The Institute for Education (IFE), in partnership with the Ambassador of Colombia to the United States, Juan Carlos Pinzon, hosted IFE’s second Climate and the Environment dinner on July 6th, 2022. The setting was the magnificent residence of Ambassador Pinzon and featured Juliet Elperin from The Washington Post, with welcoming remarks by Coach Kathy Kemper and John Paul Farmer. The evening also celebrated the newest civic tech service pioneers from the Presidential Innovation Fellowship, TechCongress, and the inaugural US Digital Corp fellows. IFE is grateful to welcome new supporters, Medallia and the Filecoin Foundation, to the table.
The evening opened with an introduction and video produced by Bernardo Alvarez about the One Million Coral for Colombia project initiated by the Colombian Government in 2021, which aims to plant one million coral fragments and restore 200 hectares of coral reef by 2023. This project is an example of the innovative work Colombia is doing to protect and restore the environment and demonstrates the opportunity for science-led cross-sector collaborations, with deep engagement with citizens and local communities, to slow the impact of climate change.
The dinner discussion began with opening remarks by Juliet Elperin about the work she has been doing as deputy editor of the Washington Post Climate and Environment Department. Oceans are often forgotten; they are literally underwater and don’t get as much policy attention and financial support as above-ground climate change efforts. It is also challenging to enforce and surveil oceans, and there was discussion about how technology and data, including satellite images, could be used to help this. H.E. Francisco Duarte Lopes, Portuguese Ambassador to the US, talked about the UN conference on oceans and Portugal’s commitment. The conference that was supposed to be held in 2020 was postponed due to the pandemic and occurred this year. There was a new sense of urgency about protecting oceans and understanding the relationship between climate change and ocean health.
In addition to discussing climate issues related to oceans, Aurelio Ramos Borrero, senior vice president for Audubon Americas, talked about the dramatic reduction in birds and how birds are connected to wetlands and oceans. Bezos earth fund recently invested $12M in the “Conserve Birds” initiative to support local communities and Indigenous peoples to establish and strengthen 30-40 new protected sites in the Tropical Andes. Did you know that there are more birders than golfers in the US? Working with the birding community is a new strategy that Audubon and others use to research and protect birds.
Jon Knut Berg, the counselor for climate and environment at the Norwegian Embassy in DC, talked about Norway’s efforts to reduce single-use plastics to create a zero-waste circular plastic economy in Norway. There are many issues with the current state of recycling plastics, and the problem is akin to interoperability issues with technology systems. But until this problem is solved, reducing and eliminating single-use plastics is a good strategy to minimize health risks to humans, the earth, and the oceans.
Discussion around the table also included deforestation issues, commercial fishing destruction of the sea floor, and the ways technology can be used to track progress (or lack thereof) and promote progress in all of these climate-related domains. Some bleak reality was shared, including that coral reefs represent 50% of O2 in the environment, and the Great Barrier Reef is 40% gone. Gouri Mirpuri, the founder of Connected for Good, shared the documentary Plastic Island, which follows a musician, a biologist, and a lawyer who join forces to fight against plastic pollution in Indonesia. But nature can do miracles if we give it a chance; we have seen the astonishing resilience of the earth with reduced emissions and destruction during COVID. The examples we discussed, including the coral restoration efforts in Colombia and bird conservation in the Andes, and continued policy efforts, diplomacy, and international coordination, are all needed to extend the habitability of our home, our earth.