It seems to me….
“Unprecedented technological capabilities combined with unlimited human creativity have given us tremendous power to take on intractable problems like poverty, unemployment, disease, and environmental degradation. Our challenge is to translate this extraordinary potential into meaningful change.” ~ Muhammad Yunus.
No one wishes to be the constant bearer of dire warnings but the consistent tone of environmental studies is that current planetary stress has become extremely serious and requires immediate action to avoid possible catastrophic consequences.
Environmental degradation is probably the greatest threat confronting the world today. Our environment is undergoing significant ecosystem and habitat destruction, species extinction, pollution, and deterioration of resources such as air, water, and soil. It involves changes or disturbances to the environment perceived to be deleterious or undesirable and results from a combination of an already very large and increasing human population, continually increasing economic growth or per capita affluence, and the application of resource-depleting and polluting technology.
It needs to be taken extremely seriously as our planet is already experiencing severe negative effects primarily resulting from excessive amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2) being released into the atmosphere. While some segments of the general population remain unsure despite nearly unanimous studies by environmentalists, the cause has been proven to be anthropogenic.
The last time CO2 levels exceeded their current 400 ppm, there were camels and forests in the Arctic, the tropics were locked in a near constant el Nino (the pattern that typically floods the western U.S.), and large expanses of the U.S. East Coast, Florida, and the Gulf States were underwater since sea levels were around 100 feet (30.5 meters) higher than today.
Ocean temperatures have risen 1.4F (0.8C) degrees since 1970. Unless these trends are reversed, by the end of the century global temperatures could increases by as much as 10.4F (5.8C) degrees, sea levels could rise between 7 and 23 inches (18 and 59 centimeters), hurricanes and other storms would be stronger and of greater intensity, and both floods and droughts would become increasingly common.
Increases in average global precipitation (rain and snowfall), more common droughts and flooding, and melting of mountain glaciers and ice sheets covering West Antarctica, Greenland, and the Arctic can be attributed to rising global temperatures.
As warmer air holds more water vapor, inland areas can anticipate increased rainfall and flooding. Melting ice caps, composed of fresh water, would unbalance the global ecosystem. Reduced Gulf Steam salt percentages could disrupt global currents that now warm Northeast America and Western Europe. Rising oceans temperatures increase the probability of extreme weather including devastating storms. The destructive power of hurricanes has increased by 50 percent in the last 30 years.
Ecosystem changes will result in some species moving farther north or become more successful while others unable to move becoming extinct. There has been a decline in the number of polar bears and Adélie penguins (from 32,000 to 11,000 breeding pairs in 30 years). Coral reefs are affected by disease, heat stress, and ocean acidification. Some species of butterflies, foxes, and alpine plants have moved farther north or to higher cooler areas. Spruce bark beetles have chewed up 4 million acres of Alaskan spruce trees. Diseases such as mosquito-borne malaria are spreading northward. Some dependent species have become unsynchronized, such as plants blooming earlier than when their pollinating insects become active or the spring arrival of migratory birds arriving later than the emergence of destructive insects.
Ocean warming has reduced phytoplankton, the tiny plants that are an integral food source for ocean life and responsible for around half of the world’s photosynthetic activity. Phytoplankton are the lowest level of the oceanic food chain so any reduction affects the entire food chain – particularly predators at the top. Ocean acidification and warmer surface temperatures increase the dangers to many aquatic animals, particularly crustaceans, mollusks, and coral reefs.
Conversely, while some areas of the planet can anticipate higher levels of precipitation, other less humid areas currently susceptible to wildfires can expect them to become more prevalent and destructive. Increased evapotranspiration and the accompanying decrease in rainfall in already semi-arid and sub-humid areas would result in desertification negatively affecting biodiversity and have a major impact on local human culture and wildlife. Droughts and heat waves could threaten food supplies.
Along with vehicular fumes, ground-level ozone, airborne industrial pollution, and stagnant hot air associated with warmer temperatures, smog represents an immediate and chronic health threat to those living in developed urban areas resulting in an increase in smog-related deaths of about 4.5 percent from the 1990s to the 2050s. Temperature increases also aggravate pre-existing respiratory system health conditions such as emphysema, bronchitis, and asthma and in general impede the immune system’s ability to fight against infection and disease. An estimated 65 million people died in just 2012 due to air pollution according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
A so-called “Deadly Dozen” group of diseases including Avian Flu, Cholera, Plague, Ebola, and Tuberculosis are likely to spread due to global warming. Other sources of serious illnesses are aggravated by the effects of pollution and release of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) that harm the ozone layer. Since disease-bearing insects such as mosquitoes multiply more rapidly as temperature increases, diseases like Malaria, West Nile virus, and Dengue fever also are expected to spread. Increases in affected populations could potentially overwhelm public health services especially in poor or unprepared countries.
Many heavily populated places throughout the world could become uninhabitable due to flooding, heat, or other factors displacing millions of people. Africa is the continent most prone to climate-induced instability resulting from widespread poverty, rain-dependent subsistence agriculture, extreme climate variance, and poor governance. Compounding the problem is a population predicted to double by 2050 and already susceptible to disease, crop failure, ethnic/religious rivalry, and corruption.
Resource reductions will lead to migration and population relocations resulting in social and economic impact as countries and factions seek to control valuable and dwindling resources to provide safety and shelter for their own people. Unwelcome refugees might be forced into semi-permanent camps which become breeding-grounds for extremists. In addition to the forced relocation of 150 to 200 million people worldwide by 2050, anticipated ocean surface level increases would submerge considerable sections of low-lying or coastal communities and facilities along the U.S. eastern seaboard necessitating expensive relocation of power stations, refineries, hospitals, homes, etc.
All energy production comes at a cost – none is perfect – but we still are primarily dependent upon the same fossil-fueled power generation, though slightly cleaner and more efficient, we have depended on for most of the past century. Major breakthroughs are needed to advance renewable energy production at costs comparable to fossil fuels. Advances in renewable fuel energy have not happened at the speed desired for a number of reasons: in spite of all the apparent attention, it never has become a sufficiently high priority; anticipated exponential scientific and engineering advances in energy-related fields never have occurred, sustained fossil-fuel government financial support and tax incentives…. So far there has been far more talk than action.
There are many causes of environmental degradation, nearly all of them rooted in human technology. While some are the result of the unintended consequences of technological advancement, others are examples of humans becoming too successful and efficient at resource extraction. Not only is change necessary, it is needed quickly.
That’s what I think, what about you?
 Muhammad Yunus is a Bangladeshi social entrepreneur, banker, economist, and civil society lead, er who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for founding the Grameen Bank and pioneering the concepts of microcredit and microfinance.