Climate Change, the Symptom

Reader Contribution by Staff
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Climate change fills the news channels right now and arrests the attention of people all over the world. The statistics and, more importantly, the images are startling. The average global temperature has been going up since 1850 and is accelerating. Atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide are all at historic highs.[1] These so-called “greenhouse gases” allow the sun’s ultraviolet radiation to rain down on the earth’s surface, but they trap the infrared radiation emitted by the warm earth. The planet warms up.

Take a look at any historic comparison of alpine glaciers or polar ice caps. They are shrinking. Rapidly.

 Most scientists agree that human beings are causing global warming. We dig up fossil fuels and burn them, releasing carbon dioxide. We blanket our agricultural fields with nitrogen-based fertilizers that fill the air with nitrous oxide. We raise billions of agricultural animals in circumstances that create unnatural amounts of methane. We burn the forests and plow up the grasslands that used to capture carbon dioxide from the air and deposit it in the soil. Rich people are making the biggest contribution to these problems. According to CNN, the average American’s annual carbon footprint is about 2,000 times greater than that of the average resident of the African nation of Chad. And the average resident of the UK will generate as much atmospheric carbon dioxide in one day as a Kenyan will in an entire year. Overall, the United Nations estimates that the carbon footprint of the world’s 1 billion poorest people represents just 3 percent of the global total. Of all the carbon dioxide deposited in the atmosphere since the Industrial Revolution, 80 percent of the world’s emissions was generated by 20 percent of the inhabitants of the world’s wealthiest nations.[2]

It is, therefore, tempting to think that we can solve the climate-change problem by tightening the belts of the rich. But I’ll reiterate the conclusion of my rough analysis of this situation: If the U.S. and Western Europe both cut their per capital energy consumption in half over the next 20 years and the developing world holds its per capita consumption steady, we’ll keep on emitting greenhouse gases at the same harmful rate we are emitting right now. Population growth will erase all our progress.

Furthermore, even if none of our planet’s new human residents owns an internal-combustion engine, they will still need to burn wood and plant gardens. Deforestation and desertification are symptoms of human overpopulation, and those symptoms are spreading.

[1] World Meteorological Organization, United Nations Environmental Programme Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Climate Change 2007 – The Physical Science Basis. 2007.

[2] Oliver, Rachel.  Rich, Poor and Climate Change. February 18, 2008. Cited sources: Sources: The Independent; The Australian; The Guardian; American Association for the Advancement of Science; World Resources Institute; U.N. Statistics Division; Oxfam; ChristianAid; NetAid; International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis; “A Climate of Injustice: Global Inequality, North-South Politics, and Climate Policy”; World Development Movement; ITNewswire