The Environment

Some Topics


  • Climate Talks to Limit Global Warming

    Humans and other animals are in peril, not the planet. Planet Earth is a work in progress that changes continuously. No environment has been stable over the stretch of millions of years and climates change without human help. The problem today is that human activities have changed the environment quickly and drastically. Current arrangements to supply clean air, good food and clean water are not sustainable. Extreme weather events are increasing causing concern worldwide. The enhanced motivation of regional governments to seek solutions for global warming led to a succession of meetings with the hope of achieving unprecedented global cooperation.

    Dec. 2007, Al Gore shared a Nobel Prize with the IPCC, a United Nations agency. In his acceptance speech, Gore, made another passionate plea of recognition of the climate crisis and the need for cooperative action across the planet. Gore warned that “we the human species are confronting a planetary emergency — a threat to the survival of our civilization that is gathering ominous and destructive potential: we have the ability to solve this crisis and avoid the worst of its consequences, if we act boldly, decisively and quickly.”

    Kyoto 1997 The Kyoto meeting to determine emissions policy for the countries of the world has been a great disappointment and only confirmed our basic understanding that governments are not going to act responsibly and man-made climate problems are going to be with us for decades to come. Disruptions in ecosystems, economic systems, political systems are inevitable.

    Dec. 2007 Indonesia: At the international climate conference, the world’s nations committed to negotiating a new accord by 2009 that cut in half emissions of heat-trapping gases by 2050. While the commitment is welcome, humans remain critical of each other, disputatious and focused on self interest. The negotiations that might lead to an accord will not be a smooth path. Even if an accord is achieved, compliance with its terms will not be enforceable. The description, global warming, has generated one of the more irrational debates of this century. A better description climate change is more readily demonstrated from weather records and insurance claims.

    The climate talks in Copenhagen in December 2009 involved 200 nations who failed to achieve enforceable agreements to reduce carbon emissions. If you were an optimist you might value the Accord that was achieved, a five-page document that represented another tentative step toward global action to reduce atmospheric pollution and climate change. A realist would restate our understanding of human nature – that local interests always trump global concerns and local interests are divergent and divisive. US President Obama stated: “I think that people are justified in being disappointed about the outcome in Copenhagen. The science says that we’ve got to significantly reduce emissions over the next 40 years. There’s nothing in the Copenhagen agreement that ensures that will happen.”

    Since the Copenhagen failure, leaders of many countries have experienced extreme weather events with substantial cost, morbidity and mortality. Their conviction increased -- climate change is occurring and emissions of greenhouse gases must decrease.

    In his opening address to the UN Climate Summit in 2014, secretary-general Ban Ki-Moon warned the dreams of humanity hung in the balance. "To ride this storm we need all hands on deck. The human environmental and financial cost of climate change is fast becoming unbearable." Dr Pachauri the chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) stated: "Time was running out. How can we leave our children with a world like this? I'm not sure if I could stand before you if the threats of climate change had no solutions, but they do. We already have the means to build a better, more sustainable world... renewable energy is a real option."

    US president Barack Obama said despite the present threats of terrorism, instability and disease, climate change would define the contours of the century more dramatically than any other issue. This challenge demands our ambition. Our children deserve such ambition. Today I call on all countries to join us - not next year or the year after that but right now - because no nation can meet this global threat alone."

    Several countries pledged to cut CO2 emissions. China, the world's largest emitter, reiterated its goal to cut carbon intensity by 40 to 45 per cent of 2005 levels by 2020. The next formal round of talks between nations will be in Peru at the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. Nearly 200 countries have pledged to reach agreement in Paris at the end of 2015 on a climate pact for carbon cuts beyond 2020.

    A major change in human priorities was established in 2015. The Group of 7 (G7) leading industrialized nations (June 2015) called for global greenhouse-gas emissions to be reduced by around 70% by 2050, and for the world economy to be de­carbonized by the end of the twenty-first century. These twin goals were issued in a communiqué at the conclusion of the group’s meeting at Schloss Elmau in Krün, Germany, on 8 June, alongside a suite of promises to help developing nations to provide their citizens with clean energy, jobs, financial security and food. To the credit of Germany and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, leader of the host nation, the commitments surpass all of the G7’s previous promises. Most notably, the group has formally acknowledged — and quantified — the scale of the industrial renaissance that will be required to keep global average temperature increase to less than 2 °C above pre-industrial levels. It has provided concrete and measurable targets that should help to make clear where precious capital and human resources should be invested — not just for other governments, but also for businesses. It should also make clear where resources should not be expended. The G7 nations renewed their pledge to end “inefficient” fossil-fuel subsidies. But the world is still waiting for action that will give these targets credibility. Countries should adopt the G7 communiqué’s emissions targets and look for ways to expand climate-related investment in the developing world, where emissions are poised to rise quickly if no intervention is made. The communiqué rightly points out that engagement by the private sector will be crucial to meeting these goals, but it is up to policy-makers to lay down the rules of the road.(Nature Editorial. Tough targets. Concrete goals set out by the G7 nations lay the groundwork for a climate accord. Nature 522, 128; 11 June 2015)

    Stefanni described the G7 process:" It was a long, hard slog for German Chancellor Angela Merkel, but in the end the woman once dubbed the “climate chancellor” for her personal commitment to combating global warming pulled fellow G7 leaders to her side and triumphed over those resistant to putting an expiry date on fossil fuels. Germany has become the big economy most dedicated to shifting away from fossil fuels, although coal is still an important part of the mix. A 2011 decision to shutter its nuclear plants has led to surge in power generated by wind, solar and other renewables; last year they accounted for almost a third of Germany’s electricity production. The transition, called Energiewende, has become much more than an energy project, turning into a social revolution with broad political support. Backed by the German public, and boosted by her own deep knowledge of climate change (Merkel is a trained chemist), her long and steady push is now being lauded for bringing other G7 leaders on board, and eventually forcing the two primary opponents, Japan and Canada, to back down." (Sara Stefanini. Merkel convinces Canada and Japan on CO2… to join broad G7 pledge to cut emissions. POLITICO 8/6/15)

    The Canadian conservative government under Stephen Harper was a perpetual disappointment and embarrassment to well-informed, thoughtful Canadians. Canada is an economically dependent oil and gas producer. There are special concerns here about cuts in Government income and spending on social resources. In every country short-term selfish interests will always prevail over long term planning for sustainable human welfare. Canada elected a new Liberal Government in 2015. Justin Trudeau, the new Prime Minister is young, enthusiastic and determined to right the wrongs of the pervious administration. The task of reconciling the wealth production of the oil and gas industry with environmental protection and reduction of emissions is formidable.

    Paris 2015 climate meeting was attended by 195 countries and a non-binding agreement was reached to limit global warming to 2 degrees C by reducing carbon dioxide emissions. Despite a celebratory ending and optimistic speeches by USA president Obama and others, the prospect of 195 countries developing unprecedented, sustained cooperation seems remote or impossible. The challenge is to phase out fossil fuel dependence which requires great wealth, determination and technological sophistication to achieve.

    An editorial in the prestigious science journal, Nature, summarized our predicament. The agreed goal is to limit warming to 2°C above pre-industrial levels but nations already threatened by climate changes want to reduce the increase to 1.5°C. The 1°C of warming to date is already having serious adverse effects. They stated that current commitments to reduce emissions might keep the rise in temperature below 3°C. The editorial concluded:" The Paris agreement represents a bet on technological innovation and human ingenuity. If governments follow through, companies and investors will shift resources towards clean energy to secure a place in an economy that will look very different several decades on. In many ways, the debate about the long-term temperature-rise goal is symbolic… the world needs to reduce net greenhouse-gas emissions to zero — all countries must seek to halt the rise and bring down their emissions as soon as possible. Everybody has a role in making that happen. But today, the world can celebrate a win for global diplomacy." Nature editorial. A seismic shift. After 25 years of divisive debate, the governments of the world unite in Paris to fight global warming. But the hard work must start now. Nature 528, 307 (17 December 2015) doi:10.1038/528307a)

    Gelles, writing in the New Times, reviewed the feasibility of reaching US goals:" In the United States, the goal is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 26 to 28 percent from 2005 levels by the year 2025. To achieve that, the Obama administration is being forced to count mainly on several laws that are already on the books, rather than pursue new regulation. That’s because the Republican-controlled Congress has vowed to block any climate legislation and to rescind the laws already in place. Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican majority leader, said last week that President Obama was “making promises he can’t keep,” warning that the Paris agreement “is subject to being shredded in 13 months” if Republicans win the White House. Even the rules the president is counting on face challenges. For example, the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan is a major component of the president’s efforts. The plan pushes electricity generators away from coal and toward natural gas, and provides some incentives for renewable-power generation. It could make a significant dent in domestic carbon emissions, but it is being opposed in a number of states; the Senate has already voted to scuttle it, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce sued to block it. The administration has set ambitious goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the coming years, and it may well make some progress with the laws that are on the books. But so long as Congress and the White House are at loggerheads over climate policy, regulations that would prompt reforms throughout American business are likely to remain a pipe dream." (David Gelles.To Achieve Paris Climate Goals, U.S. Will Need New Laws. NYT DEC. 19, 2015)

    In November 2016, Republican, Donald Trump was elected to become the US president. He was outspoken in his climate change denial and his support of fossil fuel industries. About half the US population objected to Trump for a variety of reasons, but short of revolution, Trump will ignore previous commitments to limit C02 emissions.

    Limitations of Human Nature

    Changes in human behavior must come from all people who sense danger, seek to understand their options and change spontaneously. The same issues come up in personal and public health concerns - constructive change is required. Ignorance and denial obstruct constructive change; wishful thinking and fantasy solutions become popular. Self-interest and greed dominate the political process. A realist can be forgiven for doubting the successful implementation of the Paris agreement. World economies are in trouble, conflicts are escalating and world disorder is increasing.

    If you were an environmentally conscious God watching human behavior, you might be properly annoyed - who gave them the right to burn all that fossil fuel, pollute the air and water, cut down all those trees, kill all those animals, pave all those forests and farmers' fields? Why didn't they move closer and walk to work everyday? Of course, God is likely to have a longer-term view and while lamenting the current folly of humans will probably recall that planet earth undergoes continuous change and from time to time, cataclysmic events alter the entire planet. At least 90% of all the creatures that have lived on the planet are gone. Perhaps our folly is seen as just another natural phenomenon. What if 500 years from now, God enters a note into her journal " Humans on Planet Earth had the chance to get it right but they didn't quite make it. Humans turned out to be self-destructive, short term planners and tragically selfish. They soiled their own nest and now they are gone."

    Big environmental problems are built from many business and personal decisions, little mistakes that add up over time. If there is a solution, it will emerge from the collective value of millions of better decisions made by individuals all over the globe. The environmental action plan is to think globally and act locally - it does make sense.

  • Discussions of Environmental Science and Human Ecology were developed by Environmed Research Inc. Sechelt, B.C. Canada. Online Topics were developed from the book, The Environment. You will find detailed information about the sun, weather, soils, forests, oceans, atmosphere, air pollution, climate change, water resources, air quality, energy sources, and preserving habitats.

    The Environment is available from Alpha Online as a Printed book or as an eBook Edition for Download. The 2018 edition is 286 pages.
    The Author, Stephen Gislason MD

  • Download The Environment as an eBook.

  • Also Read Air and Breathing.
    This book helps you understand air quality issues, normal breathing and the causes of breathing disorders.

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