Friday, September 02, 2005

The environment - an atmosphere of increasing concern

There might be debate about the precise extent of the problem, the timescales involved, the most effective solution. On the over-arching issue, however, a clear majority of the world's scientific experts are in agreement: Our natural environment is in trouble. And the trouble is getting worse as each year passes.

The statistics are plentiful, and alarming. According to the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP), 15 million hectares of tropical rainforest - an area the size of England and Wales - is being lost each year to the logging industry. It says 12,000 cubic kilometres of water worldwide are dangerously polluted - more than the total amount of water contained in the world's 10 largest river basins - and 11,000 species of animal and plant are under threat of extinction, a level not seen since the age of the dinosaurs. Most worrying of all, many scientists say the 6.6 billion metric tonnes of carbon dioxide our factories, transport systems and power stations pump into the atmosphere annually are having a potentially catastrophic effect on the earth's climate, increasing global warming and leading to ever more extreme weather events.

"Most scientists agree that we will be experiencing serious environmental problems within the next few decades, and that those problems will need careful management," says Dr. Heike Langenberg, Physical Science Editor for Nature magazine. The question facing the world's governments, businesses and Green groups is thus not simply how best to tackle the world's growing environmental crisis, but how to do so in a manner that does not at the same time hamstring national economies, especially those of the world's poorest nations. In short, as we move into the 21st Century, how - if at all - can the human race achieve the goal of sustainable development?

Rising temperatures, rising concern

Although there are those who maintain that the phenomenon either does not exist or else is not as serious as is being claimed, the majority view - certainly within the scientific community - is that global warming is not only very real, but that it represents the most significant environmental issue of our time. An issue that, if not addressed properly and promptly, could have a profound effect on the future of the Earth and its inhabitants.

IPCC statistics reveal that overall the world's temperature has risen by 1 degree Fahrenheit (0.6 degrees Celsius) over the past century, and is projected to increase by a further 3 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit (1.6 to 5.5 degrees Celsius) by 2100. As Dr. Greg Marland, a climate expert with the U.S. Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Centre, puts it: "I have a mantra - Fix, change, tinker or cope. Fix the current energy system, change the current energy system, tinker with the climate system, or cope with the changes that come about as a result of global warming. "My feeling is that we're going to end up doing a lot of coping."

Copyright © 2005 The Debate's Over