Industrialization is a necessity to provide essential requirements for Earth’s growing population, but this necessary evil is now threatening our very survival on this planet.
High carbon emissions are causing global warming; industrial waste is polluting rivers, underground reservoirs and seas; natural forests and habitats are giving way to urban areas, shopping centers and farmland; toxic fertilizers, nitrogen imbalance, loss of marine areas, oil spills polluting seas and coasts, dying coral reefs, desertification, intense earthquakes, severe storms and violent typhoons; and the list goes on. Major industrial countries such as the United States, Brazil, China and the European Union, are either unwilling or unable to act.
The global financial crisis which continues to affect world economies is further complicating matters. Yet we cannot lose hope. The effects are still reversible. Action in the form of legislation and promotion of awareness campaigns can still produce results. Our planet can still be saved.
Industrialization – a Blessing or a Curse:
The Effects of Industrialization on the Environment
Earth has survived trillions of catastrophic events for billions of years before Man and will continue to exist after the Human race becomes extinct. Humans over the past two hundred years have caused what seems to be irreversible damage to our planet; our one and only home in this vast universe. Since the industrial revolution began, the Earth’s atmosphere has suffered and will continue to suffer. Indicators show that human extinction on Earth will be faced with another Extinction Level Event (ELE). An Extinction Level Event is a scientific term used to describe an event that would lead to the extinction of species. Unlike the ELE caused by the massive asteroid that led to the wiping out of dinosaurs, the present day’s Extinction Level Event will be man-made.
Industrialization is a necessity. The World population in 2013 reached 7 billion. According to the World Population Data Sheet (2013), published by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the bulk of the world’s population live in underdeveloped or developing countries and the majority live in cities. This huge population and uneven distribution is causing heavy burdens on the world’s industrial and agricultural production capabilities. The numbers of factories all over the world are increasing with geometric progression. Agricultural lands are exploited to extreme levels with the use of industrially produced fertilizers. Livestock and poultry are fattened using antibiotics and chemicals. Gas emissions, pollution and toxic waste from factories and agricultural chemicals are also increasing with geometric progression. This is weighing heavily on the Planet beyond its natural ability to heal itself. The results are catastrophic climate changes and global disaster seems to be just around the corner.
Industrialization began in Great Britain and, after a few decades, spread to the United States and Europe. These Industrial countries, the United States being the leader, take the blame. Global climate change is not clearly seen, but aspects that are changing do indicate the rising rate of global warming. Ice melting on rivers and lakes, trees flowering sooner than their time, large decrease in animal species, floods, climate change, are just a few that show how Earth is changing and is slowly dying. Savci (2012) states that as chemical fertilizers are applied heavily, they cause air pollution due to nitrogen oxide emissions. Ammonia emissions result in vegetation damage and contribute to the greenhouse effects.
The United States bears the most responsibility than all other industrialized countries for contributing to this climate change. Today, more than half of the carbon dioxide emissions released into the atmosphere are caused by burning fuels in wealthy industrialized countries, mainly the United States. Converting habitats into urban areas, shopping centers and farmland, extensive use of fertilizers causing nitrogen imbalance in the soil, large numbers of unwanted and dangerous species increasing as a result of the extinction of species that feed on them, water pollution of rivers, underground reservoirs and seas, and deforestation are some of the ways the U.S. and other industrialized countries are harming the planet and increasing climate change. According to Carpenter (2013), Global warming will cause coastal flooding with sea level rise of at least 25 to 50 centimeters by the end of the century. This threatens all coastal cities and communities, particularly those areas that are at or below sea level. This destroys fishing and agriculture, causes more severe cyclones, storms and tsunamis, especially on the coasts of Asia. On Discovery Channel, a new species of jellyfish was shown living in a lake in Australia. This new type is very dangerous and causes death within minutes.
International conferences and treaties, including the Kyoto treaty in 1997, were proposed. The United States and other countries refused to ratify the Kyoto treaty, and as a result it failed to achieve any of its goals and reduce greenhouse gases. Without the cooperation of the United States and other industrialized countries such as Brazil and China, nothing meaningful can be achieved. The economic crisis the world is going through today has also complicated matters, and governments are overlooking the survival of our planet in favor of the survival of their economies. Dr. Nuaim (2013) asserts that a treaty must be signed. Oil exporting countries must also contribute to these efforts, including Saudi Arabia, namely by improving the efficiency of electricity generation, transmission and consumption, spreading the culture of energy conservation, diversification of energy mix with the introduction of new alternatives, increasing investment in research and development on clean energy, implementing a comprehensive flare-gas management program, and advance research on capture of carbon dioxide from industrial and natural resources.
Industrialized countries, mainly the United States, put their economy first and then their environment. Environmental destruction is their least worries. If their economy starts to fail, they start wars and do not care how this could affect the planet. The United States is seen as the largest contributor to pollution and greenhouse effects. Studies show that the Earth might end up becoming another Mars. The irony is that the United States and other industrialized countries know the extent of the damage they are causing to the planet, yet they seem to be acting indifferently at all levels.
Although the United States and most other industrialized countries are democracies, they are all ruled by big businesses. Examples of big businesses are Microsoft, oil companies, steel mills, and electricity companies. When the government enforces any laws or legislations to protect the environment, these businesses might be affected by them, pressure groups are sent to make these laws disappear. They might go to high-level elected officials and tell them that they will not reelect them again if those laws were enforced. Big business interests dictate policies at the domestic and global levels. These businesses are driven by profit maximization and cost minimization models, and although they claim to be socially responsible, they will do what is good for their balance sheets and income statements. Big business lobbies are very powerful and are preventing any meaningful legislation that can protect the environment and save all of us from impending disaster. In a way, governments are turning a blind eye.
Reported by Lartey (2012), the global financial crisis which started in 2008 with the collapse of Lehman Brothers, one of the largest banks in the world, is still negatively affecting the economies of almost all countries of the world. Unemployment is rising worldwide, and especially in the United States. Unemployment and democracy do not mix. Re-election of presidents, senators, congressmen and other government officials depends on the happiness of citizens. Unemployed citizens are dissatisfied citizens, and are more likely to vote against the current president, senator and congressman. Imposing new legislations which increase business costs may cause companies to lay off their employees or even go out of business. Unemployment rises and the chances of re-election evaporate. Environmental protection legislations are very costly to business and the US Congress and Senate will not be in favor of such cost increasing legislations, especially under this global economic crisis. On the contrary, government may want to provide facilities to make things easier and to help companies decrease cost and stay in business. These easing measures may result in more pollution and damage to the environment.
Legislations are not enough. They must be combined with awareness. They must also be accompanied by financial incentives. Governments around the world, the United Nations and its agencies, and industrial countries, mainly the United States, Brazil and China, must reach treaties to regulate pollution. They must also launch awareness campaigns in the form of advertisements, articles in newspapers and magazines, movies, documentaries and other media to show consumers and producers the destructive effects of their consumption and production behaviors on the planet. Consumers have to learn for example the effects of plastic bags used for groceries in supermarkets. Bauer’s article (2013), “Plastic Problems: How do plastic bags affect our environment?” must be publicized to show consumers, retailers, producers and lawmakers why they should start taking the dangers of plastic bags seriously. Alternative reusable environmentally friendly bags can be used to shop. Logging companies must be shown the impact of their logging activities on habitat and deforestation, and the consequences to climate. Legislations must require loggers to plant trees to replace the trees they cut down. Movies, such as “An Inconvenient Truth (2006)”, the documentary on former US Vice President Al Gore’s campaign to make the issue of global warming a recognized problem worldwide. Another example is Earth 2007 starring James Earl Jones, a feature-length version of the documentary TV series Planet Earth (2006), following the migration paths of four animal families, and showing the dangers of extinction of species.
Legislation must be combined with financial incentives and tax cuts. If the lawmakers force businesses to act in ways that ensure the protection of the environment, acting according to the law will be costly. Businesses may suffer losses and even go bankrupt. The lawmakers must provide financial incentives and subsidies. For example, loggers would be provided with trees to plant at low or no cost under a “baby tree program”. Polluting factories would be provided with financial aid to buy filtration equipment and build waste treatment plants. They may also be allowed tax cuts to compensate them for their costs. Municipalities for example may distribute environmentally friendly garbage bags which melt in the soil, to homes free of charge to discourage use of plastic garbage bags. Other government departments or environment groups may distribute environmentally friendly reusable shopping bags to shoppers at supermarkets to discourage the use of plastic shopping bags.
The list of international environmental treaties and agreements is very long. Mitchell (2013) reports that there are 1,100 multilateral international treaties, 1,500 bilateral treaties and 250 other treaties. The 2013 UN Conference on Climate Change was held in Warsaw, Poland from 11 to 23 November 2013. The delegates at this conference held negotiations to reach a global climate agreement. Then conference led to an agreement that all member states cut carbon emissions at the earliest possible, but preferably by the first quarter of 2015. The discussions as described by Dr. Nuaim, represent a stage in the UN environmental efforts to reach a binding agreement on all countries, including the industrialized and development countries, but this noble goal needs many more conferences to be achieved. Dr. Nuaim adds that having in mind the failure of Kyoto, it is very important that the United Nations and the international communities maintain goodwill. As stated earlier, it is very difficult for countries to comply with international treaties and agreements particularly in the wake of the global financial crisis and the globally high unemployment rates.
Similar to legislations which individual countries make in order to control pollution and protect the environment within their own borders, the United Nations must create an international environmental law enforcement agency. The multilateral and bilateral environmental treaties and agreements must be replaced by international environmental laws. United Nations member states must be forced to comply with those lose by imposing penalties and even criminal prosecution of state officials by a United Nations court. Similar to war crimes, severe environmental crimes must be punishable by international law, and tried by an “environmental crimes tribunal” with sentences including heavy fines and prison terms. The United Nations member states would try their citizens under their own laws for environmental crimes committed on their own territories. If the crime is committed in international waters or involves more than one country, or if the member state does not or will not take criminal action against its citizen or government official, the United National environmental crimes tribunal would try the crime. All United Nations member states must accept to enforce the rulings of the environmental crimes tribunal.
In spite of the pollution and damage, our planet is not yet doomed. It is not too late for the world to act in order to prevent reaching a point of no return. Realistic and reliable treaties and laws must be passed. The United States must act as an influential power to press other countries to adhere to those treaties and laws. As stated by Dr. Nuaim (2013), a more realistic treaty than Kyoto must be reached to focus on solutions that can be implemented. With the failure of Kyoto, it is important for the world to reach an alternative treaty that everyone can agree on and strictly implement. No one can afford to sit idly by and watch this planet go to ruins. The window of opportunity is closing fast with the dramatic climate changes that are occurring today. After some time, perhaps even during our own life time, it may become too late or impossible to take any meaningful action to prevent the acceleration of the death of our planet. Must we fear the U.S.? The answer could be yes, if it fails to act responsibly.
Alnuaim, S.(2013). Conference on climate change in Warsaw. Saudi Gazette. Retrieved from http://www.saudigazette.com
Bauer, E.(2013, March 4). Plastic Problems: How Do Plastic Bags Affect Our Environment? Retrieved from http://beforeitsnews.com/
Carpenter, G.(2013). Climate change report. Retrieved from http://www.guycarp.com/
Lartey, R.(2012). What caused the collapse of Lehman Brothers? SMC University, Switzerland. Retrieved from http://ssrn.com/
Mitchell, R.(2013). International Environmental Agreements (IEA) Database Project. University of Oregon. Retrieved from http://iea.uoregon.edu/
Population Reference Bureau. (2013). World Population Data Sheet. Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://www.prb.org/
Savci, S.(2012). An agricultural pollutant: Chemical fertilizer. International journal of environmental science and development, 3(1). Retrieved from http://www.ijesd.org/