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The Earth is having a fever. Aside from the contamination of its waters, pollution of its lands, deforestation, and overall degradation of the environment within it, the planet is currently facing more serious diseases: climate change and global warming—and most of the causes of these phenomena were due to our activities. In fact, the increase in the Earth’s temperature over the past five decades is due to human activity, mainly through emissions of harmful gases in the atmosphere, or what we usually call greenhouse gases (Confronting the Greatest Threat: Climate Change and Energy n.d.).
We are trying to make up though, by proposing different policies to prevent further warming and we have eventually come up with “sustainable development” -a directive strategy that promotes the development of different environmental policies that will benefit not only this generation but also the other generations to come.
According to What is Sustainable Development (2007), sustainable development is defined internationally as the “development which meets the needs of the present [generation] without compromising the ability of the future generations to meet their own needs. In other words, “a better quality of life now and for generations to come” (Environment and Greener Living 2007). In this modern age, where development is almost tantamount to complexity, we need more resources for every complex system we create.
Given this continuous differentiation of simple systems to more complex ones (which means the added necessity of raw materials from different sources), it is no surprise that the Earth will eventually run out of resources that will cater to some of our specific needs. Sustainable development wants to prevent the total extinction of these resources, thus encourages us not to use resources “faster than the Earth can replenish” (Environment and Greener Living 2007). It is also one of the key factors considered in making decisions within an organization, which can go as far as formulating principles (Environment and Greener Living 2007). These principles can apply to a wide range of institutions: from the government to the family.
The Earth’s Fever
One of the resources we have, which is considered life-sustaining, is the air, or the atmosphere in general. We are currently faced with the problem of global warming: harmful gases were emitted into the atmosphere and now, there were more than enough. Intensive researches have been made in order to predict how bad the planet’s warming can become in the future. The following forecasts reveal the damages global warming and climate change can cause. These projections were mentioned in The UK Government Sustainable Development Website, in the publication Confronting the Greatest Threat: Climate Change and Energy (n.d.):
- The global average temperature could have a 4.4°C increase between 1900 and 2100.
- There would be about 10 to 80 million people at risk from coastal disasters annually by the 2080s.
- By 2030, aviation emissions could amount to ¼ of the country’s total contribution to climate change.
- The relative sea level will rise continuously around most shorelines in the United Kingdom.
- Thames Estuary will rise to 86 centimeters by 2080.
- There will be drier summers and the winters will be wetter. The average soil moisture may be diminished by 30% during the summers of the 2050s and this will happen over large parts of England.
- Higher temperatures during summer will occur more frequently and lower temperatures during winter will be rarer.
- Cases of heat-related deaths will increase, as well as cases of food poisoning and skin cancer. By the 2050s, cases of death due to intense exposure to heat may increase by 2,000 cases annually. Food poisoning cases may increase by approximately 10,000 cases a year, and 5,000 cases for skin cancer.
- The increase in temperature will cause the volume of the oceans to expand, and the melting of ice caps and glaciers would add more water. The worst-case scenario is that, if the higher end of the predicted rise in sea level is reached, people residing along the coastlines would be flooded and some islands may disappear completely. Freshwater supplies can become contaminated resulting in a drop in agricultural yields and other sources of food.
Having known these problems, we realize that we need to start changing the way we use our resources. Such predictions are the threats that sustainable development wants to address. According to the article Environment and Greener Living in the DirectGov Website (2007), there are four areas of activity that sustainable development covers:
- Sustainable consumption and production: this requires a change in the design of products and services such that conservation is greater than consumption. It is like not producing what we cannot consume immediately, so as not to waste the raw materials and thereby not using energy for unnecessary production.
- Reduction in the greenhouse gas emissions in the UK while in preparation for the inevitable climate change. Since some climate changes cannot be avoided because of the greenhouse gases that we emitted in the past (Confronting the Greatest Threat: Climate Change and Energy n.d.), preparation measures should be carried out to lessen the damages it may cause.
- Knowledge about the limitations of natural resources. We should be able to understand the limitations of life-sustaining resources like water, soil, and air (Environment and Greener Living 2007).
- Development of “sustainable communities”: It is “looking after the places people live and work” (Environment and Greener Living 2007).
With the aims of sustainable development in mind, the UK government acted accordingly by providing financial support to many environmental programs—most of which deal with the regulation of greenhouse gas emissions. These programs encourage business industries to reduce emissions and to find convenient ways to tackle climate change (Climate Change: What we are Doing in the UK 2005). The Climate Change Levy and Carbon Trust have been founded to discuss this matter. The former was launched in 2001, which involved taxes for the usage of energy for business purposes, and incentives to lessen energy usage. The latter was introduced in 2002, to promote energy efficiency both in the public and business sectors while encouraging the development of a sector which uses minimal carbon (Confronting the Greatest Threat: Climate Change and Energy n.d.).
United Kingdom is one of over 160 nations that met in Kyoto, Japan to address the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) (Confronting the Greatest Threat: Climate Change and Energy n.d.). This happened in December of 1997 when the Kyoto Protocol was also developed to set target greenhouse gases emissions per country (Confronting the Greatest Threat: Climate Change and Energy n.d.).
The UK is one of the countries which supported long-term goals on the regulation of carbon dioxide emissions (Confronting the Greatest Threat: Climate Change and Energy n.d.). Up until this day, the government is working to ensure that all aspects affecting emission reduction are considered in terms of the costs and benefits (Confronting the Greatest Threat: Climate Change and Energy n.d.).
How realistic is sustainable development?
As was mentioned earlier, there were more than 160 countries that ratified the Kyoto Protocol. However, we should not be confident that the kind of implementation strategies each country uses is as effective as it is in the UK. If we are to take the regulation of carbon dioxide emissions seriously, then it would mean applying strict rules not only on industrial waste emissions but also on tobacco smoking and smoke-belching. While the UK tries to abide by this, we are still not so sure of the other countries. A possible solution for this the formulation of a standard: a comprehensive list of the kind of emissions to be regulated. Such standards should be available to the public.
Monitoring the amount of carbon dioxide emissions in the atmosphere would amount to so much—equipment that was needed is expensive, researches that should be conducted should be extensive, and the manpower involved in implementation should be enough, if not massive. Considering the developing countries, which are more concerned with national budgets on education and food, we cannot be so sure that they can avail of the technologies involved in precise monitoring of carbon dioxide emissions.
We are also not assured that there will be enough funds for the scientific researches and feasibility studies needed before the implementation of certain policies. The World Bank could provide temporary assistance, but for how long? If one third-world country cannot give back the financial support, what then? In this case, sustainable development is not cost-effective.
The UK can lead in addressing climate change, but the country emits only 2.2% of the world’s total emissions—which means that we need the cooperation of other nations. The United States, which is the largest state involved in production industries that emit greenhouse gases, did not support the Kyoto Protocol (Confronting the Greatest Threat: Climate Change and Energy n.d.).
How will we ever achieve our long-term goal of decrease in carbon dioxide emissions when aside from doubtful effectiveness of implementation, we are faced with countries which are more concerned for profit than the Earth’s atmosphere? We need a lot of support from other countries like the USA to fully achieve our goals. The government will continue to cooperate with other nations in establishing both consensus and commitment regarding the need for change and the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions (Confronting the Greatest Threat: Climate Change and Energy n.d.).
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One last point is public awareness. How many people are concerned with the atmosphere? Is there anyone who stopped before lighting a cigarette, thinking he would contribute to the countries carbon dioxide emissions? Or has anyone ever really thought about the ozone layer when disposing of aerosol sprays? We need the public to be aware of all the predictions mentioned earlier—all the damages we are about to face if the Earth’s fever continues. And we need to inform them without bombarding them with excessive vague information (using technical terms). We need to find ways to reach out to them and tell them that sun-bathing in the next few decades will not be as fun as it is now.
The concept of sustainable development is not impossible. With enough support and cooperation, we can indeed have a decrease in greenhouse gases emissions. However, the concept is still problematic, first, in terms of the implementation strategies each country adapts. The second is its cost-effectiveness. The third is the support of capitalist countries, and the fourth is on public awareness. The message that this kind of development wants to convey is clear: we must have different ways of living—at least in terms of energy consumption. The concept can be done, it is indeed realistic. In fact, it is the only realistic response to the Earth’s fever.
- Figures from: Climate Change Scenarios for the United Kingdom: The UKCIP02 Briefing Report, 2002, Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, University of East Anglia. As cited in Confronting the Greatest Threat: Climate Change and Energy (n.d.).
- Figures from “Health Effects of Climate Change”, 2001, produced for the Department of Health. Predicted numbers of cases were based on the Medium-High emissions scenario. As cited in Confronting the Greatest Threat: Climate Change and Energy (n.d.).
Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs Website 2005, Climate Change: What we are Doing in the UK. Web.
Directgov Website 2007, Environment and Greener Living. Web.
UK Government Sustainable Development Website 2007, What is Sustainable Development? Web.
UK Government Sustainable Development Website 2006, Climate Change and Energy. Web.
UK Government Sustainable Development Website (no date), Confronting the Greatest Threat: Climate Change and Energy. Web.