and effective institution.

More than 400 parliamentarians from 70 countries have signed the UNPA appeal.

I encourage everyone to support this initiative. The UN must become more democratic and no organization has ever become more democratic unless the people have demanded it. We don't have time to waste. Put your name on the petition by going to www.unpacampaign.org.

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