Greenhouse gases and global warming
by Dr Hannah Middleton
The greenhouse effect is potentially the most dangerous environmental problem facing humankind, with consequences second only to nuclear war.
A debate is raging in Australia at the moment about reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the lead-up to the Climate Change Convention in Kyoto, Japan, in December this year.
The Howard Government rejects any idea of fixed targets, arguing instead for “differentiation”, setting different targets for each country. In Australia’s case, the government’s target would allow an increase in greenhouse gas emissions for at least another 12 years.
The European Union, in contrast, is arguing for across the board cuts of 15 per cent on 1990 levels by the year 2000; Japan is suggesting a five per cent reduction. US President Clinton has announced a conditional compromise package with a lower stabilisation target.
In July this year, the Australian Conservation Foundation, Greenpeace Australia and World Wide Fund for Nature declined an invitation to join the official Australian delegation to international climate change negotiations in Bonn.
Illustrating the strength of feeling of environmental organisations on this issue, Greenpeace Australia Chief Executive Officer, Ms Bronwyn Boekenstein, said: “The Federal Government is holding to ransom the global solution to climate change. We cannot countenance one of the most irresponsible positions Australia has ever taken on an environmental issue”.
ACF Executive Director, Mr Jim Downey, added: “Australia’s demand flies in the face of the principle that those who cause a pollution problem should take responsibility for cleaning it up” — he could have added, or for preventing it by appropriate means.
What is the greenhouse effect?
The greenhouse effect can be visualised as follows:
Imagine that Earth has been encircled by a giant glass sphere. The heat of the sun penetrates through the glass. Some of the heat is absorbed by the Earth, and some of it is radiated back towards space. The radiated heat reaches the glass sphere and is prevented from dispersing any further.
The earth is surrounded by a blanket of gases. This blanket traps energy in the atmosphere, much the same way as glass traps heat inside a greenhouse. This results in an accumulation of energy, and the overall warming of the atmosphere.
The greenhouse effect is caused by gases in the atmosphere which have the ability to absorb the sun’s energy that is usually radiated back into space from Earth.
Energy from the sun reaches the earth as short-wave radiation; some is absorbed and some is radiated back as long-wave radiation.
The greenhouse gases allow short-wave radiation to pass through to Earth but absorb the long-wave radiation which should be reflected back to space. These gases include naturally occurring gases — primarily water vapour, carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxides — as well as industrial chemicals such as chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs).
The problem is that human activities have increased the atmospheric concentration of these gases well beyond their natural levels, and have introduced new greenhouse gases, such as CFCs. This in turn is throwing the natural climatic systems off balance.
One of the major greenhouse gases from human sources is carbon dioxide (CO2). While CO2 is naturally occurring, its concentration in the atmosphere is rapidly increasing because of the burning of the fossil fuels — oil, coal and gas — and the cutting and burning of the world’s forests on a massive scale.
While nature produces about 30 times more CO2 than human activity, the carbon emitted by nature is part of a finely balanced cycle. The emissions caused by human activity are over and above the natural balance, and consequently result in a net increase in the concentrations of atmospheric CO2.
Since the industrial revolution about 850 billion tonnes of CO2 have been emitted due to combustion of fossil fuels, oil, coal and natural gas. An additional 370 billion tonnes have been added through changes in land use and from deforestation.
The carbon dioxide content of the atmosphere has increased by 25 per cent since the industrial revolution — from 275 parts per million (ppm) in the late 1700s to 315 ppm in 1960, and to 350 ppm in 1988. Thus half of this rise has occurred in the past 20 to 30 years alone.
More than five billion tons of carbon derived from fossil fuels are deposited in the atmosphere each year. To this we must add about one to two billion tons that would otherwise have been absorbed by the forests destroyed by deforestation.
Human activity is not only producing more CO2, but is also severely damaging the ability of the earth to absorb carbon — via its carbon sinks — the forests and oceanic plankton. Growing forests absorb CO2 and breathe out oxygen.
Massive worldwide forest destruction results in much fewer trees to soak up CO2, and releases the stored CO2 from the trees into the atmosphere.
The rate of loss of forests is staggering. In the Amazonian forests, some single years have registered between seven and ten million hectares of forest destroyed.
Similarly, the destruction of the ozone layer by human-made chemicals, such as CFCs, is allowing increased levels of harmful ultra-violet radiation to reach the surface of the earth.
Increased levels of ultra-violet radiation could reduce the density of plankton in the oceans. Since plankton are the primary carbon sink of the planet, reduction in their density could result in less CO2 being absorbed from the atmosphere.
What are the consequences?
Global warming and climate change result from the greenhouse effect. Their consequences may well include:
- The destruction of entire ecosystems;
- Increased frequency and intensity of storms, hurricanes, floods, droughts and forest fires;
- Melting glaciers, polar ice and permafrost;
- Rising sea levels resulting in the permanent flooding of vast areas of heavily populated lands and the creation of hundreds of millions of environmental refugees;
- The spread of tropical diseases due to insect proliferation into areas where temperatures are increasing.
Do scientists agree?
When Prime Minister Howard was in Rarotonga (Cook Islands) in September this year for the South Pacific Forum, he said in an interview:
... There is nonetheless quite a bit of debate about the science, so far as greenhouse effects are concerned, and it’s not all one way. It is not all — how should one put it — the apocalyptic view of the world and of life.
More recently, mining magnate Hugh Morgan claimed that scientific warnings should not be taken too seriously because scientists keep revising their predictions downwards. He also argued strongly that there is no need to do anything immediately about the problem.
Prime Minister Howard, the Coalition Government and others may suggest that the scientific debate is far from over, but actually there is a broad agreement on this issue among scientists and experts, represented by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
In 1988, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) established the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), comprising over 300 of the world’s leading experts, to investigate climate change.
In most scientific circles the issue is no longer whether or not climate change is a potentially serious problem, but rather, how the problem will develop, what its effects will be, how these can be best detected, and what measures can be taken to reduce the damage.
There are many worrying indicators that something serious is happening. For example:
- The nine hottest years on record have all occurred since 1980, despite the 2-3 year cooling effect of the Mount Pinatubo volcanic eruption in 1991. 1994 was the third or fourth hottest year on record.
- Since the mid-19th Century, global temperatures have increased by around 0.5°C. Temperatures have increased in all seasons in the Southern Hemisphere, and in spring, winter and autumn in the Northern Hemisphere.
- The European summer of 1994 brought temperatures up to 6°C above average, which induced massive fires in Southern Europe, chronic air pollution problems across the continent, and severe water shortages in many cities.
- Scientists at the Max-Planck Institute For Meteorology in Hamburg concluded from an examination of recent temperature records that they are 90 to 97.5 per cent certain that the observed warming of the last 20-30 years is not due to natural variability.
- A study of global mean temperatures over 1000 years prompted Princeton University researchers to state recently, “ … these results suggest that the observed trend is not a natural feature of the interaction between the atmosphere and oceans. Instead, it may have been induced by a sustained change in the thermal forcing, such as that resulting from changes in atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations and aerosol loading.”
- According to scientists, the retreat of glaciers and the warming of the tundra permafrost is clear evidence of climatic change. Currently, there is a pronounced loss of ice mass and mountain glacier retreat occurring all over the world.
- Alpine plants are migrating upwards in the Austrian and Swiss Alps in response to warming temperatures, migratory birds are confused, trees and small animals are migrating northward in Canada, marine organisms are migrating northward in California, all in response to increasing air or sea temperatures.
- In May 1994, the British Antarctic Survey reported the fastest sustained atmospheric warming on the Antarctic Peninsula since reliable worldwide temperature observations began 130 years ago. A startling 2.5°C warming in Antarctica has been reported since 1940. Linked with that warming has been the disintegration of Antarctic ice-sheets; the recent break-up of a giant iceberg (78km long and 37km wide, the size of Cyprus); the decline of penguin populations; and the blooming of plants.
- The medical journal Lancet reported in January 1994 that increased temperatures in Pakistan since 1978 have extended the period suitable for the development of the malarial parasite. Paul Epstein, of the Harvard School of Public Health, says that mosquitoes which transmit yellow and dengue fever were formerly restricted to less than 1,000 metres in altitude by temperature, but are now reported at 2,200 metres in India and Colombia.
- In January of 1995, Europe was devastated by yet another “hundred year” flood, its second in 15 months. The floods caused the evacuation of 250,000 people in Holland, and cost billions of US dollars in damages.
- Currently PNG is suffering its worst drought on record with latest estimates that at least half a million people are at risk through lack of food and/or water; Indonesia is suffering from widespread forest fires.
Reliable estimates at the moment seem to indicate that world average temperatures will rise by one or two degrees by 2050, by between 1.5 and 4.5 degrees by 2100 — but by the year 2300 by 10 to 18 degrees centigrade. This will have catastrophic social, economic and ecological implications.
Small fluctuations in average world temperatures cause very major climatic effects. To put the figures in context: a rise of four degrees in mean temperatures would create conditions on earth warmer than for 40 million years.
The global temperature increase since the last ice age (10,000 years ago) has been about 5°C.
Temperatures in the south Pacific have already risen by 0.4 to 0.8 degrees between 1951 and 1993. In Australia, temperatures have risen since the turn of the century by 0.1 to 1.0 degree and are still rising.
The IPCC warns that their studies show a sharp drop in the snow cover of many mountain ranges, a reduction of glaciers and sea ice, and a rise in Pacific Ocean levels of about two millimeters every year.
Global warming itself is releasing even greater quantities of carbon dioxide and methane, another greenhouse gas, from thawing permafrost (a layer of previously permanently frozen soil), thus accelerating atmospheric re-heating.
Because of thermal expansion of the water and melting of continental glaciers, sea levels would rise, possibly as much as two feet (0.6 metres), by the end of next century.
- The effect of drowning coastlines could lead to hundreds of millions of climate refugees. Where will these refugees go? How will they be cared for?
- Island chains such as the Maldives will disappear from the map, together with whole Pacific island states such as Kiribas.
- Over 70 million people in China are vulnerable to sea-level rise, including major cities such as Shanghai.
- In Bangladesh 13 million people could be displaced and at least 17 per cent of the land will be lost.
- In America, 9,000 square miles of Florida, Louisiana and other coastal areas will be flooded.
- Between 12 and 15 per cent of Egypt’s agricultural land could be inundated.
The Prime Minister of Tuvalu, speaking at the World Climate Conference in November 1990, said:
The best-guess forecast of the IPCC for sea level rise is a global average of 3-10 millimetres per year. As more than 70 per cent of the world’s population live on coastal plains, the potential for massive personal, economic and physical dislocation becomes clear — even if sea levels rise only marginally.
Mangroves (which act as crucial nursery, feeding and spawning grounds for coastal fisheries) corals (which protect coastal areas from wind and wave erosion) and coastlines will be all threatened by even small rises in sea levels.
And while they have done the least to cause climate change, Pacific, Caribbean and Indian Ocean island nations are the most likely to suffer.
The Prime Minister then gave some indicators of rising seas:
In the United Kingdom in 1990, a secret government report revealed that parts of the UK will have to be abandoned in the event of sea level rises. The report described the situation as a “tidal time bomb”. In 1992 the government was advised to begin a “managed retreat” from the coastline rather than spend millions on sea walls. The British Government concedes that huge areas of farmland in eastern England will have to be abandoned to the sea.
In Thailand in 1992, a UNEP report suggested that thousands of hectares of productive agricultural land in Thailand will be threatened by the sea level rise projected by the IPCC.
In Mozambique in 1993, the sea encroached onto roads and homes in Beira, Mozambique’s second largest city. The city centre, currently two kilometres from the coast, is already showing signs of erosion. Beira is one of the ten cities in the world most threatened by sea level rise.
Changing weather patterns
Rising temperatures could lead to changes in regional wind systems which would influence global rainfall distribution and lead to the redistribution and frequency of floods, droughts and forest fires. Windstorms and hurricanes could become more frequent and more intense.
The impact on some of the basic eco-systems — such as food production and water supply — which support human life, as a result of warming and extreme weather events such as storms, droughts and floods, will be drastic and disastrous.
Food and water
Climatological studies at Oxford University indicate that crop production in under-developed countries — already marginally sufficient for needs — could fall by 2060 by 9 to 11 per cent. Prices of food, especially grain, could rise as much as 145 per cent, increasing the inequalities of distribution and putting more than 350 million additional people at risk of hunger towards the end of next century.
Entire regions of Africa and Asia will face desertification, and many of Europe and North America’s traditional crops will fail.
Water supplies would become disrupted in some regions, particularly in already vulnerable, arid areas.
A severe disruption of the world’s food supplies through floods, droughts, crop failures and diseases brought about by climate change would trigger famines, wars and civil disorder in many countries.
Most human societies — especially subsistence agricultural societies — have evolved over many centuries by adapting to their present climatic conditions. Their agriculture, technologies, economies and culture are based on familiar circumstances. These societies are likely to find climate change, on the scale and speed predicted for the coming decades, to be very traumatic.
Many natural ecosystems will not be able to adjust fast enough to a rapidly warming world. This could lead to sharp increases in the already alarming rate of species extinction on the planet.
Climate change would create favorable conditions for growth in insect populations. This would likely have a negative effect on agriculture and human health.
Malaria: A net increase in infectious diseases, such as malaria, is one of the most confidently predicted outcomes of climate change.
There have been documented geographic shifts in a number of mosquito borne infections — malaria and dengue fever. They’re extending their range, moving to higher altitudes in a number of places around the world. Perhaps by the middle of the next century 60 per cent of the world’s population might be exposed to the risk of malaria, rather than 45 per cent today, with 50 million or more cases of malaria a year.
Mosquitoes which transmit yellow and dengue fevers were formerly restricted to a range of less than 1,000 metres in altitude by temperature, but are now reported at 2,200 meters in India and Colombia.
In Rwanda, significant temperature increases and record rainfalls between 1961 and 1990 correspond with an increased incidence and geographic spread of malaria.
In northwest Pakistan, a regional temperature increase of 0.5 degrees C has contributed to the transmission of malaria. Annual cases have risen from a few hundred in 1980 to 25,000 in 1990.
Migration: Climate-induced migration of millions of people would likely overwhelm and/or escape existing public health systems. This would facilitate the spread of malaria and other infectious diseases into the developed world.
Toxic algal bloom: Another group of effects on global climate change may be seen in aquatic eco-systems, such as, for example, the production of algal bio-toxins, some of which are climate sensitive. The issue of algal bloom, which we are all too familiar with in this country, does present us with some very real dangers, quite apart from its direct toxic effects. It can be one of the ways in which cholera and similar diseases are being spread around the world.
Last year’s scorching summer temperatures in India and related heavy monsoons provided breeding sites for pneumonic plague, dengue fever and malaria, which killed as many as 4,000 Indians.
Heat stress: We can expect more deaths from heat stress. The high temperatures in India in 1996 led to a surge in heat mortality.
In the United States, in 1995 there was a very severe heatwave and in five days in Chicago more than 700 people died from the excess heat.
One of the great problems next century is that for the first time in human history, more than 50 per cent of the world’s population will be urbanised in mega-cities, in impoverished urban areas.
This will bring an increase in the rate of CO2 accumulation in the atmosphere and greater climate change. With increased temperatures photo chemical smog reactions are speeded up, and so there will be a great deal more air pollution on the ground with added numbers of automobiles in cities.
What is happening is that cities are being converted into vast concentrations of carbon dioxide production that — along with other chemicals — aggravate the warming effect.
The debate in Australia
In an earlier report to the Communist Party of Australia, Central Committee member Erna Bennett noted:
- The environmental crisis is created by a ruling class and by its rapacious exploitation of earth’s common resources for its private ends.
- Ignoring present warnings, it continues to aggravate the crisis by a callous and reckless disregard for the predictable consequences of its activities.
- Its power to act in this way is defended by the policies of governments which facilitate the interests of the ruling class, even to the extent of concealing the gravity of the global crisis from electors to whom they are responsible and answerable.
- This is frequently done behind declarations that environmental protection measures will not be allowed to adversely affect the economic interests of the country — meaning, of course, the economic interests of the ruling class …
Just this approach is reflected in the statement in Parliament in September this year by the Federal Minister for the Environment, Senator Hill:
It is foolish to believe that we can continue to grow the economy and provide jobs and job security for Australians without there being a resultant effect on energy-related emissions.
The adoption of a uniform reduction target at the upcoming Kyoto conference would have a devastating impact on Australian industry and its ability to create jobs.
Australia’s electricity generation is carbon dioxide intensive as, unlike many other developed countries, we use no nuclear power generation.
A ready supply of fossil fuels gives us a competitive advantage in energy- intensive industries such as minerals processing, iron and steel, non-ferrous metals, chemicals, pulp and paper. These industries provide tens of thousands of jobs and billions of export dollars.
The Federal Government’s claim that uniform targets for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions will unfairly damage Australia economically and destroy thousands of jobs was put by Senator Heffernan when he said in Parliament:
In 1990, 80 per cent of Australia’s production of energy and emission intensive goods — petroleum products, basic metals, minerals and resources, agriculture and food products, meat and dairy products, and chemicals — were exported. Legally binding targets for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions would unfairly penalise such domestic industries.
While we seek differential targets, we are taking responsibility in the international arena for reduction in greenhouse gas emissions through exporting our technological advances and through the exporting of environmentally friendly energy and energy technology while bringing down neighbouring countries’ emission levels, which, ironically, increase our own levels at the same time.
What’s wrong with the government’s position?
There are a number of points to make about the government’s position:
- The crisis is catastrophic and very near. Delay is not acceptable,nor are selfish sectional (usually class) arguments.
- The suggestion that Australia should not have to reduce emissions because we use a lot of energy is like saying Australia should be rewarded for being recklessly extravagent.
- Emission levels in Australia have not stabilised. They have, in fact, grown steadily and strongly.
- The government’s major greenhouse strategy, a voluntary agreement with industry, is not to reduce greenhouse gas but to reduce the increase of greenhouse gas. It will not reduce greenhouse gas. It does not talk about anything domestically. It does not talk about rural industries. It does not talk about the level of land clearance. The one voluntary agreement is actually an agreement to increase greenhouse emissions.
- Claims that uniform emission standards will damage the Australian economy ignore the costs to our economy of global warming — climate change associated with El Nino patterns will affect our fisheries and our forests; droughts and floods may devastate our agriculture; more Australians may contract cholera and other diseases, etc., etc.
- Proposals to reduce energy use without penalising amenity — things like insulation standards on houses — have been ignored. The government has done nothing about building codes.
- If the government is so concerned about Australian jobs, what about the jobs they have got rid of, starting with the public sector. Industries the government mentions, such as steel, are shedding jobs for economic profit-making reasons.
- The Federal Government has cut funding for research into renewable energy.
- If the government really wants to cut greenhouse gas emissions, it would increase funding for research into solar and wind energy and things like ethanol — renewable energy sources which could also provide thousands of new jobs.
- We have a lot of coal, but we also have a lot of sun. Australia, the “sun drenched country”, is perhaps more supplied with solar energy than most others in the world. However, the Howard Government is doing nothing in the simple area of making solar hot water services mandatory.
- If the energy intensive industries the government talks about so much are really so good, why don’t they switch from coal to renewable energy sources? Part of the reason is that the government is subsidising fossil fuels for them. From the diesel fuel rebate on, switching is not economic for them because of government subsidies.
What is to be done?
It is imperative that emissions of greenhouse gases be reduced. We have no choice! Industrial practices and means of transportation which are less dependent on fossil fuels must be developed. Ultimately, the world must learn to manage completely without fossil fuels. Coupled with this must be development of mandatory stringent pollution control technologies and an end to deforestation.
Since the problem is global, the solutions must be international. The international community took a first step in 1992 when the Framework Convention on Climate Change was signed by 167 countries in Rio. The convention morally committed industrialised countries to stabilising their emissions of CO2 by the year 2000 at 1990 levels.
However, it is nonsense to speak of limiting gas emissions to 1990 levels. At 1980, even at 1970 levels, atmospheric damage was already far advanced. Choosing 1990 as a benchmark year is a sop to corporate interests, and cannot be defended on any scientifically documented interpretation of present dangers.
What we need is not a halt to increases in pollution levels but a clear and unequivocal reversal of present trends. The minimum goal must be a 20 per cent reduction in CO2 emissions by 2005, based on 1990 levels.
The industrialised countries have the lion’s share of the responsibility for creating the problem and for finding the solutions. Each has developed its industrial base and, consequently, its higher standards of living, through the use of vast amounts of fossil fuels. This has resulted in high concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere.
Furthermore, their per capita emissions of CO2 continue to be tens of times larger than that of all of the developing countries.
For example, the United States, the largest single emitter, annually pumps into the atmosphere approximately 20 tonnes of CO2 per person. With less than 5 per cent of the world’s population, the United States is responsible for 25 per cent of global CO2 emissions.
In comparison, the entire developing world, consisting of more than 100 countries and representing almost 80 per cent of the world’s population, is responsible for approximately the same amount of CO2 emissions.
The International Society for the Systems Sciences presented the following submission to the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED or the Rio Earth Summit):
WHEREAS climate stabilisation is becoming a central driving force determining the nature of production of good and services.
THEREFORE this body is presenting the following expression regarding the sequence of necessary conditions and actions:
- The continuation of food crops in the temperate zones of this earth depends primarily on reducing the atmospheric carbon dioxide from over 355 parts per million (ppm) back to the approximate level of 280 ppm in attempting to stabilise climate.
- Considering the rate of increase in climate disturbance and the increasing destruction from heat, drought, freezing, tornadoes, hurricanes, floods and earthquakes, the reduction of CO2 from 355 ppm plus to approximately 280 ppm in the world’s atmosphere (170 billion tons) is necessary within the next 15 years. This is the first time modern human society has faced this survival emergency.
- Climate stabilisation is determined, in this era of human history, by the balance in activities between soil, forests, oceans, energy technology and energy conservation, and the recovery of wastes into new resources.
- These areas of activity, which determine climate change, are in turn dependent on pollution control and the most basic of all, the social condition of people. All of the above depend on the social conditions: food, housing, health, education, human rights, democratic participation of people as a whole.
- Without the above social conditions being met, the required progress on forests, agriculture, soil, conservation and energy technology cannot be achieved. For example, starving people with no alternative may tear down the last remaining forests in an area for firewood.
- Necessary co-operative institutions need to be co-ordinated through the United Nations, with the CO2 Budget serving as the central working tool. The financial, technological, personnel and trade activities are the responsibility of all national governments with and through the United Nations.
Fossil fuels and jobs
It is becoming apparent that the world cannot survive with fossil fuels. They must therefore be replaced by renewable sources of energy which do not damage the environment.
Technologies already exist to provide clean and reliable sources of energy to meet human needs and provide employment for thousands of workers.
Renewable systems include solar photo-voltaic power systems, solar hot water systems, wind turbines, bio-fuel plantations, hydroelectric systems and so on.
The price of fossil fuels and nuclear power does not reflect their full environmental and economic costs. Despite this, many renewable energy sources, such as wind power and solar thermal, are already cheaper than such conventional fuels and would be even cheaper if produced on a mass scale.
Many of these renewable energy options can be designed, built, and exploited locally and at less costs than conventional systems. They contribute significantly to national economies because they exploit indigenous labour and materials.
Research into and the development of renewable energy sources in Australia can supply enough jobs to employ workers retrenched in fossil fuel (coal and oil especially) and associated industries.
What is lacking is the political will to take on the powerful vested interests who oppose change because it will affect their profits.
What is also lacking is government willingness to centrally plan and to provide adequate funding for research, development, commercial production, and retraining and relocation of workers.
In rural areas, the most sophisticated solar arrays can provide sufficient high-quality energy, at a cost lower than power from electricity grids. Solar power could radically improve the living conditions of the world’s poorest people.
The technology is spreading:
- 200,000 solar photo voltaic systems have been installed around the world, including 37,000 in Mexico, 20,000 in Kenya, 16,000 in Indonesia, 15,000 in China, 4,500 in Sri Lanka, 4,000 in the Dominican Republic and 1,000 in Brazil.
- In Kenya more rural households obtain their electricity from solar energy than from the official policy of grid extension.
- In the Dominican Republic, Enersol, a US-based non-governmental organisation, has successfully trained local entrepreneurs to assemble, market, install and service photo-voltaic systems. The program began in 1985 with 6 systems, grew to a 100 in 1987, more than 1,000 in 1989 and 4,500 in 1994.
- Since 1992, Enersol has replicated their successful Dominican program in Honduras and Guatemala and contributed to projects in Bolivia and Costa Rica.
- The Solar Electric Light Fund (SELF) has taken the Enersol model and has established a number of successful “solar seed” projects around the world.
- The European Commission’s “Power for the World Program” (a global photo voltaic action plan) estimates that providing solar electricity to a billion people in the developing world would cost $60 billion ($3 billion a year for 20 years). This is less than 0.5 per cent of current military expenditure.
These points are not new — but they do need to be repeated to remind us of what has to be done and to encourage greater awareness and activity on environmental matters.
- Demand that the government makes a commitment at Kyoto to stabilising emissions of CO2 by the year 2000 at 1990 levels, with a further commitment to a 20 per cent reduction in CO2 emissions by 2005, based on 1990 levels.
- Support public transport and campaign for the extension of public transport systems. Public transport is the best way to cut CO2 emissions from cars. A car produces more than its own weight in carbon dioxide each year, roughly 2 tonnes per year. Effective public transport reduces the need for building new roads — another source of CO2. In turn, the money saved on road building can go into improving the public transport sector. These measures will also improve urban air-quality.
- Support the development of renewable energy technologies. Demand the government aims to achieve a minimum three per cent per year penetration of the country’s energy supply system with renewable technologies.
- Campaign for the introduction of local, regional, State and Federal Government CO2 budgets.
- Campaign to have every enterprise in Australia develop an energy conservation plan involving such things as conservation of resources, recycling techniques and waste control.
- Pressure governments to make electricity companies reward energy saving consumers with lower rates, instead of offering the cheaper rates to the largest users of electricity.
- Demand the development and implementation of a national water regeneration program.
- Urge the government provide financial assistance to farmers for training in environmental protection and regeneration, land and water use and preservation, and other environmental matters.
- Support the struggles to defend the forests — since a quarter of the gases leading to global warming are attributable to forest destruction. Campaign for an embargo on logging except for immediate and essential domestic use.
- Be active in your workplace health and safety committee, educating workers in the environmental consequences of their industries and, where appropriate, devising and campaigning for environmentally friendly solutions. If possible involve the local community in health and safety issues which extend beyond the workplace.
- Promote a program of remineralisation of impoverished topsoils, desertified lands and former forest regions to be carried out before or in conjunction with programs to re-green Australia.
- Campaign for an annual ten per cent cut in military spending (currently $27 million a day) with a percentage of these funds to be allocated to help fund the projects listed above.
- Raise the necessity for democratic social, economic and environmental planning. Public ownership of industry and resources, their democratic control and comprehensive planned development is the basis for the satisfaction of the demands of workers and environmentalists and the future needs of humanity.