In the past several decades, average worldwide temperatures, as well as those of the oceans, have risen.
This phenomenon, also known as climate change, hasn’t solely been attributed to human action, or at least the scientific community hasn’t unanimously done so. However, no one doubts the warming of the planet.
There are independent studies with quantifiable data that link global warming to human actions originating in the second Industrial Revolution and the rapid growth during the second half of the 20th century:
- World energy production currently depends on the burning of massive amounts of fossil fuels such as coal and petroleum, that release large quantities of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
- Deforestation, caused by the population increase (600 million people worldwide in 1500, 1 billion in 1802, 3 billion in 1961, 6 billion in 1991 and, according to predictions, 8 billion in 2050) and the short-term politics of poor countries (or lack thereof), where most of the forest wealth of the planet is located. The largest forest mass is located in the tropics – rain forests around the most abundant rivers of the planet- and in the northern zones of the northern hemisphere, above Canada and Asian Russia.
- The uncontrolled increase in cultivation zones worldwide and their unsustainable management: the destruction of gigantic zones of rain forest, desertification, catastrophes caused by irrigation systems or gigantic hydraulic dams, among other colossal transformations.
- The development of expansive urban politics in rich countries and developing countries, that build gigantic suburbs and, when profitable, suburbs beyond the urban zones (or “exurbs” in the United States, gigantic urbanizations around a large shopping center or mega-mall and some basic services, without any city close-by). This model of development depends exclusively on the promotion and use private vehicles, the unsustainable increase of energy needs and the aggressive transformation of the environment. The chaotic urban development politics in countries like Spain have not only generated cases of corruption, but have based their growth on the decentralized model of suburban development communities. Scores of similar examples in the remainder of the world exist.
- The use of contaminating fossil fuels as energy for industry and transportation – public and private; by land, sea and air. Coal is one of the main instigators of climatic change, existing in large quantities and used by the energy industry.
- The growth, at times in the double digits, of the GDP of extensive
regions of the world, often from fast industrialization, without
emissions control policies. China, India, Russia, Brazil and Mexico,
among other countries, aspire to grow -legitimately- their welfare
through greater industrialization.
The consequences of these actions are recognized even by the most skeptical scientists: the exponential increase of greenhouse gasses.
The evidence is irrefutable, even when some of the most influential governments of the world still show their official doubt: the United States and Australia have signed the Kyoto Treaty although they refuse to ratify it.
Among the solutions proposed by the international community, the Kyoto Protocol receives the most attention and is promoted by the United Nations agency specialized in climatic change (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, UNFCCC, adopted in 1992 at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro).
By 2008-2012, Annex 1 countries have to reduce their GHG emissions by an average of 5% below their 1990 levels.
The treaty is an agreement of industrialized countries committed to reduce their emissions of greenhouse gases for 2008-2012 by an average of 5,2% below their 1990 level.
- The objective consists in reducing the emission of six gasses: Carbon Dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitric oxide (N20) and the industrial gases hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), perfluorocarbons (PFCs), and sulfur hexafluoride (SF6).
- The established objectives for every region vary in protocol: from an 8% reduction in the European Union and one of 7% in the United States, to 6% for Japan, 0% for Russia and permitted increases of 8% for Australia and 10% for Iceland.
- Spain, the country farthest from complying with the Kyoto Protocol, has increased emissions by 53% since 1990, while the treaty stipulates that the increase shouldn’t exceed 15%.
Climate change consequences
According to the UN, climate change provoked by humans will contribute to the increase in the earth’s temperatures by 1.4 – 5.8°C (2.5- 10.4°F) by 2100.
According to the European Commission, “these changes will have serious repercussions on our ecosystem and our economies.”
A British study on climate change published in October 2006 (the Stern Report) and presented by its author, the economist Nicholas Stern, accompanied by Tony Blair and his successor in the Labor Party, Gordon Brown, criticized the U.S. government for not involving its country in the treaty and concluded that:
- It would take an investment of only 1% of the world’s GDP to mitigate the worst effects of climate change.
- On the other side, inaction or rejection of the suggested proposals could cause a global recession equivalent to 20% of worldwide GDP.
- More information on global warming, in Wikipedia.