It might be appropriate to say that, as man seeks more opportunities to quench his thirst for comfort and other necessities, it is the environment that is severely tested. There is no doubt the importance the environment has for man’s survival, but when they run into scarcity of place or resources, they begin to look at other possible alternatives, and in the bargain, taps into the environment around him. While nations seek to enhance development, little have they thought about the consequence of their actions in eating into the ecosystem? Never has it, at least until now, occurred to them to question the influence of a clean and healthy environment can have on their future generations. The Kyoto Protocol was signed with the hope that countries exceeding certain pre-defined emission levels would bring down that rate to protect the world from further global warming.
Why would a continent on the brink of economic sustainability after the recession, think of cutting across a strict regime of economic independence, and compromise their growth to protect the environment? This says a lot, and it does. The industrial revolution which took place in Britain and later in Europe brought economic prosperity. With the growth of industries, job opportunities rose in Europe, and Europeans enjoyed economic independence and better living conditions. As they became self-sufficient, they could export excess produce to countries across the globe, and this made them richer. While rich countries become richer, poor countries are becoming exceedingly poorer. The reason; poorer countries depend on the richer countries for economic support and are forced to accept whatever terms are dictated by them to get this.
We know that industrialization has been the main reason for air and sea pollution; the smoke emanating from industries filling the atmosphere and the waste from other industries dumping their wastes in the sea through canals built exclusively for this. Also, the demand for gas has increased explorations in the sea, and on land which leads to an imbalance in the ecosystem resulting in abnormal physical activities under the sea and also on land. When exploration or activities which involve cutting of trees, digging deep into the earth or sea occurs, there is ever possibility of some chain reaction which could cause landslides, earthquakes and tsunami-type activities under the sea. It is no secret that the felling of trees for fuel and development has caused certain climatic changes to the rain forests in the Amazon. The requirement of housing to accommodate the huge population has diminished the forests. Alan Dupont in The Strategic Implications of Climate Change says that there are serious issues connected to global warming. Some of these include food and water scarcity, heightened energy insecurity, growth of infectious diseases, more natural disasters, growth of environmental refugees, and finally, the wild cards.
With global warming assuming monstrous proportions, the Kyoto Protocol mandated that countries across the globe reduce carbon dioxide emission, “only two countries, the United Kingdom and Sweden, are within their targeted limits” (562). China and India, the two fastest growing economies in the world today, are on the verge of overtaking Europe as the faster growing economic giants in the world. The fast-track industrialization in these countries overshadows the development in other developed countries, and is the only two nations “exempt from emissions target under the Kyoto Protocol” (563). Dupont’s view that the potential impact of climate change on food and water security, energy security, infectious disease, and frequent natural disasters could lead to greater international conflict and other challenges for states has conviction, as natural resources deplete and the survival of human beings become questionable. Food and water scarcity would top the list of elements that could lead to greater international conflict. When the basic necessities for survival on the planet depletes, worsened by the growth of world population, where is the question of living off luxury and development, when there is no food to eat, or water to drink? They are more destructive than traditional military threats, as weapons would become obsolete if there are no men to go to war. Diseases would spread, as bodies become weak and immunity is lost. Starvation will lead to deaths that could dwarf the “devastating flu pandemic of 1918-19 which killed from 40-100m people” (564).
The importance of water is well documented by Dupont. Having understood the importance of water for survival, “China has redoubled its efforts to redirect the southward flow of rivers from the water-rich Tibetan plateau to water-deficient areas of northern China. The problem is that rivers like the Mekong, Ganges, Brahmaputra and Salween flow through multiple states.” China has the advantage of having the rivers flow through its territory to neighboring countries in the south of Asia, and they can do as they please with the water flowing in their country. “Chinese dams on the Mekong are already reducing flows to Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam.” Similarly, the Brahmaputra supplies water to India and Bangladesh, and again by controlling the flow of water into these countries, it could lead to tension. “India is concerned about Chinese plans to channel the waters of the Brahmaputra to the over-used and increasingly desiccated Yellow River, and should China go ahead with this ambitious plan, tensions with India and Bangladesh are likely to rise” (562). As Schwartz and Randall postulate, “should water, food and energy shortages develop, age-old patterns of conflict quickly re-emerge as nations fight for control over diminishing natural resources” (567). China and India are nuclear powers, and each has enough nuclear weapons to annihilate this planet. Should they go to war, as they have already done, it could lead to a nuclear conflict that could easily pull in the other nuclear powers, which could become a nightmare. As Schwartz and Randall said, water, food and energy shortages have, in the past, led to conflicts, and this is not a theory to be ignored.
In fact, food and water scarcity can lead to heightened energy insecurity, growth of infectious diseases, more natural disasters, and growth of environmental refugees.