Such issues, rather than receiving the attention they desperately require, have merely become tools to further create political animosity and fuel disagreement and stalemate across the aisles of Congress. Meanwhile, millions of Americans remain convinced that climate change is a construct of the political left, and that despite America’s egregious contribution to environmental destruction, further deregulation of American industry is a sensible venture.
The gravity of the situation is being discussed this week at the Rio+20 Conference, as world leaders meet in Brazil to consider solutions to those problems threatening the global environment.
This particular conference, marking the 20th anniversary of the 1992 Earth Summit, is focused less on the activities of developed countries such as the U.S., and more on the practices of developing countries as they strive to gain access to energy and improve their standard of living.
Since the 1992 summit, carbon dioxide emissions worldwide have increased by 9 percent, leaving a net surplus of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere roughly equivalent to 10 billion atmospheric tons each year, a primary contributor to global warming. Average temperatures have risen by 0.4˚C, while the hottest 10 years on record have all occurred since 1998 (UNEP).
This week’s conference is focusing largely on access to renewable energy sources for peoples of all countries. This involves creating strategies for “sustainable development,” whereby people in developing countries can provide for themselves without causing excessive damage to the environment.
Sustainable development aims to end the cycle of environmental strife that exists for developing countries. Due to a lack of renewable, clean sources of energy, these countries turn to fossil fuels, having deleterious effects on the environment and living conditions. In the last 20 years, carbon dioxide emissions in developing countries have increased by 64 percent as these nations have sought to develop. Yet the countries have lacked access to renewable energy technologies. (Despite this problem, developing countries overall still pollute much less than developed countries.) Not only do these energy sources contribute to environmental damage, they are quickly disappearing. Estimates place global reserves of oil at less than 50 years and natural gas at less than 100. Meanwhile, the area of forest covering the Earth has decreased by 300 million hectares since 1992, an area larger than Argentina (UNEP, BBC News).
Aside from pollution, limited access to renewable energy in poor countries inevitably leads to the inability to provide education and generate industry, further contributing to the economic woes of these countries and their inability to catch up with the rest of the world. Therefore, global poverty and development are so very linked to environmental protection that any solutions on the table must address both simultaneously.
Whether or not the Rio+20 Conference will yield results is yet to be determined. Early reports of an agreement made this week suggest some forward steps have been made, such as reiterating the urgency of the situation, and a plan to establish “sustainable development goals.” Still, many are calling the conference a failure as little concrete resolution has come out of it.
It appears the conference has largely been a show of rhetoric, as countries reaffirm their commitment to solving the problem, yet with little substantive solution offered. A great deal of finger-pointing appears to have occurred, as developed countries insist that developing countries reduce their use of fossil fuels, while those poorer countries suggest more financial support for sustainable processes is necessary for such to happen.
We may look back at the Rio+20 Conference as yet another missed opportunity to turn a corner regarding the destruction of the environment. Without technological and scientific support, poor countries will continue to do what is necessary to achieve development, while industrialized countries may continue to be obstinate in lieu of providing much-needed support for the poorer countries.
Others still may refuse to acknowledge the very existence of environmental degradation, a notion preposterous at its very core, and one certain to delay solutions to the problems that should have been addressed long before now.