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Academics, activists and ministers call for Lebanon to address climate change

[photo]
Dr. Samira Korfali (1st from right), associate professor of chemistry and chair of the Natural Sciences Department at LAU Beirut, introduces the seminar on climate change.

[photo]
Dr. Ahmad Houri, LAU associate professor of chemistry, gives a presentation using graphs and charts to explain the seriousness of climate change.

March 1, 2010—

Representatives from the government and civil society gathered to discuss the urgent need for Lebanon to address the issue of climate change, during a seminar organized by LAU’s Department of Natural Sciences in the School of Arts and Sciences in Beirut, on February 24.

“If there’s one thing that unites us in Lebanon, it’s the air that we breathe,” said Dr. Ahmad Houri, associate professor of chemistry at LAU, who was selected as the Euro Arab Chair for Renewable Energies by the Granada-based Euro Arab Foundation for Higher Studies last year. He asked the audience of students, professors, activists and journalists: “What can we do locally?”

Houri gave a presentation in which he explained the slow but dangerous effects of climate change. Using charts and photos taken from around the world, he illustrated the sharp contrast between the environment of 50 years ago and that of today.

One photo showed a polar bear sitting alone on a small piece of ice surrounded by water, another picture showed a once-deep river in Switzerland that has now become a valley with a small trickle of water at its basin.

A chart documenting global warming over the past 100 years showed that temperature increases significantly accelerated 50 years ago, with the advent of the automobile and consumer society. In addition, Houri noted that since 1979, more than 20 percent of polar ice caps have melted away. He said, “All over the world, lakes and rivers are drying up.”

Turning to Lebanon, Houri offered everyday examples of practices such as the common use of air conditioning and the trend of big cars such as SUVs, which are all affecting climate change. He posed an urgent plea to the audience, saying, “We need a goal, any goal.”

Environment Minister Mohamad Rahhal criticized the Lebanese state and citizens for their lack of initiative in combating global warming. He believes Lebanon has already seen the effects of global warming, saying there are insects on cedar trees that did not exist before, that Lebanon used to receive several more months of snow than it does now, and that public mentality needs to improve in order for things to change.

Rahhal also pointed out that global warming causes Lebanon to lose hundreds of thousands of dollars every year.

While Houri noted that the biggest culprits in global warming were by far China and the United States, Rahhal pointed out the Lebanese population actually produces a larger amount of pollution per capita. “The wars of the future will be over water,” he predicted.

Abdo Tayyar, a representative for Water and Energy Minister Jubran Bassil, said “Lebanon has never had a water strategy.” He added: “If we don’t do something, we’ll be weaker in the future.”

Tayyar added that global warming can be seen in the “climate’s unreliability,” including increasingly severe droughts and flooding. Tayyar, a specialist in dams, said Lebanon has a lack of renewable water resources compared with other countries in the region, such as Egypt.

Wael Hmaidan, executive director of IndyAct, a group of environmental NGOs, gave an equally bleak prospect for the future, but still had hope in the future generations to bring about change. “We only have 10 years to change things,” he said. “How can Lebanon save itself?”

Hmaidan noted that LAU is highly concerned with environmental issues, and ended on a positive note, saying students can play an important role in combating climate change in the country.


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