By Stephen J. Kotz
You will forgive Scott Carlin, a long-time member, and former chairman of Southampton Town’s Sustainability Committee, if he hasn’t been to many meetings lately. The Hampton Bays resident, who is a professor of geography at Long Island University’s C.W. Post campus, has been busy: helping to organize a United Nations conference on sustainability that took place this week in South Korea.
Dr. Carlin, a former professor at Southampton College, served as the co-chairman of the event, which took place in the historic city of Gyeongju, over three days, ending on Wednesday, June 1.
In an interview last week shortly before his departure for Korea, Dr. Carlin said approximately 3,800 people had signed up for the event, with about half of the participants coming from South Korea.
“It’s a big deal in many different respects,” said Dr. Carlin, who has been involved with the UN for about a decade. “It’s the first conference of its kind being held in southeast Asia, and it will provide an opportunity for the NGO [non-governmental organization] communities throughout Asia to tell us about the roles they can play.” The conference had a record number of youth participants and strong outreach to universities from around the world, he said.
The event was particularly significant for the South Koreans because U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who himself is from Korea, addressed the assembly. Gyeongju, he added, is a UNESCO World Heritage city, and the birthplace of the modern Korean nation as well as a center of Korean Buddhism.
The conference, organized by the U.N.’s Department of Public Information, brought together delegates under the theme, “Education for a Global Citizenship: Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals Together.”
Those goals, which include such lofty pursuits as ending poverty, and protecting the planet, ensuring human rights and prosperous, fulfilling lives for all people by the year 2030 were among the sustainable development goals adopted by U.N. member states in September 2015.
“When all is said and done, when all of this learning and networking is done, we are asking people for their input on what all this means,” he said. “What is that all of us should be done and bringing back home with us to work on?”
“Our goal is to come up with a consensus statement,” he continued, “so we can work with the General Assembly and it can adopt it.”
Such was the case with a major agreement reached in Paris last fall on climate change. The General Assembly ratified that agreement earlier this year, and it now heads back to individual countries for them to sign on. Once 50 percent do, it becomes official U.N. policy.
Words are one thing, action another. Dr. Carlin is firmly in the camp of those calling for action that recognizes the Earth is in crisis, and our survival as a species is threatened by global warming and the sea level rise that comes with it, over-population, and pollution.
“Over a couple of 100 years, we could be looking at a future where major portions of Long Island are underwater” due to global warming, he said, noting a consensus that the rise in the earth’s temperature must be prevented from rising another 2 degrees Celsius to prevent catastrophe.
But he is also an optimist, pointing out the growing popularity of different forms of alternative energy, from solar panels on our homes to wind turbines in the fields and oceans.
“In 30 years, the U.S. could be running on renewable energy” provided policymakers have the willpower to make it a priority, he said. “And we don’t even have to worry about that if the market takes off.” That, he said, is a real possibility as advances in technology make things like solar panels more cost-effective.
Locally, there are “credible estimates” that New York State could in the not-so-distant future generate all its power needs from alternative sources, including 40 percent from wind power, he said.
Smaller steps, like installing better-insulated windows and insulation, in the United States, will reap high rewards, as will efforts to provide small-scale solar lighting and cooking utensils for the residents of impoverished African nations.
Still, he says, much work needs to be done, and he notes that providing people across the world with sources of clean drinking water remains an unmet goal and reducing water pollution remains a struggle from China to Long Island.
“What matters to us on the East End is going to be totally different than the development needs in Kenya,” he said, “ but what matters is we are citizens of this world, and we are really past the point of talking. We have to shrink the ecological impact we are having on the planet.”