International League of Peoples’ Struggles Commission 13

Concern on science and technology for the people and development, environmental protection against plunder, pollution and the destruction of the basic foundations of human life 

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On Climate Change and the Environment

Throughout the ages, human societies have created the bases of our survival, sustenance and advancement in using our natural resources through science and technology. Yet in no time in history has environmental destruction been systematically brought about in most corners of the world. We encounter a situation today that while the world faces global poverty, economic wars and environmental crises, we face a renewed, more rapacious and vicious campaign of plunder that aggravates the already devastated and polluted natural environment.

While global warming have already brought extreme impacts, especially on vulnerable communities, free market globalization policies have opened up the rest of the world to pave the way for the unhampered entry, control and exploitation of raw natural resources and of people. More recently, atrocious campaigns of wars of aggression have been waged to expand its economic territories and gain direct or tighter control of land and natural resources.

This plunder and pollution of the environment has made victims of poor communities many times over. Large-scale use of pesticides have resulted in the poisoning of workers, peasants, and their families, who barely have the means to protect themselves from their hazardous effects. These same communities are also the most vulnerable to environmental backlashes, which come in the form of floods, droughts and other occurrences triggered or heightened by the prevailing imbalances in the ecosystem. Women and children shoulder the greater cost of these circumstances because of wider risks to their health and added complications to their productive and reproductive functions.

Deforestation

Systematic and unabated deforestation through rampant industrial logging has multiplied at ever increasing rates. The destruction of the world’s forests also led to the conversion of agricultural plantations for export-oriented crops, farms for cattle raising or monoculture tree plantations.

For underdeveloped countries (especially in Asia and Latin America), the forests remain as one of the main resources available for exports that meet the increasing demand for cheap and plentiful wood in Europe, Japan and the United States. About three quarters of the world’s commercial timber output is utilized by only one quarter of its population.

Over the period 1980-1990, the loss of total forest area in Asia reached 8.2%, 6.1% in Latin America and 4.8% in Africa leading to the loss of 15 million hectares of forests every year. The FAO’s State of the World’s Forests 2007 reports a net forest loss of 20,000 hectares per day globally.

Mining

The relentless extraction of mineral ores and wanton destruction by mining multinational corporations (MNCs) in Asia Pacific, Latin America and African countries that are naturally endowed with rich mineral deposits persists. These mining MNCs are ever more determined to continue their destructive and exploitative commercial mining in these regions.

Like logging, commercial mining by these MNCs does not lead to development but only brings massive environmental destruction and pollution, widespread landlessness and displacement, loss of livelihood, distortion of local culture, and rampant human right violations to the peoples of these regions.

Water

The most alarming trend is the move to control one of the most essential necessity of man: water. Only 2.53 percent of the water in the world is freshwater and two-thirds of these are in glaciers and snow cover. The biggest MNCs in the water industry have initiated the privatization of water distribution services in both the developed and underdeveloped countries as the first step toward the privatization and commodification of all aspects of water.

Asia, which holds more than half of the world’s population, has less than 36% of the world’s water resources and almost half of the population in developing countries are exposed to polluted water sources . Already, the multi-national corporation-instigated construction of mega-dams and other water infrastructures have put them in a strategic position to eventually gain total control of the water resources. Iraq’s occupation by the US has positioned the former to control not only Iraq’s oil resources but also the largest water resources found in the Middle East.

Pollution

The contamination of air, water and land brought about by products and production processes mainly from the industrial and manufacturing plants of MNCs continue. These large-scale factories remain the top contributors of significant pollutants such as toxic and hazardous wastes in the world.

More and more underdeveloped countries (including India and China) have also become major dumping grounds for the wastes of industrial countries. The dumping of toxic and hazardous wastes are mounting and alarming. Additionally, chemicals and obsolete technologies proven to be harmful to the environment and/or human health and that are already banned in the industrial countries are continually foisted in underdeveloped countries.

Oil, energy and natural gas

The occupation of Iraq by the US (and the ‘Coalition of the Willing’) gave the latter direct control over the vast oil resources of Iraq (estimated at 112 billion barrels of proven oil reserves and over 250 billion of potential reserves), the biggest in the world and, consolidated their domination over the world’s oil resources.

After toppling the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, the US gained more political foothold in Central Asia and South Asia and further access to the oil and gas resources in these parts of the world. The US launched its “second front against terrorism” targeting the Philippines, Indonesia and Southeast Asia- a region known for its oil, natural gas and other natural resources. It has unceasingly undermined the government of Venezuela, which has the biggest oil resources in Latin America and is continuously expanding its influence in other Latin American countries (Colombia) and several African countries to tap potential oil and other mineral resources.

Investments in energy all over the world is increasing and control over these resources are transferred from nations to a few energy companies. Even the technologies needed for the use of alternative energy in solar and wind are limited to industrialized countries. The drive for biofuels has raised concerns over its long term sustainability and actual contribution to climate change. Large tracts of forests have been lost in Brazil, Malaysia and Indonesia due to conversion of forests to oil-palm plantations and more biofuel plantations have been earmarked in other countries like the Philippines.

Wars of aggression, nuclear weapons and the environment

The recent campaign on the wars of aggression of the US and its allies have not only increased the production, sale and use weapons of mass destruction but have also caused the massive destruction and contamination of human property, health and environment (i.e. use of depleted uranium etc) in the Afghanistan, Iraq and other war-ravaged countries. Forest clearings and land conversions necessitated by continued military exercises in different parts of the world led by the US pollute the environment and the destruction of natural habitats.

The US, for example, has accused Iraq of having weapons of mass destruction as a pretext for invasion and occupation despite the US having the largest nuclear arsenal in the world. It has no less than 10,600 nuclear warheads in its possession with around 3,000 ready to deploy from its “Enduring Stockpile”. Furthermore, the US is the only country that has used weapons of mass destruction in war – no less than 300,000 died as a result of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings  in 1945. The US has also used 320 tons of depleted uranium artillery in the 1990 Gulf war and in the Yugoslavian conflict. These are still being used in the current Iraq war despite the numerous health risks to soldiers and especially to civilians in target areas.

Since the 1990 to 2008, the US has exported USD 152B worth of weapons (in sales and military aid). In 2001, it exported war material to no less than 170 nations and earned USD 13.1B in that year alone. The “war against terrorism” is is used as a pretext to increase this military sales and/or aid. In the guise of counter terrorism it has increased military aid and activities such as training exercises in more countries than before.

Toxic wastes from current and previous US military bases continue to wreak ecological havoc in the surrounding areas. US military joint exercises bring with them not only direct US military aggression but the dangerous weapons and waste from these activities.

Climate change

Much has been said about climate change and its impacts on the environment and the people. The trend of rapid environmental changes both at the global and national level, is expected to bring about massive devastation and loss of human lives. Already, this impending threat is seen in the way that temperatures and sea water levels have risen in the Philippines, along with extreme weather patterns.

It is clear from the 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fourth Assessment Report that warming of the climate system is unequivocal, as is now evident from observations of increases in global average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice, and rising global average sea levels.

The increase in global surface temperature has made the past decade and a half, 11 of the 12 warmest years since the 1850s. An increase of 0.75 degrees Celsius in the past century was observed over the world. Rates of sea level increase have increased from an average of 1.8 mm annually (from 1961) to 3.1 mm/yr (from 1996). The rate of shrinking of ice cover in the Arctic was observed to be 2.7 % per decade, which more than double in summer to 7.4 %. Recently, the Northwest passage was clear throughout the Arctic circle. Increased incidence of intense tropical cyclones and sea level rise have been observed putting coastal areas at risk.

Climate has been altered by changes in greenhouse gases (GHGs), aerosols, land-cover and solar radiation input. It was clear in the Nobel winning report of the IPCC that GHGs have increased due to human activities with an increase of 70% in the last 3 decades. CO2 emissions have increased 80% in the same period.

Asymmetric risk and responsibility

There are risks associated to vulnerable ecological systems such as polar and high mountain communities and ecosystems, biodiversity hotspots, corals, and small island communities. Extreme weather events such as droughts, heat waves, and floods are also expected to increase. Sea level rise can lead to loss of coastal area and associated impacts.

Management and adaptation to the impacts of weather and climate-related events is dependent on social and economic development. The most vulnerable to climate change are also those in the most vulnerable economic position in society: the poorest peoples in the poor countries. The Unites States is currently the number one producer of Green House Gases (GHG), emitting more than 25% of all the GHGs worldwide. About 84% of U.S. GHG emissions arise from the petroleum related energy and electrical power sectors.

The US is also the biggest processor and unregulated user of oil and petroleum products all over the world. Yet the US government has refused to sign the Kyoto Protocol, an international treaty signed by around 169 countries which aims to reduce global levels of carbon dioxide and five other GHG emissions by 5.2% from their 1990 levels. Using the same consumption pattern in the US or Canada, we would be needing nine planets to absorb the consequent carbon emissions of the rest of the developing world. The UK emits more CO2 than Egypt, Nigeria, Pakistan and Vietnam combined.

These asymmetric climate change emissions indicate an inverse relationship between climate change vulnerability and responsibility. Primary emitter countries must change their production activities and consumption of energy and seek sustainable solutions. Basic human needs, economic and social development need adequate energy and infrastructure. Reducing poverty means providing adequate energy to developing countries while building capacity to withstand climate change impacts. We should avoid the extreme end of denying development to developing and poor countries just to meet carbon emission reduction targets for the world.

Carbon offset mechanisms should be rethought, especially GHG reduction and emissions trading projects that shift out carbon mitigation and reduction out of industrialized countries towards developing countries. These can distort development activities in these countries while keeping the consumption and production activities of industrialized countries. Clean Development Mechanisms (CDM) and carbon trading effectively marketize carbon emissions and essentially shuffles around responsibility to curb emissions.

The personal/individual reduction of carbon emissions, shifts to compact fluorescent light bulbs to curb the effects of climate change and switches to biodegradable products are more effective if these individual actions become more widespread and are incorporated into state policy. Campaigns to use energy efficient lighting, to conduct energy audits and household reductions of carbon emissions can be undertaken but these should also be framed within larger political and economic conditions which have vastly accelerated the rate of global warming. Incentives and support for poor communities to engage in these initiatives should be done because the poor usually can only provide for their short term day-to-day needs and would not have the capacity to buy new technologies.

Biodiversity, health, poverty, rural livelihoods and food security are affected by global warming primarily in underdeveloped and developing countries where mitigation is not affordable. Fuel wood and biomass are still the primary fuel for around 2 billion people without access to adequate energy to meet their basic needs.

The use of alternative fuels with low or no carbon dioxide emissions should be encouraged and made accessible. However, the policies of privatization and investment liberalization of these alternative fuels would make these unaffordable. Subsidizing these alternative energy resources to make them accessible to the poor should be considered. Fuel production should be secondary to food production and security.

Interim technologies and fuel substitutes that are relatively cleaner than coal or oil should also be entertained. Research for new and cleaner technologies should be undertaken. Research on making nuclear energy safe and viable for energy production, if ever considered as an option, should be continued. Other options such as fuel cell technologies, better and more efficient solar energy converters, wind turbines should also be undertaken.

Transportation efficiency and reduction of energy use in moving people and product should be improved. Mass public transit to reduce the number and distance of journeys should be prioritized. Better urban planning integrated with transport efficiency goals should be undertaken. Economic penalties such as road pricing schemes and fuel taxes are effective only for car owners and should be secondary to improving mass public transit and better educational outreach to highlight the need to eliminate unnecessary car journeys, the benefits of public transportation use, car pooling, etc.

Climate change already aggravates other environmental problems that communities have to face as a result of globalization’s ever increasing destruction of our ecology. It is no longer a question that human activity has produced dangerous climate interference. Our goal should be to avoid catastrophic effects that could affect more than half of the world’s population that are most vulnerable to climate change.

Initiatives to directly pressure industrial countries to commit to real targets and not shift the burden to underdeveloped and developing countries should be supported. We should strengthen the capacity of communities to respond to disasters. Community based disaster response, monitoring and mitigation can be undertaken and livelihood should be provided for those who are vulnerable to climate change events.

Conclusion

The people will not wait for Copenhagen nor tolerate the sabotage by the US and G8 countries of the climate change negotiations. The member countries of the UN, especially those from the developing countries, should not let the US and the G8 sabotage the negotiations for their benefit. Their goal should be to avoid catastrophic effects that could affect more than half of the world’s population that are most vulnerable to climate change.

The rapid destruction of the environment is a direct result of the rapid, unchecked appropriation of the world’s resources for the benefit of a few. Increased pressure for the quest for wealth places increased pressure on the environment and environmental destruction. The poor, who are most vulnerable, are subjected to these environmental impacts while trying to provide subsistence level production for themselves.

Great advances have been made in information technology, robotics, genetics, agriculture, and medicine, yet are not being applied towards solving fundamental problems of humankind, such as the breakdown of health systems, famine and hunger, ecological destruction, and social decay and disintegration. But as unbridled globalization has opened up third world resources for the use of multinationals extracting raw materials while leaving their pollution and emissions to the host communities.

Our stewardship on the earth to preserve its intrinsic and practical value for humans calls for a substantial redefining the production of our needs without the current system of overproduction, overconsumption and pollution for the motive of profit for a few. We have seen how communities throughout the world remained resolute and determined to struggle for their rights and defend their natural resources because it is not only their present but also their future at stake.###

 

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