Social Media Icons

Visit Us On FacebookVisit Us On Google PlusVisit Us On TwitterVisit Us On Youtube

Many strategies, one goal: a better environment

09 September 2009

By Megan Bainbridge - Special to The Daily Star
BEIRUT: The recently issued 2008 Environmental Protection Index issued           statistics ranking the environmental records of 149 countries. Lebanon           was ranked 12th among the 17 Middle East and North African nations           covered and 90th overall. With the spotlight on the environment, The           Daily Star asked three of Beirut’s green groups how they are trying to           improve the nation’s environmental performance.           The Nature Conservation Center for Sustainable Futures (IBSAR) is an           inter-faculty center at the American University of Beirut that was           founded in 1992 in order to research issues related to sustainable           nature conservation. The organization combines scientific research           with outreach and awareness raising programs in an attempt to sustain           Lebanon’s rich biodiversity.           IBSAR takes a very grassroots approach in its conservation projects.           It uses the university’s research facilities to develop scientific           approaches to nature conservation, but feels strongly that this           knowledge must be decentralized and transferred to the wider public           before it can have a significant environmental impact.           “Conservation is about small steps, rather than mega-projects,” says           IBSAR’s director, Salma Talhouk. “It is just people doing little           things, but all the time.”           “I do not think you can make a change by just making political           changes,” she adds.           “There is a lack of understanding and appreciation,” says Arbi           Sarkissian, IBSAR’s outreach project manager. He argues this lack of           appreciation is the most significant barrier to improving           environmental conditions as it fosters a public unwillingness to           become involved in environmental issues.           “It is not just a matter of knowing, emotional attachment is also very           important,” adds Talhouk. “Many people ‘know’ and they do nothing.”                    “We refer to this as a Nature Deficit Disorder,” Sarkissian continues,           describing how young urban people may have a reasonable level of           environmental knowledge but are losing any connection with nature.           In order to reconnect the public with the environment, as well as to           take significant steps toward reforestation, IBSAR has developed the           “Seeds of Hope” campaign. This campaign intends to plant 10,000 native           shrubs and trees in marginalized towns and communities by 2010.           “We are trying to diversify and decentralize reforestation efforts,”           says Talhouk. The program also involves the empowerment of           marginalized communities as well as an improvement in their living           environment.           In contrast to the grassroots approach adopted by IBSAR’s academics,           the Greenline environmental group works to balance awareness-raising           activities with media campaigns and political lobbying.           Speaking from his office in the activist center Zico House, current           Greenline president and founding member Ali Darwish laments that the           environmental movement has been greatly affected by three years of           political upheaval.           “People are less motivated now, although the interest may still be           there,” Darwish says. “But we are hoping for a revival of our           programs,”           The organization is currently highlighting energy issues and           campaigning for a more widespread use of renewable energy.           Greenline believes a renewable energy plan could be an important           factor in helping meet the nation’s basic energy demands, as well as           mitigating the effects of climate change. While Beirut receives 21           hours of electricity a day, people outside the municipality only have           electricity for 16 – or less.           “This is because of a failing energy policy,” says Darwish.           “Israel bombed the electricity plants many times, but it is also our           dependence on obsolete technology – and our refusal to utilize           renewable energy or even natural gas – that has led us to this           problem,” he adds.           While Greenline believes that awareness-raising issues are important,           Darwish admits that there is a relatively good level of environmental           awareness among Lebanese. He instead emphasizes the importance of law           enforcement, rather than ideas, in modifying public behavior toward           the environment. “This is why we truly need radical political reform,           and not only at a policy level,” says Darwish.           “People need to learn that the politician is an employee of the           nation’s citizens,” he says, adding that the public should hold           politicians responsible at the ballot box if they do not deliver on           environmental reform.           While the public remains unwilling to carry out this “electoral           punishment,” Greenline works to target politicians themselves through           direct meetings or media campaigns.           “We use the media as a tool to force political change,” Darwish says,           adding that they attempt to put politicians in a position where they           feel they are unable to reject the environmentalists’ demands.           While there has so far been only limited success in this area,           Greenline feels it is important to continue the two-pronged nature of           its campaign strategy.           Taking this emphasis on high-level political change one step further           is the environmental branch of the Movement of Reform and Environment           Program (MOREP) association. This group focuses upon the importance of           political change in bringing about improvements in Lebanon’s           environment.           “Our movement wants to see progress on all environmental issues,” says           MOREP member Majid Abi Saab. “You can do some of this with money, but           without national power you cannot do anything.”           “We are trying to get into Parliament and make changes from there,”           adds Saab.           “Now, we fight a lot and get no response, just words and words and           words, while we wait for years.           “This is a problem.”           One of the key tenets to MOREP’s environmental reform platform is a           charter of Corporate Social Responsibility, or CSR. Saab says that the           drafting process of a CSR would bring together environmentalists,           economists, industry representatives and members of the civil society.           A CSR would recognize the link between the economy, the tourism           industry and the environment and would attempt to create a sustainable           structure that benefits all parties.           MOREP also advocates giving the Environment Ministry greater powers to           develop environmental regulations and prevent infringements upon this           legislation, both through private companies and other ministries.           Saab has also called on the Interior Ministry to be more rigorous in           its enforcement of existing environmental laws and standards.           While these green groups approach the goal of improving Lebanon’s           environment in different ways, they all agree on one thing: There is a           lot of work to be done.

Comments are closed.