Politics, Business & Culture in the Americas

Climate Change Bedfellows: Colombia vs U.S.



I came to Durban, South Africa, as a journalist to cover the UN talks on climate change, the main point of which is to figure out how to reduce our carbon footprint. Carbon dioxide (CO2) and other gases are the byproducts of our modern lifestyle and the principal cause of surging temperatures in the planet. So far, there hasn’t been much success.

I was born in Colombia; my tropical country is rich in forests, biodiversity and water sources—making us a key pillar in stopping global warming. Colombia has large tracts of carbon-capturing trees and our emissions are pretty low (0.31 percent of the world total). We are a signatory of the Kyoto Protocol, and here in Durban, we support a second term of commitments.

In Durban I share a room with Jeff Lowenstein, a colleague from the U.S. He comes from the opposite corner of the world when it comes to emissions. The U.S. is the second largest emitter (after China) and the main polluter of CO2 per capita (17.7 tons annually). The rest of the world, excluding China, South Africa and the EU, emit less than 3.4 tons per year. The U.S. never signed the Kyoto Protocol and appears to be pushing for it to die quietly in Durban.

Our shared room tells its own story. We are a pretty accurate reflection of our countries, at least when it comes to consumption patterns. A quick luggage check reveals a little of our respective countries’ stances.

Here is a list of some of the items we brought to Durban.

Jeff
: Two laptop computers; three extension leads; twenty AA batteries; two plug converters (plus two energy transformers); six notepads; eleven pens; five-hundred business cards; fifty vitamin pills; zero refillable water containers; and three hardcover books. Total luggage weight: Twenty-one kilograms.

Lorenzo
: One laptop computer; one extension lead; four rechargeable batteries; one plug converter; two notepads; two pens; zero personal business cards; six vitamin pills; one refillable water container; and one paperback book. Total luggage weight: Fourteen kilograms.

This list might amount to little more than a funny anecdote. But it is revealing: human-sized evidence that any action to tackle climate change has to tackle individual attitudes and behavior.

But I certainly can’t stand in judgment. In fact, with just one flight, I might have contributed more to global warming than Jeff, in spite of his heavier luggage. When I printed out my Delta ticket from Bogotá, at the bottom of the itinerary read: “The estimated CO2 amount for this flight is 2020 kg.” Jeff’s flight from Chicago, while also contributing to CO2 emissions, was probably closer to around 1650 kg.

The number 2020—the kilograms my flight to the COP17 emitted—is also the year when developed countries are willing to postpone any decision or binding commitment on emissions reduction. Some fear that might be too late, and that includes my good friend Jeff.

Update: Read Jeff’s reaction to this post.

Lorenzo Morales is a contributing blogger to AQ Online. He is a professor at the Center for Journalism Studies at the Universidad de los Andes in Bogotá, Colombia, and is also a journalist currently funded by the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting to focus on the Colombian mining industry.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Lorenzo Morales is a contributing blogger to AQ Online. He is a professor at the Center for Journalism Studies at the Universidad de los Andes in Bogotá, Colombia, and is also a journalist currently funded by the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting to focus on the Colombian mining industry.

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