Tuesday, January 8, 2013
Our Impact on the Environment and Climate Change.
Climate Change has been a hot button topic for several years. There are those who believe humans contribute to climate change through pollution, deforestation, and general neglect of our environment, while others are insistent humans have a negligible impact on our planets climate. Big Business, who is often the center of the Climate Change debate, as a prominent cause, obviously does not subscribe to Climate Change through human activity. If they admitted to their own culpability, it could potentially be costly for them to continue conducting business the way they have been. Not only would these billion dollar industries have to eat into their bottom line to bring their processes and procedures in line with appropriate limits to lessen the impact they have on the environment, they could potentially face civil penalties for their disregard of environmental safety and responsibility. So we know these interests, have an economic stake in suppressing, or spreading disinformation related to Climate Change.
On the other side of the coin, we have people who favor the opposite extreme. These people believe any use of natural resources contributes to the destruction of our planet. They are against deforestation, even in instances where it is done for safety issues, such clearing dead wood or preventing forest fires through controlled burning; Furthermore, many of them propose forcing society to remove their environmental footprint altogether. While I can sympathize with this sentiment, as I believe we should lessen our impact on the environment, I do not believe it is possible to completely remove our impact on the planet. With that being said, there is a case to be made for ways we can change our own behavior, and the overall behavior of our society to limit impact to our climate, as well as our planet.
We know there are fines for dumping pollution. We also know businesses make billions every year, and some of them dump pollution into our oceans, because it is cheaper to pay the fine, than to pay for the proper disposal of such pollution. We saw how oil companies shortchanged safety measures and endangered our oceans in pursuit of greater profits, with the recent Horizon oil disaster a few years ago. Even with the fines BP faced, the profits made far outweighed the cost. What is to stop another business from acting the same way? This of course is just one example out of tens of thousands over the last few decades. I am concerned with the short attention-span of the American people, it will take several thousand more examples before actual change occurs. By then the damage done to our environment may be irreversible.
Corporations are not the only culprit in this tragedy. As individuals, Americans waste and consume more natural resources every year. It is estimated by the Natural Resources Defense Council, that 10 percent of the total energy we use, 50 percent of the land , and over 80 percent of the freshwater consumed in the United States is used every year to put food on our tables. Of this, 40 percent of the food goes uneaten, which translates to roughly 20 pounds of food, per person, per month. This is significant, when you think about the impact to our environment to produce this food, as well as for the disposal of what is left to rot. I think we can safely say this is a travesty on an epic scale, yet we allow our society to continue on a path, which promises to increase our consumption and waste.
At some point, we all have to face the fact we are borrowing from the natural resources of our environment and leaving a debt to our children, which they will be unable to repay. That debt may have a greater impact, than our children will be able to successfully navigate, and it may happen a lot sooner than we realized. Look at glaciers in Greenland, which have stood for thousands of years, withering away under our changing climate. Natural habitats in the Arctic Circle are eroding under increased temperatures. Large chunks of Antarctica are breaking off and falling into the ocean, which threatens to raise sea levels: the consequences of this would be catastrophic for millions of people living in areas near or at sea level. Finally, we can look at climate reports over the last year alone for information showing an increase in global temperatures. Last year was considered to be the hottest on record, according to a recent Huffington Post article citing National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reports.
It is true our planet goes through periods of climate transition between cooling and heating periods; however, the overwhelming research gathered points directly toward human behaviors which have an impact on our environment are contributing factors for the dramatic changes happening in our climate. Severe storms such as last year’s hurricane Sandy, or Hurricane Katrina are examples of potential impact due to Climate Change. So long as the financial incentives are geared toward consumption and profit, Businesses as well as wasteful consumers will continue to act accordingly, and the problem will get worse. Removing financial incentives and making overproduction and pollution cost prohibitive through legal, tax, and regulatory means, while promoting responsible production methods, such as resource replenishment, conservation, and afforestation programs like the one Infosys created, will bring us toward a more sustainable future and lessen our impact on the environment.
We have a duty to leave our children a world they can live and thrive in. So long as our society condones the ideal that greed is good, pursuit of profit over safety and security of our future is acceptable, and those who conduct themselves in a way contrary to the public interest are held to a different standard and allowed to pollute and consume, we will never be able to counter the impact of these forces on our environment, our climate, or our future. We need to fundamentally change the way we operate as a society and move away from a profit-consumption based model into something more sustainable; Otherwise, there won't be a future left for our children worth living in.