Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Model U.N.

Well, it has been over a month since I have posted, partly out of laziness, partly out of not being inspired to write. Sure, I have had many adventures to write about, but most of them would have ended up in a dispassionate format like "I did this, and then I did this, and then I went here and did this, oh but before that I did this too..." so I have abstained from writing. I suppose I might jump back to them later. For the record, after summer camp I had a week of summer break spent searching for good micro-brews, randomly traveling the subways, and sleeping. The highlight was probably visiting the Coex mall, specifically the Coex Aquarium. I highly recommend it. Besides that, I had two weeks of summer classes and then a few days off here and there to travel to Jeju with my girlfriend. Jeju was excellent, but almost anything I could say about it is likely to have been said somewhere else on the internet. We also visited the DMZ and Seoul. Now she is gone, and I have been at work for nearly two weeks since. We had Typhoon Bolaven, but North Korea got the brunt of it from what I understand. We had some rain and very heavy wind, but I didn't have to change clothes like I was told I would.
I have just walked home from Model United Nations tonight. A walk home listening to music generally leaves me sweaty but energized, so I will explain some of my experiences with Model U.N. so far. When I was first asked to work with the Model U.N., I thought I was going to be coaching. I was very nervous, until I found out I was only to be a helper. The topic this year is biodiversity, and since one of my majors is Biology, my head teacher wanted me as an advisor. The students went to a Model U.N. summit at a college while I was coming home from Jeju, so I missed their explanation of the topic.

Regardless, last week I attended my first meeting. I was to judge the opening statements of each country and rank the top three. The head teacher told me to be critical and ask them tough questions to find out who is the most prepared because she suspected that most of the students would have similar, generic speeches. She was mostly right, and so I was mostly critical. I found myself scowling unconsciously throughout the whole meeting, probing them to find the breadth of their knowledge. I asked one speaker from a poorer nation what her nation had to offer in exchange for U.N. funding for conservation efforts. No response. I asked the delegate from Japan, who said she was committed to preserving the environment and biodiversity, how Japan's whaling industry fit into their plan for protecting the environment. She suddenly transformed into Miss South Carolina.  I felt a bit like Simon Cowell and I wasn't sure how to feel about that. The head teacher was even more critical, however. The point of this meeting was in a large part to prove to them that they need to do their homework before the meeting. They need to know their stuff. At the end, I was asked to give comments and suggestions on how they could all improve.

Afterwards, the head teacher told the audience that I would now field any questions about biology or biodiversity they may have. I was taken off guard. I had completely forgotten I was supposed to answer questions. The shoe was on the other foot. Fortunately, it turns out my college education had served me well. I was able to answer all types of questions off the cuff about GMOs, biotechnology, artificial selection, and invasive species. I was on fire. However, they kept referring to something called "genetic resources" and asking how a nation can protect against theft of their unique organisms or leverage them to their benefit.

I was immediately hostile to this concept. The idea of a nation or business owning rights to a plant or animal species is kind of asinine in my opinion. Life is constantly evolving, so at what point does your ownership become void? Apples originated in Kazakhstan, does that mean all apple eating nations owe the Kazakhs some sort of royalty? Life doesn't see the borders we do and would not abide by them. Just because a nation claims a resource as their own does not mean an organism cannot wander across a border. Does this mean if an animal naturally spreads its range into another nation that the nation has free legal right to the use of their newly acquired so-called "genetic resource"? How do you even prove it was a natural migration and they were not illegally seeded? There are far too many gray areas in my opinion for this concept to be viable. I reiterated several times that this was only my opinion, but I felt regulation of this type was impossible.

It was then that one of the smartest students I have had the pleasure to work with, Hye-Eun, pointed out to me that this was indeed the actual U.N.'s intention to regulate genetic resources and it was a central topic for this year's Model U.N. She filled me in as the egg dripped down my face. Part of me still wanted to tell everyone, "Well then class, the U.N. is full of shit," but I held it in. Instead I told them that I understood that in reality, we sometimes have to make judgments that are only necessary because we live in a world of nations and politics. Nations are forced to make distinctions where there should be none.

I thought about my words later and realized just how hopeless I made their situation sound. Great, first meeting of the year and I have effectively told the students they have no chance of coming to a proper solution. Way to drive up membership, Ben. I kept telling them it was impossible, but as I thought about it later, the United Nations tries to do a lot of impossible things. One of their major goals is world peace. Will it ever happen? Probably not, but perhaps it is worthwhile having someone out there trying for the impossible.

At the meeting tonight we listened to each country's proposal for Article 1 on sustaining biodiversity. I also learned that along with genetic resources, countries are claiming ownership of traditional knowledge from resident tribes, especially that knowledge which could lead to medical breakthroughs. As we did this, I couldn't help but continue to snicker at how ridiculous the whole concept is, but this time I had to keep it to myself.