R. Rose
September 16, 2016

Climate change, environmental damage and waste disposal

Last December, leaders of the nations of the world gathered in Paris for the historic United Nations Conference on Climate Change, at which they gave their full approval to the Paris Agreement, a global commitment to combat this phenomenon which threatens the future of the planet. In so doing they formally recognized climate change as a global threat to the future of the world and acknowledged our collective responsibility to do all in our power to deal with this threat.{{more}}

Up until then, there had been powerful forces, which for selfish reasons refused to accept the mounting evidence of global warming and the detrimental effects it is having on Planet Earth. Some of these ‘doubting Thomases’ are still among us, but at least there is formal consensus on the threat and a clear agreement to fight it.

Almost every week, further evidence surfaces of the effects of climate change on our planet. Rapidly changing weather patterns, alarming rises in sea levels and, melting ice sheets add to the dangers as the warming effects erode the massive ice sheets and glaciers of the Arctic and Antarctic. Just this week, western Europe experienced some of its hottest weather for over a century – in September at that, one week before spring is formally ushered in. Imagine temperatures in Brussels, Paris and London in mid-September, equal to, and in some case higher than those in the Caribbean!

It is not just one week in September, however. According to the US space agency, NASA, which monitors and compiles weather records, the months of July and August this year were the hottest months on record since such statistics have been kept. Not just in the USA and Europe, but globally. It keeps 2016 on track to be the hottest year ever in the record books. The Paris Agreement had committed nations to limit global temperature rises to below 2 degrees Centigrade, but July alone, the rise was already 1.31 degrees above the normal. September is continuing in this track.

It is not only global warming which poses a threat to the environment in which we live. The types of activities that humans engage in and the damage that they do to our environment is also a major worry. Take, for instance, the changing nature of farming, where the maximisation of profit is leading giant multinational companies not only to produce more and more deadly chemical compounds to be used in agriculture, but to use their influence to convince farmers that this is the ONLY way to go.

The enormous financial base of these companies give them a virtual monopoly over many areas of agricultural production and they are ruthlessly tightening their grip. On Wednesday of this week, two of the largest companies involved in the agricultural sector, Monsanto, strong in seeds and the German chemical giant Bayer, announced a merger worth US$ 66 billion, that is EC$ 178,200,000,000. The two claws of the pincer have closed in on global agriculture.

In this same week, that the global State of Nature Report revealed that the intensive nature of farming promoted by these multinationals, advocating greater and greater use of chemicals, pesticides and insecticides, is “squeezing out nature” all around the world. It points to the growing disappearance of many animal and insect species, claiming that about 10 per cent of these are currently threatened with extinction from “the increasing use of herbicides and pesticides”. Famed global environmentalist Richard Attenborough, commenting on these developments, says that, “Environmental pressures such as climate change and modern land management mean that we continue to lose the precious wildlife that enriches our lives and is essential to health and well-being”.

One other area of human activity which contributes to environmental degradation is that of waste disposal. The disposal of man-made rubbish is a big problem for many countries all over the world, including our own. The United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP),has published a document, “The World Counts” which lists the countries that generate the most rubbish, per head on population, daily. Oil-rich Kuwait heads the table, but frighteningly for the Caribbean, five of our countries are listed in the top ten offenders. Antigua and Barbuda, St Kitts/Nevis and Guyana rank 2nd, 3rd and 4th; while Barbados and St Lucia occupy 6th and 7th positions respectively ( i newspaper, London, 12/09/16, Page 2).

It is far from a healthy situation and should spur us to a greater appreciation of the need for safer and more sustainable means of waste disposal, greater cooperation with agencies like the Solid Waste Department and organisations like Jems, more public education among the young, the need for recycling, and for those who refuse to heed and continue to pollute, stringent measures to punish offenders.

Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.