Every day the news is filled with stories about global warming and the ongoing debate between scientists and politicians. One of the key challenges is that politicians with no scientific background and opinions that are very often derived as a result of political demands and political expediency, are making important energy decisions. At the core of this debate is whether global warming is a reality and if so, how to identify the culprits and the action that can be taken on an international basis to reduce the rate at which the earth seems to be getting hotter.
Margaret Thatcher was possibly the first politician to use global warming as a political tool when she spoke about the need for action against human-induced climate change towards the end of 1988. Critics claimed that she did so in support of her policy to promote nuclear power stations after the coal miners’ strike in Britain in 1984 – 1985. Despite mixed opinions regarding her motives, global warming started getting increasing prominence in the media and in political discussion groups from that point onwards.
Scientists on the other hand are continuously debating the actual causes of the warming and how to tackle this global issue. The very fact that carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from the various human activities that burn fossil fuels have been increasing at a steady rate since the advent of the industrial age, coupled with the financial might of the oil producers, pits the scientists against the wealthy multinationals and their lobbyists. The establishment of numerous non-governmental environmental groups and their ability to attract funding from philanthropists concerned about the preservation of the world, has enabled them to also employ political lobbyists to promote their cause. The result of all the lobbying has been that pseudo-scientific opinions biased in favor of their paymasters have been publicized by lobbyists for both groups, complicating the whole situation even further.
The Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in June 1992 hosted a United Nations conference on climate change with the aim to find solutions on how to stabilize the volume of greenhouse gasses that are released into the atmosphere. The Convention was ratified by the UN in 1994 by 197 member states and other affiliated bodies. The parties to the convention meet annually and noteworthy events at these meetings were the signing of the Kyoto Protocol in 1997, which was then followed by the Paris Agreement of 2011. The objective of these agreements was to limit the emission of greenhouse gasses from the major industrial countries by an agreed percentage in order to reduce the rate of global warming using 1991 temperatures as the baseline. The difficulty with these agreements is that national governments have a need to grow their economies and to continually create new jobs and implementing new technology and measures is time consuming and costly.
At the UN Climate Change Conference in Durban, South Africa, in 2011 it was over shadowed by politicians insisting that ‘social and economic development and poverty eradication are the first and overriding priorities of developing countries. In the opposite corner the scientists had the exact opposite view that in order to ensure sustainable economic growth and poverty eradication, the climate challenges need to take top priority.
Adherence to the protocols by governments to meet the agreed targets is to a large degree dependent on the cooperation and integrity of the industrial and corporate community. An unfortunate example of the lengths unscrupulous members of industry will go to in order to avoid reducing emissions is the scandal around the recent false test results submitted by Volkswagen to satisfy government authorities.
A book published in 2010, Merchants of Doubt, provides information claiming that professional global warming deniers are responsible for the low degree of concern in the U.S. The pseudo-scientific data showing that global warming is not a problem and the continuous media prominence given to this data can be one of the reasons for the lack of concern. The situation in China is very different where the information released to the population at large is very controlled, and while China is a highly developed industrial country, the need for a high rate of growth makes its needs very similar to that of a developing nation.
The undeniable fact is that the scientific consensus is that the global climate system is consistently warming and that humans are causing most of it through the uncontrolled release of greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere. The hydrocarbon and fossil fuels industry would like us to believe that there is no problem, in the same way that the tobacco companies tried to convince the public for years that smoking was not bad for their health. With all this in mind, the main corporate interest is to look after their shareholders and to safeguard their profits, not us and certainly not planet earth.
Whether we all agree on the cause or who is to blame, the world is getting hotter and we need to get it under control. The bottom line is each and every one of us has a responsibility to make the facts regarding global warming as widely known as possible for the sake of our fellow humans and the future of our existence.