June 5 was World Environment Day, sponsored by the United Nations Environmental Program. Initiated in 1972, it coordinates actions around the world recognizing the importance of the environment and our care for it.
This is especially important this year. After a year of slower carbon dioxide emissions due to the worldwide economic downturn, 2010 saw greenhouse gas emissions increase, to the highest level ever, a 5 percent increase over 2009. This increase makes it ever more urgent as well as ever more difficult to reach the goal of limiting climate change to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) by the end of the century. To be able to reach this goal, increases in greenhouse gas emissions over the next decade will have to be less than what they were over the past year. But that is highly unlikely since there is no enforceable, coordinated worldwide treaty to limit emissions.
On this day as well as year round, the world needs to attack the growing problem of greenhouse gas emissions, as well as other major environmental threats such as increasing water stress and decreasing agricultural yields, before we make it impossible to stop, before we reach worldwide tipping points.
If the environment, especially in the Arctic, continues to heat rapidly (more rapidly than the rest of the world), permafrost will melt ever faster, releasing carbon dioxide and methane gases to such an extent that it overwhelms any possible improvement by human action. We are in great danger of approaching those tipping points soon, and every year that emissions escalate as they did over the past year will increase the difficulty and cost of mitigating and ameliorating the effects. More droughts, more floods, more extreme weather events, more vast wildfires will happen, to mention a few of the more dramatic consequences.
To make a change requires a change in the politics in the U.S., and requires a worldwide mass movement to focus the attention of governments, corporations and other industrial and agricultural enterprises on the changes needed to limit climate change.
Photo: Melting Artic ice. David Astley // CC 2.0