Thoughts on Climate Change

by Magnus Schifter-Holm. Published 26th of March, 2012.

Despite having brought the threat of climate change to the fore more than two decades ago, and despite having been labelled by United Nations institutions as a common concern for humankind, and despite the efforts of some parts of the international community, the effects of anthropogenic activities on the climate are still on the rise, and preliminary scientific evidence, such as the record amount of Carbon Dioxide and methane in the atmosphere, show that the problem is still on the increase.

It is clear that the international community must step up its efforts, cooperatively, to curb emissions, adapt to the situation, and reduce the harm our lifestyle has brought over to our planet.

Scientific evidence is not conclusive on what the effects of the distortion of the natural climate of the world would be. Scientists employ a variety of models in trying to envisage the scenario, but it seems certain that with the current levels of emissions, a worrying number of potential threats may arise, including the increased rate of melting of glaciers, which in turn, leads to a rise in sea levels, and flooding of low lying and coastal areas, such as the Mediterranean or the Netherlands. The weather will also be affected, as it is predicted that there will be an increase in the intensity, amount and frequency of rainfall, particularly in the tropics — the infamous monsoon regions, which already have severe problems with flooding, while a decrease in sub-tropical regions, such as North Africa. There is also a predicted increase in tropical storms and hurricanes, as well as heat waves and drought in certain areas the increased heat will also contribute towards the spread of vector-borne diseases, such as malaria and dengue fever. There is a projected increase in temperature of up to 6.4°C until the end of the twenty-first century.

Our oceans will also be under threat, as they absorb the excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, leading to acidification. This is of severe and deadly consequence to marine biodiversity. Said harmful emissions are also depleting the ozone layer, which provides protect against UV Radiation. Changes in temperature and weather will take its toll on current agricultural practices, and will reduce crop yield, particularly in Africa. Increased deforestation acts as a catalyst for climate change, whilst incidence of acid rain, which wrecks havoc on both animal and plant life, will be more common.

These are only some of the consequences envisaged by science, and yet, the international community continues to drag its feet on acting to resolve this issue. And even if science cannot provide concrete, hard evidence, there is a vital need for prudence — to take action despite lack of evidence, as one cannot be too cautious when such consequences are on the line.

This is a problem which is affecting, and which will affect, the whole world, and thus, all countries must partake in the efforts to mitigate emissions, and adapt to the change. Political borders will not stop acid rain, a river from flooding, or the reduction of biodiversity. While it is true that the developed countries are more to blame for most of the emissions, this does not exclude newly developed countries, or even the poorer countries, from taking action now, before it is too late.

In the summits and conferences the international community has held over the past few years, the term common but shared responsibility has been brought up as an excuse for developing countries to dispense of their obligations to take action on climate change, pegging their reasoning to the fact that the United States itself is being passive on the matter, and that it is the developed countries which must take responsibility for their actions. The problem is, that the developing countries of twenty years ago, when the legal document setting targets and deadlines for the reduction of emissions, the Kyoto Protocol, are nowadays heavily industrialised, economic powers. Countries such as China, India, South Africa, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Brazil and Qatar, still claim to fall under this category —incidentally, these are some of the biggest emitters. Furthermore, the United States of America, the second biggest emitter after China, together with Canada, refuse to cooperate — this quenches any moral guilt these countries might have for not putting up with the efforts of tackling climate change. This state of affairs, and this continuous lack of action on a global scale, particularly by those most involved, must be looked into for our efforts to start working. It is heartening to see the European Union take the measure so seriously, to the extent of sharing technology and investing in the Least Developed Countries, for them to make a transition into clean power generation, but the rest of the world must be brought on board as well, for any action to truly be effective. However, how should one proceed to convince countries, that taking action to mitigate a hazard that seems so distant, as opposed to them feeding on their short-term national interest?

The United Nations' stance on the matter has not been as steadfast as it should; Why are these heavy polluters allowed to keep on with this state of affairs, just to appease their bank accounts? This applies principally to the United States, as one of the richest, and most offending states, still not contributing to the effort. In the face of such a threat, shouldn't the international community, in particular, the United Nations, react to such passiveness?

A solution should also be sought to get the newly industrialised countries on board such an effort. While it is true that most of the harm has been done by the Europeans, the Japanese and the United States, as the heaviest emitters of the past, reality is no longer so. China is the biggest worldwide emitter, while India, Brazil and other oil-producing countries are following suit, and fast. Other countries are finding it unfair, that developed countries are now telling them to take a step back from investing in industrialisation, after the latter have abused the environment to their hearts' content. Thus the appropriate question here would be: How does one balance the right of the poorer countries to become industrialised, against the claim by developed countries that the effort to curb emissions should be global?

The burning of fossil fuels is at the epicentre of the problem. Yet the short-term economic boom provided by oil production still blinds most countries to this long-term problem. Multi-national corporations, which themselves have ample lobbying power, particularly in the United States, but also in other countries in which they invest heavily in terms of infrastructure, finance and employment, need to appeased by government. Motor vehicle manufacturers, while having looked into and produced machines allowing for cleaner emissions, still make such technology less accessible by slapping on often ridiculous price tags, inhibiting the general population from affording electricity-powered cars. The European Union's insistence on legislating in favour of subsidising clean technology is again, heartening, but this is hardly effective if such measures are not adopted on a wider scale.

Alternatives to fossil fuels have been around for a long time, yet clean energy generation, through nuclear power plants, or renewable sources, such as solar, hydroelectric, geothermal, tidal or wind is not as widespread as desirable, mainly due to the risks posed by nuclear energy, and the expense faced by renewable sources. Investment in such forms of energy is key to reduce dependency on the oil-generating countries, and this would allow for new developments in the climate change debate.

By taking a small step today, we could be preventing a disaster from occurring tomorrow. States should be looking at preserving carbon sinks, such as forests and lakes, researching and developing environmentally friendly technology, and sharing it, in particular with the least developing countries, who need the help of the richer countries to face such challenges. Most of all, any nation state, which is serious about climate change, needs to exert influence and clout on having the international community adopt a binding agreement, with legal obligations and a workable enforcement mechanism with a global reach.

My plea today, is for the international community to try and adopt, and instill in our education systems, the concept of biocentrism. We must realise, that money is not the thing that keeps us breathing, but rather, it is the balance of nature. Biocentrism rejects the concept of humanity at the centre of the world, but puts forward the realisation that rather than exploiting the world's resources for us to live comfortably for the short-term, we should look at the bigger picture —that it is our duty and obligation to look towards protecting and sustaining our environment. Adopting such a mentality is vital for both the present, and the future generations, for it is not we that will face the consequences of this abuse, but it will be our descendants, unless we start taking action from now.

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