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28 Oct, 2007

A Warning About Global Warming, But Which One?

Originally Published: 28 Oct 2007

The Global Environment Outlook report released last week makes grim reading. However, upon perusing through its voluminous 572 pages, the key question that emerges is which “warming” should the global public prepare to address first?

The word “war” features prominently in both global “warming” and global “warning”. While environmentalists warn about the short- to medium-term threat of global warming, the most immediate threat is the prospect of a catastrophic “global warming” that will follow yet another conflict in the Middle East.

Although both will trigger calamities of incalculable magnitude, one big difference appears to be obvious. Even as the world’s leaders rush to avert an environmental “global warming”, a handful of them want to precipitate the other social, political and cultural “global warming” that could perhaps even lead to a “global meltdown.”

The Global Environmental Report 2007, compiled by a global team of 400 researchers, scientists and policy-makers, contains a significant mark of improvement over the last such report in 2002, according to UN Environmental Program Executive Director Achim Steiner.

He says, “Claims and counter claims over climate change are in many ways over. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has put a full stop behind the science of whether human actions are impacting the atmosphere and clarified the likely impacts not in a far away future but within the lifetime of our generation.”

Translation: The arguments in support of an environmental “global warming” are now indisputable.

However, the arguments being used to create further geopolitical “global warming” via yet another war in the Middle East, this time in pursuit of Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons programme, are anything but indisputable, especially as the people behind them are the same bunch of criminals in Washington DC who lied to the world about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

Having been discredited once, and never held accountable, the same state terrorists are trying to do it all over again. And the world, having looked the other way the first time around, is not doing half as much enough to prevent a déjà vu.

The UNEP report says the environmental crisis is worsening. In the absence of international action and political will to take difficult decisions, those who will suffer most are the future generations. The language used in one section of the report, appropriately subtitled “Justice and Ethics” is truly apt. It says:

“Since the environment affects the very basis of human well-being, it is a matter of justice to consider the impacts of environmental degradation on others, and attempt to minimize harm for both current and future generations. It has been argued that a “global ethic” is required to address the problems of the 21st century (Singer 2002).

“The intrinsic value of species has also been recognized (IUCN and others 1991). The pursuit of some people’s opportunities and freedoms may harm or limit those of others. It is important that policymakers consider the adverse effects their decisions have on people and the environment in other areas or regions, since such communities do not participate in local decision making.”

Let me just repeat this comment for good measure, because in my view it is clearly the most important one in the entire report: “Since the environment affects the very basis of human well-being, it is a matter of justice to consider the impacts of environmental degradation on others, and attempt to minimize harm for both current and future generations.”

Note that keyword: Justice.

In a globalised world of “problems without borders”, a smokestack belching greenhouse gasses can be just as prickly as a misguided, conniving politician making deliberately unjust decisions in order to favour his constituencies and financial backers.

This generation is already feeling the heat from both kinds of global warmings.

The floods, disasters and weather vagaries widely attributed to changing weather patterns have killed, wounded and otherwise affected the properties and belongings of many hundreds of thousands. At the same time, hundreds are dying daily in Iraq and other senseless acts of violence, arguments over which are creating irreparable rifts between friends, families, communities and societies.

How much more injustice is this generation supposed to tolerate? And how many in the future generations will become victims if this generation does nothing to avert the twin “global warmings” now hurtling down upon us at breakneck speed.

Indeed, environmental disasters, once classified as “force majeure”, or “acts of God” are today indistinguishable from war and conflict, both calculated and deliberate acts of Man.

Consider, too, the financial costs. The UNEP report talks of the “enormous, trillion-dollar value of the Earth’s ecosystems and the goods-and-services they provide” but does not attempt to fix a price and/or value on human life.

Last week, the Bush administration sought another $45.9 billion request for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, bringing the expected cost of those conflicts to more than $192 billion for the budget year that began this month, according to CNN. Iraq alone is costing the Pentagon an estimated $2 billion a week, the CNN report said.

How much good could that kind of money have done to mitigate environmental disasters and expedite the fulfillment of the Millennium Development Goals. The UN appears capable of producing figures for every conceivable scenario – except this!

This year marks the half-way point of the 2015 target set to meet the MDGs. Another war will render attainment of those goals a complete impossibility.

In order to avert climate change, the world badly needs a global regime change, and one may well be on its way.

Last week, Indian Finance Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram was quoted as saying on the sidelines of the IMF-World Bank meetings in Washington that the time has come for the developed world to attend to its own problems, and stop lecturing emerging economies about what is right and what is wrong.

That advice is globally applicable. So is this article, headlined: “Eleven lessons the West can learn that would improve our lives and create a better future for all humanity.” [http://www.alternet.org/stories/65847/]. Well worth reading. Trust me.