Embracing Global Warming
For My People, Climate Change Is a Matter of Life and Death
October 18, 2006
Embracing Global Warming
Commentary by Captain Paul Watson (UK)
One thing that I am absolutely convinced of is that global warming is not an imminent threat. It is not something that we should be trying to prevent for the simple reason that global warming is not the future.
Global warming is now. It is a today. It is a clear and present reality.
For those who do not believe that global warming has arrived, they can only fantasize denial for a little longer. We are all in the midst of it, and the world is quickly changing and that change is accelerating rapidly.
The Kyoto Protocol was a big waste of time and money. The United States was right to not sign it although for the wrong reasons. It was just the usual let's have a conference where we will once again do very little to address a problem we should have done something about decades before. In the end it was all about signing some papers and patting each other on the back for being ecologically correct.
An Inconvenient Truth is an entertaining second wind for a failed politician but it simply is little more than a scary movie without practical solutions. Al Gore, a man with a very big ecological footprint, wants the rest of us to leave a shallow ecological footstep. The Earth can be saved if we do as he suggests. He also seriously believes we will be saved with the return of Jesus Christ.
Is the Earth threatened by global warming? Not really. The Earth will adapt as the Earth has always adapted. This planet has witnessed and endured phases of warming and cooling of violent extremes. Climate change has been the leading cause of habitat disruption and species extermination for a few billion years.
There is nothing new about global warming except, this time we. the human species, are responsible and we, the human species, will reap what we have sown. This is nothing unnatural because we as a species evolved naturally and we are very much children of this planet. We are incapable of doing anything contrary to the laws of nature -- at least not for long -- before the consequences come around and smack us smartly in the back of the head like a nun scolding us for talking during class.
Except that the consequences may be a trifle bit more severe than an angry sister Mary of Perpetual Discipline.
Which brings us to the next question and the one most important to human society in the present: Is global warming a threat to human civilization?
The answer is quite possibly and most likely a qualified yes.
Rising sea levels, more violent storms, changing ocean currents, drought, flooding, famine better conditions for insect and bacterial species and thus more virulent and new disease, more forest fires and assorted inconveniences will certainly be a cause for concern, especially for people in the coming decades. On the other hand humans historically only seem to react, adapt, and thrive to adversity. Perhaps our survival will be because of our folly that brings us to an environment of perpetual adversity.
Natural history tells us that periods of global warming are beneficial for increasing biological diversity. Humans have been a leading cause of diminishment of diversity over the last few thousand years. For every action there is a reaction and diminishment of diversity by humans appears to be in a stage of being corrected by the activities of humanity that are contributing to global warming.
Ecologists should not fear global warming. We should embrace it as a solution to the serious human-caused problem of loss of biodiversity. What may not be good for civilization may well be very beneficial for the revival and rejuvenation of global ecosystems.
We certainly should not be wasting our energies trying to prevent something that has already begun and is unstoppable. The fact remains that if we stopped production of all greenhouse gas emissions today, the climate change juggernaut is well on its way -- like a runaway train on a steep decline.
And the reality is that, even faced with a 100% certainty of the collapse of civilization in one hundred years, human society will not abandon the present economic and cultural pressures that are the cause of our greenhouse gas emissions.
We will not stop driving cars, flying in airplanes, heating our homes, cutting down our forests, burning coal and oil for power and over-fishing the seas. We will not stop over-breeding and expanding our numbers. We will not because we are culturally wired towards short-term survival. Material gratification today and in the near future guides our actions more than abstract long-term academic concerns. We tend to take today and worry about tomorrow -- well, tomorrow.
Nature's great, brief, experiment in intelligent primate dominance of the Earth may turn out to be a super-big, glorious mistake. In the end, we may only have succeeded in creating the conditions to better the lives of insects and ferns, which may not be a bad thing because at least after the collapse of our civilizations -- the Earth will abide.
Captain Paul Watson is the Founder and President of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, Co-Founder of Greenpeace International and The Greenpeace Foundation, Director of The Farley Mowat Institute and Harpseals (www.harpseals.org). He served as a Director of the Sierra Club USA from 2003-2006. Contact: PO Box 2616, Friday Harbor, WA 98250 USA. (360) 370-5650; Fax: 360-370-5651. www.harpseals.org
For My People, Climate Change
Is a Matter of Life and Death
Sabihuddin Ahmed / The lndependent (UK)
For most people in the West, climate change threatens their lifestyles. For the people of Bangladesh, climate change threatens their very lives.
The impact is being felt now. The mangrove swamps are dying because the sea level is rising and the salt water is poisoning them. People are being displaced because of rising sea levels, caused in part by the dramatic melting of the Arctic icecaps, caused in turn by climate change.
Even if the Kyoto protocol were fully implemented immediately, or even if not a single gram of carbon dioxide were emitted anywhere in the world again, we already have a planet that is damaged and in which climate has been altered.
In Bangladesh the future has arrived; we have environmental refugees, because our country is unusually vulnerable to climate change. Some 70 percent of the country consists of flood plains, and most is less than 6m above sea level. If there is a 1 percent increase in average global temperatures, we will lose about 10 percent of our land. That is a huge problem for Bangladesh.
Being a huge delta with the Ganges and the Brahmaputra flowing into the Bay of Bengal, Bangladesh has always had to live with widespread floods. Our people have developed coping strategies to deal with them. Normally, we can do so. But with climate change the temporary flooding we see during the wet season is becoming permanent.
That might not be such a problem were Bangladesh not so densely populated. Yet there are about 150 million people occupying 144,000 square kilometers of land; or more than twice the population of the UK in not much more than half the space. Climate change will eventually threaten 30 to 40 million lives in Bangladesh. When these people's homes and crops are flooded forever, where will they go? What will they do? What will they eat? There will even be a shortage of fresh drinking water.
Climate change critically affects every aspect of our lives. Although we have enjoyed strong economic growth of 5 percent to 6 percent recently and have become more self-sufficient, this progress is threatened by environmental degradation caused by others.
Lives in Bangladesh will be devastated though no fault of the people concerned. We are not causing the climate change that is killing our people. The average Bangladeshi produces .3 tons of carbon dioxide per annum; the average citizen in the world's biggest polluting nation, the United States, produces 20 tons of CO2 each year. So as well as calling on all the world's rich nations to reduce emissions and tackle that challenge now, we also know that a certain amount of irreversible change is upon us.
For that reason, we must have help from our development partners with resettlement and adjustment for millions of our citizens. I repeat; their lives are being damaged through no fault of their own, but by the actions of others thousands of miles away. It is to them and their governments that we turn to help us. We need to look beyond Kyoto.
We hope that the biggest polluting nations of today, as well as the emerging economies that may be the biggest polluters of tomorrow, will listen to the warnings issued by former Vice President Al Gore in his film An Inconvenient Truth, and by Sir David King, the British Government's chief scientific adviser, who said that climate change was "the most severe problem we are facing today". In some parts of the world it is even now a matter of life and death.
Sabihuddin Ahmed is High Commissioner for Bangladesh and former permanent secretary at the Bangladeshi Environment Ministry
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