THE ANTAGONISTIC RELATIONSHIP
TO THE ENVIRONMENT
Nature seeks balance but we constantly tip this balance because of our greed. The result is oftentimes the breaking open of Nature's wild fury inthe form of floods, landslides, earthquakes, glacier bursts, or cyclones.Be it in the United States or in China, in India or in Japan or anywhere,any antagonistic relationship that we adopt with Nature in the name ofdevelopment and modernity causes environmental degradation and unbearablehuman pain. We never stop from talking about developing great visions forhumankind that extend much beyond the present but when it comes tofulfilling our greed, we forget all our pious intentions and indulgepassionately in behaving with monstrous short-sightedness to such an extentthat the dialogue for human betterment becomes a mere farce. Nature neverdiscriminates. In our relation with her we gain or lose collectively. As itappears, we are losing, and the loss translates into a major disaster whenit relates to global warming. Let us take a look.
The earth remains warm because of the heat that the sun radiatescontinuously. The earth's atmosphere is made of various gases, mainlynitrogen and oxygen, with an insignificantly small portion of carbondioxide (0.03%) as well. Because of the earth's gravitational pull, thesegases cannot run away, and form a transparent layer through which the sun'srays come inside. Much of the solar radiation gets emitted back to space,but the way Nature has it, carbon dioxide reflects much of the heat backbut traps a little bit of it so that the earth becomes warm enough tosustain life. This is called the greenhouse effect. And, it is perfect.
But what is a matter of great anxiety is the fact that the intensity ofthis warming is increasing. As a result, the world is getting warmer. Oneway to look at it could be to raise a question. Could it be increasingbecause the heat that the sun is radiating per unit of time has increased?Scientists say no. So this rise is man-made. Industries, automobiles,aviation and our use of utilities release a great amount of carbon dioxideand a few other gases known as the greenhouse gases and this has become amatter of major concern. Now if it is allowed to continue at the presentrate, world climate would change as a result of the rise in the worldtemperature by 1.5 C to 4.5 C over the next 100 years. What follows thenwould be crop damage, rising sea level and flooding affecting millions ofpeople and their property. This concerns all countries and all people. In asituation like this, could there be any country that could remain totallyunaffected as an island of prosperity? To think so will be an instance ofhuman stupidity of the first order.
The responsibility for this impending global warming falls much more on thedeveloped countries than on the countries of the third world. However, theWest is aware of this hazard, and this awareness brought them together at ameeting in New York on 9 May 1992 to adopt the 'United Nations FrameworkConvention on Climate Change.' President Bush's father signed it expressingfull American commitment to combat global warming.
But the Clinton administration, after three months of assuming power,changed the American position and soft peddled this major internationalconcern. Thus, the threat of global warming was approached with ritualisticovertones alternating with seriousness of purpose till 11 December 1997when the 8639 worded 'Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations Convention onClimate Change' was adopted at Japan's religious city Kyoto. Afterdillydallying for all these years and taking over hundred countries for aride, this time it became the turn of President Bush to abandon it bydeciding not to sign the treaty. The United States ranks first in carbondioxide equivalent emission of the greenhouse gases and accounts for around40 percent of the developed world's share for global warming.
The 15 member European Community (EU) has already shown its anger for thebetrayal. Last week in Stockholm, the EU expressed its determination to goahead even without United States as it said, "Climate change is happeningnow and is a serious threat to the future of mankind. We are prepared ifnecessary to go forward without the U.S." They are resolute not to let thisworld initiative die just because the United Sates has pulled back. TheKyoto Protocol to become legally binding needs to be ratified by 55signatory countries including the US, whose emission rate needs to bereduced to around 5 percent below its 1990 levels by 2012.
What prompted President Bush to abandon a major initiative addressingglobal issue is as simple as his desire to protect the interest of bigbusiness of the United States at the cost of not just ordinary Americanpeople but of mankind as a whole. This is a masterpiece of insensitivity onhis part to say: "I will not let greenhouse gas reduction harm the economyand jobs of the United States," as if the US were not a part of this planetcalled earth. A recent UN study concludes that the world will have to bearthe cost of US $300 billion a year because of global warming. And, US toowill have to shell out its part by way of extreme weather events ifimmediate efforts are not made to control greenhouse gases. As it is,experts believe that billions of dollars are spent in the US for makingrepairs at homes and industries because of weather related events.
Many consider this decision as an oilman's narrow approach towards Americaneconomics because of the partisan interest to protect the energy industriesthat funded election campaign. Bush is believed to favor the wealthiest atthe cost of the poorest. As a Texas Governor, he tried to reduce tax onprofit for the rich and thrust the increased burden of sales tax on theordinary people. The latest case is no different. The way reports arecoming, the proposed 40 percent tax cut basically aims at augmenting theinterest of the 1 percent richest Americans as opposed to the rest. It isso because the dispersion of tax cut benefit is highly skewed. Besides,this would mean less money for public interest priorities. Now the senatehas scaled it down. A little earlier, a reputed MIT professor ofinternational economics Dr. Paul Krugman in his op-ed page of The New YorkTimes described it thus: "all I can say is, let them eat cake. And drinkarsenic."
But in the case of global warming it belongs to Nature's domain beyond taxcut. It is not just the American people but all of us will be forced todrink lethal dose of arsenic even without cakes. The economics of reducinggreenhouse gases extends much beyond narrow confines. At this point, theChinese effort in reducing greenhouse gases is encouraging when viewed thatit ranks second after the US in emitting them. Finally, President Bush'sdecision shows to the world that the US has no climate policy at a timewhen some of the major US companies like United Technologies, IBM, Baxterand Polaroid are themselves all willing to go along the road of controllingthe life threatening emission level.
But Nature's economics is not transferring resources from the poor to therich presumably in the name of more investment for increasing employmentopportunities. Nature makes no difference between the wealthiest few andthe poorest many, as Shakespeare wrote so aptly, "What cares these roarersfor the name of king?" When Nature's golden balance is upset, she withersinto wild fury. Nature's devastation knows no geographical boundary. Greedbegets antagonistic relationship where immediate gain boils over morepoisonous gases of destruction. Does President Bush still think that hisdecision to move out of the Kyoto protocol is in the interest of theAmerican people? Will they be safer sharing the same planet in future withthe rest of us who aren't? This is evident the way the White House is beingcontinuously "flooded" in what is described as "Bush Flood" by thousands ofemails of angry citizens all over the world protesting against his decisionof letting the world down.The New York Times in its recent editorial thusputs it: " Mr. Bush's retreat on issues as large as global warming and aslocalized as poisoned drinking water seems aggressively hostile. Mr. Bushappears to have forgotten that Republicans inevitably self-destruct whenthey challenge environmental values that command public support." And whata tragic, no, pathetic fall it will be when all will fall just because apolitician failed!
Written by: Basanta Lohani, The Kathmandu Post
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