Quantcast

It’s Time to Stop Spinning Our Wheels

Climate

David Suzuki

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

In 1988, hundreds of scientists and policymakers met in Toronto for a major international conference on climate change. They were sufficiently alarmed by the accumulated evidence for human-caused global warming that they issued a release stating, “Humanity is conducting an unintended, uncontrolled, globally pervasive experiment whose ultimate consequences could be second only to a global nuclear war.”
 
They urged world leaders to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent by 2005. Had we heeded that warning and embarked on a campaign to meet the target, Canadians would now be healthier (because of reduced air pollution), have greater reserves of energy and more jobs. We’d also be a world leader in renewable energy and could have saved tens of billions of dollars.
 
The year was significant for environmentalists. In 1988, George H.W. Bush ran for the highest office in the U.S. and promised to be an “environmental president.” He didn’t have a green bone in his body, but public pressure compelled him to make a commitment he ultimately didn’t keep. That year, Margaret Thatcher was filmed picking up litter. She turned to the camera and said, “I’m a greenie, too.”
 
Canada’s Prime Minister Brian Mulroney was also re-elected in 1988. He appointed a bright new political star, Lucien Bouchard, as environment minister. I asked Bouchard during an interview what he considered to be our most important environmental issue. “Global warming,” he responded. I continued: “How serious is it?” His answer: “It threatens the survival of our species. We have to act now.”
 
In 1988, the environment was a top public concern, scientists spoke out and politicians said the right things. Global warming was a pressing and present issue. Now, 25 years later, carbon dioxide emissions continue to rise, and we’re already seeing the consequences—more extreme weather events, melting glaciers and Arctic ice, rising sea levels, reduced water flows in rivers and climate-related illness and death, among others. It’s driven in part by rapid economic growth in countries like China, India and Brazil. At the same time, most industrialized nations, whose use of fossil fuels created the problem of excess greenhouse gases, have done little to reduce emissions.
 
Humans are distinguished from other species by a massive brain that enables us to imagine a future and influence it by what we do in the present. By using experience, knowledge and insight, our ancestors recognized they could anticipate dangers and opportunities and take steps to exploit advantages and avoid hazards. Scientists and supercomputers have amplified our ability to look ahead. For decades, experts have warned us that human numbers, technology, hyper-consumption and a global economy are altering the chemical, geological and biological properties of the biosphere.
 
In 1992, more than 1,700 eminent scientists, including 104 Nobel prizewinners, signed the “World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity,” which included this urgent warning: “No more than one or a few decades remain before the chance to avert the threats we now confront will be lost and the prospects for humanity immeasurably diminished.”
 
The document concluded that environmentally damaging activity must be brought under control and the integrity of Earth’s ecosystems protected, critical resources managed more effectively, human population growth stabilized, poverty reduced and eventually eliminated, and sexual equality and guarantees of women’s reproductive rights ensured.
 
The sooner we act, the easier it will be to overcome these difficult challenges. Every year that we stall makes it more costly and challenging, with increasing negative impacts on humans and our environment. There are signs of hope. Many countries—as well as cities, states and provinces—are taking global warming seriously and are working to reduce emissions and shift to cleaner energy sources. Some world leaders are even questioning our current paradigm, where the economy is made a priority above all else.
 
This is crucial. Over and over, the economy has determined the extent of our response, but how much value does it place on breathable air, drinkable water, edible food and stable weather and climate? Surely the economy is the means to a better future, not an end in itself. Surely it must be subordinate to a rich, diverse ecosphere that sustains all life. Let’s hope this year ushers in a new way of living on and caring for our planet.

Visit EcoWatch’s CLIMATE CHANGE page for more related news on this topic.

 

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO) speaks during the North American Building Trades Unions Conference at the Washington Hilton April 10, 2019 in Washington, DC. Zach Gibson / Getty Images

Colorado senator and 2020 hopeful Michael Bennet introduced his plan to combat climate change Monday, in the first major policy rollout of his campaign. Bennet's plan calls for the establishment of a "Climate Bank," using $1 trillion in federal spending to "catalyze" $10 trillion in private spending for the U.S. to transition entirely to net-zero emissions by 2050.

Read More Show Less
Foto-Rabe / Pixabay

When Trump's Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced its replacement for the Obama-era Clean Power Plan in August 2018, its own estimates said the reduced regulations could lead to 1,400 early deaths a year from air pollution by 2030.

Now, the EPA wants to change the way it calculates the risks posed by particulate matter pollution, using a model that would lower the death toll from the new plan, The New York Times reported Monday. Five current or former EPA officials familiar with the plan told The Times that the new method would assume there is no significant health gain by lowering air pollution levels below the legal limit. However, many public health experts say that there is no safe level of particulate matter exposure, which has long been linked to heart and lung disease.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
A crate carrying one of the 33 lions rescued from circuses in Peru and Columbia is lifted onto the back of a lorry before being transported to a private reserve on April 30, 2016 in Johannesburg, South Africa. Dan Kitwood / Getty Images

By Andrea Germanos

Animal welfare advocates are praising soon-to-be introduced legislation in the U.S. that would ban the use of wild animals in traveling circuses.

Read More Show Less
A tornado Monday in Union City, Oklahoma. TicToc by Bloomberg / YouTube screenshot

Extreme weather spawned 18 tornadoes across five states Monday, USA Today reported. Tornadoes were reported in Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri and Arizona, but were not as dangerous as forecasters had initially feared, the Associated Press reported.

Read More Show Less
A woman walks in front of her water-logged home in Sriwulan village, Sayung sub-district of Demak regency, Central Java, Indonesia on Feb. 2, 2018. Siswono Toyudho / Anadolu Agency /Getty Images

A new study has more than doubled the worst-case-scenario projection for sea level rise by the end of the century, BBC News reported Monday.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Matt Cardy / Stringer / Getty Images

The Guardian is changing the way it writes about environmental issues.

Read More Show Less
Blueberry yogurt bark. SEE D JAN / iStock / Getty Images Plus

By Lizzie Streit, MS, RDN, LD

Having nutritious snacks to eat during the workday can help you stay energized and productive.

Read More Show Less
A 2017 flood in Elk Grove, California. Florence Low / California Department of Water Resources

By Tara Lohan

It's been the wettest 12 months on record in the continental United States. Parts of the High Plains and Midwest are still reeling from deadly, destructive and expensive spring floods — some of which have lasted for three months.

Mounting bills from natural disasters like these have prompted renewed calls to reform the National Flood Insurance Program, which is managed by Federal Emergency Management Agency and is now $20 billion in debt.

Read More Show Less