To really capture the gravity of the planetary environmental crisis, it is essential to understand that climate change—often presented in an isolated fashion—does not constitute the totality of the crisis. The various environmental disturbances are, in
reality, aspects of a single crisis; and climate change is only the most visible facet of the same crisis that the rapid disappearance of biodiversity and the generalized pollution of ecosystems also demonstrate.
For example, the construction of a highway and its subsequent use will simultaneously impair biodiversity (by fragmenting the ecosystem it crosses), pollute the environment (through emissions of such atmospheric pollutants as nitrogen oxide and particulates, as well as gas spills), and increase carbon-gas emissions by stimulating the traffic of cars and lorries. At the same time, the excess carbon-gas waste leads to an increase in its absorption by the oceans, acidifying them and weakening the ability of coral and plankton to manufacture their calcareous envelope. If nothing changes, the organisms that have a shell of the mineral known as ‘aragonite’ will have disappeared from the southern oceans by 2030, with harmful consequences to those species that eat them, such as whales and salmon.
In another example of interaction, climate change should favour the spread of vectors of disease beyond their original ecosystems. For example, malaria-bearing mosquitoes will move toward the countries of the Northern Hemisphere. It should also stimulate the erosion of biodiversity: a scientific study published in 2004 estimated that climate change would lead to the disappearance of 35 percent of living species. Although this is probably exaggerated, the study nonetheless suggests the vigour of the connection between the two phenomena. Conversely, the factors involved in biodiversity destruction frequently affect climate change: close to 20 percent of greenhouse gas emissions are due to deforestation. More generally, the crisis in biodiversity weakens the biosphere’s ability to dampen or check greenhouse gas emissions, and consequently it exacerbates their impact.
So we must abandon the idea of separate crises that may be solvable independently of one another. That idea serves special interests only, for example, the nuclear-power lobby, which uses climate change to promote its industry. On the contrary, we must think about the synergy of these crises—their interrelations, their interactions—and accept an unpleasant fact: this synergy is currently working toward a worsening of our state of affairs, with a destructive power that nothing available can temper right now.
An excerpt from Hervé Kempf’s book How the Rich Are Destroying the Earth
Image credit: pixabay.com/HypnoArt