“I hope to see a sense of urgency,” said Dr. Rubin Patterson of the 2011 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The director of the Africana Studies Program and professor and chair of the Department of Sociology and Anthropology will be well-placed to gauge the mood, given his role as a sponsored participant in the annual event, held this year in Durban, South Africa.Patterson, who’s being sponsored by the African Union on the strength of his long involvement with its economic development wing, New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), can share plenty of economically based reasons for urgency.
“The global environment was undermined over the past two centuries by a platform of production fired by fossil fuels,” he explained. “That approach produced a high standard of living for only about 15 percent of the world’s people, primarily in the West.”
The first Earth Summit in 1992, Patterson continued, was convened because world leaders recognized that the then-poor countries of the Global South (that is, Third World) were going to become, collectively speaking, major economic players. “We’re seeing it now, with China, Brazil, India and southern Africa,” he added.
“If these nations — which comprise the vast majority of the world’s population — follow the same path the West did in raising living standards, they can quickly make the planet uninhabitable. So the Earth Summit was convened to allow all nations to look more closely at the relationship between economic development and environmental sustainability.”
Given the rate of growth for emerging nations, which represented about three-quarters of the world’s economic growth in the last decade, he emphasized the role of this part of the world: “It’s where the action is going to be.”
Economically, he added, the action already is happening. “In my Social Development in Third-World Nations class, students are surprised to learn that half of U.S. exports already go to that part of the world.”
As well, he hopes that the convention, which starts Nov. 28 and runs through Dec. 9, will open possibilities between African nations and The University of Toledo.
“As we know,” he said, “UT is already doing a good job of creating renewable energy university-industry collaborations between. Since NEPAD’s goals intersect with ours, I’ll be exploring options.” Student recruitment from emerging nations is one such opportunity that he noted; new alliances with a broadly based sustainability sector was another.
The main focus of Patterson’s Durban trip, though, will be renewable energy production. As he noted, burning is central to both state-of-the-art high-tech and low-tech energy sources; the former burns coal, oil and gas while the latter burns animal dung and biomass: “Both threaten the environment and human health. We need to move from state-of-the-art to cutting-edge energy sources such as solar and wind, which are substantially more sustainable and can improve equity and the overall human condition.”
For his part, Patterson will be taking part in collective discussions and interviews of government officials and technocrats in ministries of energy and environment. He’ll also interact with grass-roots community-based organizations, social movement organizations and social entrepreneurs associated with issues of sustainability. Some of what he learns will appear in his forthcoming book, Greening Africana Studies, slated to be published by Temple University Press in 2012. His experiences also will help define the content of his spring 2012 course, Environmental Inequalities and Opportunities.
“As I talk with and observe some of these very powerful people, I hope to hear long-term strategies and plans for significant, concrete action,” he said. “I want to know that others feel the gravity of the situation, because we all have a stake in Africa and the rest of the Global South developing sustainably.”