Ecological point of no return?


The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) has measured record levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere in 2013 and saw these CO2 levels rising at their fastest rate between 2012 and 2013 over the past thirty years. This unprecedented rise in greenhouse gas production has created an untenable situation for the world’s peoples. The resulting changes in our planet’s climate systems are now bearing heavily on the world’s poor and vulnerable communities.

The increasing concentration of greenhouse gas in the atmosphere has caused the global average temperature to rise by 0.85°C in the past 120 years bringing upon us a shrinking ice cover, warming oceans and sea level rise. Seawater is becoming more acidic which puts our ocean and coastal biodiversity in peril. Global warming affects our terrestrial flora and fauna and directly impacts the production of the world’s primary cereals and grains.

Changes in the world’s climate would affect air quality, fresh water availability, food, and shelter that are major determinants of health. Vector-borne diseases like malaria and dengue and diarrhea are strongly affected by climate. As nearly half of the world’ population is younger than 25 years old, our children will be the most affected by this shift.

This coming September 23, 2014, the United Nations (UN) will hold the Climate Summit 2014 where UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon asked heads of government, finance, business, and civil society to meet in New York. Ban Ki-moon seeks to shepherd them into achieving a global agreement for climate action in 2015.

Just how effective this UN Climate Summit will be remains to be seen. The intransigence of governments, especially of the United States, into having substantial cuts in their greenhouse gas emissions have been political showstoppers in talks ever since the Conference of Parties (COP) met following the 1992 Rio declaration.

Our communities are now exposed to more frequent extreme weather events that have exposed how vulnerable our communities are to these hazards. Heat-waves, changes in the global water cycle bringing in droughts or rains, sea-level rise are just a few of the realities that poor and underdeveloped nations face because of the changes in the climate.

We recall how Hurricane Katrina devastated a wide swath of poor communities in the Southern United States in 2005, how millions of people were affected by the flooding in Pakistan in 2010 and the massive destruction of Philippine coastal communities along the path of Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) last year. These disasters highlight the vulnerability of the poor with respect to climate-induced disasters.

The continuing vulnerability of poor and developing countries is a direct result of the intense plunder and exploitation of their natural resources and of the destruction of their economies by neoliberal globalization. Their people who are already pushed into poverty by these policies cannot cope anymore with the increased hazards from climate change. Global warming aggravates the impacts of neoliberal globalization for the poor.

The existing social and economic inequalities that are based on class, race and gender oppression will be magnified by the changing climate. We will see more indigenous peoples being driven out of their lands by intensified development aggression; more farmers will be dispossessed of their lands; and workers will lose their jobs due to worsening economic conditions. The state-sponsored violence and imperialist wars we see today will worsen as it is used to suppress dissent arising from discontent.

Many scientists have already pointed out what should be done. A massive cut on greenhouse gas emissions should be done. The world cannot anymore proceed with business as usual nor with solutions that do not address the root causes of monopoly capital’s overproduction.

We have had enough of carbon offset mechanisms and emissions trading that shifts the burden of carbon mitigation and reduction towards developing countries instead of forcing industrialized countries to change their social production activities.

Poor and developing countries will be the ones bearing the brunt of the effects of climate change due to their vulnerability and lack of adaptive capacity. The International Panel on Climate Change itself has acknowledged that adaptive capacity is closely linked to social and economic development and this adaptive capacity would be uneven across different regions and social classes.

There is a historical inverse relationship between climate change vulnerability and responsibility for the greenhouse gases in our atmosphere. The United States has historically contributed the most greenhouse gases cumulatively since the 1750s. The primary emitter countries must change their production activities and consumption of energy while those facing the effects of global warming must develop in order to meet basic human needs, economic and social development. This is what we should do to avoid the point of ecological no return.


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