News this week that global carbon dioxide emissions possibly fell about eight per cent last year is but a drop of positivity in what has been a calamitous year for the planet. While greenhouse gas emissions declined infinitesimally, cognisance must be taken of the fact that this was only due to the lockdowns forced by the coronavirus pandemic that resulted in a temporary halt in industrial activity and airline travel.
The pandemic continues to plague the globe, but manufacturing and air travel resumed during the year, perhaps not at pre-coronavirus levels, but enough to make the good news transitory.
Meanwhile, natural disasters, nature’s response to the war humans continue to wage against the planet did not abate. The 2020 Atlantic hurricane season, referred to as brutal and record-breaking, produced 30 storms, 13 of which were hurricanes, six of them counted as major.
Wildfires and forest fires caused deaths and damaged ecosystems in Australia, India, the Canary Islands, Ukraine, China, Scotland, Poland, Greece, Turkey and Algeria. In the US, the annual California blazes were particularly devastating with close to 40 deaths and there were also fires in South Jersey and Florida which razed thousands of acres. Closer to home, fires in the Amazon rainforest were up 61 per cent from 2019. There were some 30,000 fires and those in the Brazilian Pantanal, the world’s largest wetland and home to the largest population of jaguars in the world, were the worst ever recorded.
Environmental degradation remains at alarming levels despite the mountains of evidence proving certain practices detrimental to the planet and all forms of life on it.
Oceans are overfished and polluted with plastic and other waste, forests are depleted to facilitate mining and farming, unsustainable river mining pollutes waterways, chemical fertilisers and pesticides poison the atmosphere as well as people and animals.
Science has been pellucid on the fact that fossil fuels – coal, oil and gas – are the main and worst contributors to the raging climate crisis. Yet, these are being pursued with relentless vigour in the name of greed and profits. What is worse is the fact that at the end of the day, the projected riches with which fossil fuel companies woo gullible governments are limited after the owners of those companies corral the lion’s share.
Having chosen to seize wealth now rather than pursue protection from future environmental threats, fossil fuel companies have funded climate deniers, lobbied governments and flat out lied, to keep their industries operating. The only reason they have been able to continue to do this is due to the avarice of the relevant authorities.
Guyana is one of the countries which has succumbed to the lure of US dollar signs painted in the air and subscribed to the notion that the billions rolling in from oil exploitation will bring an end to all our woes.
According to Guyana’s Green State Development Strategy: Vision 2040, in the next 20 years, “oil wealth would be channelled into productive public investments to deliver sustainable development benefits for the whole of society and into the future.” Furthermore, it envisions that by 2040, “a diversified and high value-add [sic] basket of economic sectors supports broad-based development and environmental responsibility… energy supply is reliable low-cost and low-carbon.”
The rhetoric about oil and gas lifting the country out of poverty and providing jobs sounds good on paper but it ignores the fact that fossil fuels are the worst polluters. And there is an embarrassing amount of naivety in projecting plans for low-cost, low-carbon energy in a country producing oil. Is the objective to produce it but not use it?
The United Nations has targeted 2021 as the year to build a Global Coalition for Carbon Neutrality and since 2015, most of the world committed to limiting global warming as per the Paris Agreement; recent regime change in America has revived hope for the latter.
Getting to net zero emissions of greenhouse gases involves taking such steps as turning to renewable energy and reducing or ending fossil fuel production and consumption. Ending the war with nature requires firm commitment; it is not possible to fence-sit in this instance.