Lake Urmia in Iran has shrunk to just 5% of its size in just two decades, an issue addressed in a special session on drought and climate change at WWViews on Climate and Energy in Iran. Photo by Kaneh Madani.
Bloggers from around the world have begun to share their thoughts and experiences with the World Wide Views Climate and Energy deliberations on June 6th. The first article below by the organizers of WWViews in Iran addresses perspectives that participants brought to the deliberation, the concept “culture-building” as it relates to increasing awareness of and action on climate change, and the connections to the devastating droughts that have impacted Iran in recent decades.
From Kenya, Zeynab Wandati, a business reporter for Kenya’s National Media Group, explains the significance of the World Wide Views Kenya deliberation and interviews several participants, allowing viewers insight into both the process itself as well as the issues discussed. Also from Kenya, Elcah Barassa, a participant in WWViews, provides further insight into the opinions and hopes of Kenyans looking towards the UN climate negotiations at COP21 in Paris at the end of the year. Finally, the significance of the World Wide Views citizen deliberations was further highlighted in late June in Nature, one of the world’s leading scientific journals.
Climate, culture-building, and water: citizens connect the dots at World Wide Views Iran
Yara Elmjouie, Shahriar Ameri, and Saeed Pourreza
As 120 Iranians participated in the largest-ever global citizen consultation, World Wide Views on Climate and Energy, it was clear their country’s unrelenting droughts had shaken them to the core. The number of Iranian respondents who reported being “very concerned” about the impact of climate change was almost ten percent higher than the global average.
World Wide Views (WWV) Iran drew participants from a wide range of age groups, occupational backgrounds, and walks of life to gauge the opinions of “ordinary” citizens on global climate change policy. Held on June 6th simultaneous with 79 other countries around the world, the event was split into five discussion sessions concentrating on themes that will be addressed at the UN climate summit in December. After participants had had a chance to debate the issues of a given session, they partook in a survey, the results of which were updated live on WWV’s website.
Despite the high level of concern among the attendees, there were still many who weren’t particularly well versed in the environmental crises their country was grappling with. That’s exactly the point of an event like this, says volunteer media outreach coordinator Simin Sarbazi.
As these citizens “become acquainted with certain ideas, it creates a network” of information sharing that can raise awareness about Iran’s environmental challenges, she says. “At the end of the day, it’s ordinary citizens that have the most contact with the environment.” If that information is effectively disseminated among the general public, at the very least “they won’t think that letting the water run is okay.” That alone could be the start of a series of more substantial steps to combat climate change in Iran.
For engineer Mohammad-Hossein Abbasi, raising awareness is an integral part of effecting change. “The best way to get the word out [about climate change] is through events like this,” he says. “People will go back to their families and communities, and pass along the info [they’ve acquired].” This very trend was on display at the event itself, when one highly educated table member broke down a complex issue to lesser-informed discussant.
There was an abundance of non-experts voicing their opinions on climate change—something that piqued engineer Meghdad Sheikhi’s interest. “You shouldn’t limit knowledge of environmental issues to certain groups or classes,” he says. “Look at a lot of the people at this table—they’re homemakers.”
“When you gather people of different classes and backgrounds, it helps with ‘culture-building,’” Sheikhi says, referring to a concept known as “farhang-sazi” in Persian. Through “culture building,” people here say, one can engender what is normatively defined as proper, socially constructive behavior among the general public.
Culture building isn’t something you can learn in college, says Sheikhi, who has numerous friends with prestigious college degrees who don’t comport themselves as one would expect of an “educated” person when it comes to the environment.
“If you speak to people in an honest tone and show them the consequences of their actions,” it’s an effective way to transmit information and raise awareness, thereby contributing to “culture-building,” he says.
Across from Sheikhi sat Shahla Kheiri, a housewife who also recognized the value of getting people talking about the environmental challenges they face. “When people’s knowledge increases and their culture also grows, it has an effect on society,” she says of “culture building.” “The people’s role is very important” in addressing climate change, Kheiri says before running down the laundry list of everyday energy-saving habits that her fellow citizens could get used to, like using less water and turning off the lights.
Much like others, Kheiri drew a line in the sand when it came to cutting back on some of her own family’s practices. “They shouldn’t increase the price of oil higher than this, though,” she says, referring to Iran’s recent removal of domestic subsidies for gasoline, intended to reduce central government costs while discouraging excessive domestic consumption. “We can only afford one vacation per year as it is; who knows what will happen if the price goes up.” Raising the price, Kheiri says, would crush the lower classes, but leave the others untouched.
Her opinions were mirrored by other respondents. While Iran’s responses were more or less in line with global averages, only 20% of Iranian respondents believed in “stopping exploration for new fossil fuel reserves,” whereas the global average hovered around 45%. Perhaps such is to be expected in Iran, a country with the second largest natural gas and the fourth largest oil reserves in the world
Though some participants were confronted with an information overload—especially during the third and fourth sessions—there emerged a consensus that culture building was happening in earnest here. Opinions differed, however, on how best to go about disseminating the message.
Fatemeh Poursheykhian, a 62-year-old mother, thinks the media should do more to raise awareness. Sadra Tahsili, a young engineer, says the onus is on NGOs. Samaneh Rahimi, a journalist, wanted environmental subjects taught in public schools around the country. But renowned Iranian environmentalist Mohammad Vahabzadeh says it all comes down to how parents raise their kids. “The best way to protect the environment is to raise your children to love it,” he says.
There was also—as there has always been in Iran—a political thread that ran through a lot of the arguments presented here. Some like Hossein-Ali Taravat saw injustice in forcing developing countries to adhere to the same standards as the western industrialized bloc. Iran, he says, has to take into account national interests before signing on to any agreements or protocols.
“Developed countries want oil producing countries [like Iran] to pay a heavy tax” for carbon emissions, he says. “I admit we are…lagging behind developed countries in many respects—but they’re the ones who gave us all these cars, technologies, and so forth.”
Mahmoud Behtash also took an oppositional stance, lamenting the status quo among developing countries as a product of western capitalism. Developed countries relocated their factories to developing countries, he says, and by so doing, sent those countries’ greenhouse gas emissions soaring. “This looks like what Britain did to India—telling them to grow cotton instead of foodstuffs, taking their cotton to England, and then selling British-made fabric to the Indians.”
Such sentiments were reflected in the results as well. The number of Iranians who believed “historical emissions” should serve as the basis for determining a given country’s climate contributions was twice the global average. In other words, developed western nations who may have had much higher CO2 emissions when they were industrializing centuries ago, should be held to account for the past.
But there were dissenting voices who felt that despite the disparate circumstances, Iran has just as much a role to play as Europeans and Americans do. On this front, Akbar Assadollahi didn’t mince words. “Iran is one of the biggest producers of green house gasses, so it has to be held to account,” he says. “Climate change-related policies in our country only exist on paper. The government only pays lip-service to it.” He continued: “I think the climate change protocols should be binding. Now, it’s urgent for all countries to become a signatory. There’s no escaping that. Stalling won’t work anymore.”
Still, in spite of the statistics above, 81 percent of Iranian respondents believed their country should take steps to address greenhouse gas emissions, “even if many other countries do not take measures.”
“We have to change the colony-colonized equation,” says Mehdi Najafikhah in response to the leftist critique raised by participants like Mahmoud Behtash. “Instead, we have to seek an international partnership to deal with greenhouse gasses and the like. Instead of manufacturing cars, we could invest in agriculture and improve the quality of our farm products so we can export them and bring in revenue.”
Narges Souri was also one to criticize those who shirk responsibility because of the past. “It’s like you’re sitting in a boat [with others] and drilling a hole in it, but then justifying it by saying, ‘hey, I’m only drilling a hole in my part of the boat.”
Her comments were prescient. Iran and the US—bitter enemies for the greater part of the last four decades—are very much aboard the same boat because both Iran and California are facing droughts that are among the worst in their respective histories.
For their part, Iranians have confronted punishing droughts for decades. Their country ranks as the 24th most water-stressed in the world, according to the Water Resources Institute. Lakes and rivers throughout Iran have given way to dry beds. Lake Urmia, once the Middle East’s largest saltwater lake, is now five percent of its size just two decades ago. Esfahan’s once-mighty Zayandeh-Rud river has practically disappeared. Younger Iranians in the capital are left to rely on their grandparents’ stories of how “snow days” were possible in downtown Tehran.
So it came as no surprise when the sixth Iran-specific session focusing on the water crisis generated more active debate than the other issues at hand. “The issue was more tangible” for participants, says table moderator Reza Zera’ati. Indeed, the vigorous discussion among Iranians at the end of this World Wide Views event made it abundantly clear that we were witnessing “farhang-sazi”—or culture building—unfold right before our eyes.
Zeynab Wandati interviews participants in WWViews Kenya.
Participants in the Kenyan World Wide Views deliberation on June 6th. Photo courtesy of Elcah Barasa.
Elcah Barasa writes in her blog post about WWViews Kenya:
In November this year, different country representatives across development sectors will be meeting in Paris under the umbrella of COP21 to agree on how to proceed in reducing greenhouse gases – the main driver of climate change. Climate change is one of the most pressing issues of our time.
Meeting in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 at the earth summit, countries committed to stabilize GHG concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system. The commitment was within the framework of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Most of the UN member states have ratified it including the major economies and polluters. However, not all countries implemented the agreements. This was further followed by the Kyoto protocol in 1997 which was also ratified by many countries. While the protocol limited the green house gas emissions of industrialized nations, it excluded the big emerging economies like China. Akin to that, the United States of America declined to ratify it. Consequently the protocol failed to limit emissions of the world’s top polluters. It is due to the limitations of the previous interventions to address climate change that different stakeholders will be meeting in Paris towards the end of this year (2015) under the auspices of CPO21.The conference will seek to reach an agreement on targets for climate action after 2020, either in 2015 or 2030.
Like other countries on the road to France, Kenya is in the process of getting views from its citizens regarding the pressing issue of climate change in order to come up with a consolidated position, a position it will present in France. I was part of that process. I was part of the 100 delegates drawn from 47 counties that convened today at the Intercontinental Hotel in Nairobi. This was the largest citizen consultation on climate and energy and it is the first of its kind in Kenya. The consultation was facilitated and funded by different partners led by The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, NETFUND, RENEWGEN and WWF among others.
From the consultations, it was evident that climate change is a real menace and measures should be undertaken to arrest the situation. Policy makers should come up with climate change friendly policies that will help in mitigation and adaptation to climate change. People should cultivate drought resistant crops and besides these, we came up with a raft of other measures addressing all sectors. With this, we made our contribution to Kenya’s road to France preparation.
Having been part of the 100 delegates who contributed their views on behalf of all Kenyans, I can only hope our contributions were not in vain. I hope delegates who will meet in Paris will do us good by representing us effectively.
Read more about Elcah here
Dan Sarewitz, co-director of the Consortium for Science, Policy and Outcomes at Arizona State University, is the author of many books and articles on science policy, and gives the process of citizen deliberation a ringing endorsement in his article about the importance of politics in determining scientific outcomes. He writes:
A truly deliberative process that is geographically distributed and demographically inclusive can reveal the variations in how risks are selected and prioritized in different places and cultures. Values, governance regimes and research agendas can co-evolve in response to such knowledge. Democracy and science will both be better off.
A link to the full article may be found at http://www.nature.com/news/crispr-science-can-t-solve-it-1.17806