Monday, 19 July 2004

Global warming and the population problem

The past month has seen an increase in the publicity surrounding global warming. The UK Governments Chief Scientist, Sir David King, has given dire warning about the impact that continued warming will have on rising sealevels. But what does not seem to have happened, is that the public at large do not really seem to be taking on board the connection between global warming and human populations. The areas which are likely to be most seriously impacted by continuing -- or even accellerating -- rises of sea level, are going to be large conurbations. And a very large proportion of the world's largest cities are in low lying areas, close to the seas and oceans of the world. From London to Aukland, from Amsterdam to New York, all over the world millions of people live in places no more than a few metres from from sea level.

In addition to the sea levels rising, the future may well see dramatic increases in violent weather, but extreme weather occurs erratically in almost all parts of the world from time to time, and so the sort of weather encountered in Britain in 1952, coupled with a sea level rise of less than a metre would be devastating -- imagine what would happen if the London underground was flooded. [A first rate disatster movie scenario]. London may be able to deal with it, in terms of human lives, but other places will not be so fortunate. The coastal cities of Asia -- Calcutta, Dacca, Madras, Hong Kong, Osaka, Singapore, -- to name but a few, could be inundated with the loss of millions of lives. And of course, the economic impact of such disasters is almost incalculable.

The problem is that still the mentality that pervades much of the wealthiest nation in the world is exemplified in the claim by Lee Raymond, Chairman of ExxonMobil in June 2002:

"We in ExxonMobil do not believe that the science required to establish this linkage between fossil fuels and warming has been demonstrated"

With massively powerful corporations expressing such views, and with George Bush leading the US, and with China and India both sitting on massive supplies of fossil fuels (coal), the future is unfortunately predictable. But fortunately not everyone in the world is quite as short-sighted as Bush and Raymond. Some governments are trying to reverse the process, but few have bitten the real bullet, of increasing human populations. Building another million homes in Britain won't do much to control emmissions, however well insulated they are. It is simply a recognition of the fact that the more affluent a nation becomes, the more resources its population consumes. Confirmation that the population problem is one that is most serious in countries such as Britain and America. Not Bangladesh or Malawi. It is the populations of the developed countries that consume the most non-renewable energy, and the same people who consume the majority of other resources, from food to rare metals. And it is the affluent nations that are resposible for the destruction of the world's rainforests.

The WLT may be small, and it may not have achieved much on a global scale, but multiplied up, pro rata per head of population that have supported its work, it could become a major force -- we just need more supporters. A few thousand supporters have helped save over 300,000 acres. Think what a million supporters (the membership of the RSPB or National Trust in the UK) could do. And the cost of an army tank or fighter jet alone could buy in excess of 2million acres of rainforest.

It's time we sorted our priorities. The real terrorists are those destroying the natural environment -- and that, indirectly includes most of us in the developed world.

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