CONTEXT for Environmental Threats

Regenerating the Environment

The initiatives outlined so far in the above strategies, if aggressively implemented within the next ten years, could fulfill the basic human needs for food, water, shelter, health care, energy, and education for all of humanity. They would also lead to a safer, more secure, and more democratic, just, and economically vibrant and fun world.

To insure that these conditions are lasting, and are not undermined by a disappearing ecological base, major efforts are also needed to protect, and even regenerate the environment. The following five sections describe how we can do this.

“Ecosystems matter: half of all jobs worldwide are in agriculture, forestry and fishing.”
—World Resources Institute


“We will end up where we are headed if we do not change our direction.”
—Ancient Chinese proverb

“In fact, we do not know whether global warming will continue to increase on a steady ramp or possibly cross the threshold of some nonlinear process.  We’re in the middle of a large uncontrolled experiment on the only planet we have.”
—Donald Kennedy, Editor, Science magazine
Current State
World's temperature increasing 2 to 5° C. in next 50 years
Preferred State/What the World Wants
Global warming slowed down, stopped, reversed
The release of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report in 2001(and 2005, 2006 and 2007) stated the scientific consensus concerning global warming: the release of carbon, methane and CFC gases into the atmosphere is creating a "greenhouse" effect that will raise the average global surface temperature of the Earth 1.4° to 5.8°C above 1990 level by 2100. [1]   Such a temperature rise will have profound impacts on nearly all aspects of daily commerce—from food supply, to coastal settlements that will flood as the seas rise, to health and disease concerns.  The World Health Organization, for example, predicts that in the next century malaria cases could increase by 50 to 80 million each year.[2]  Because mosquitoes thrive in areas where the average temperature is in the 25º to 27ºC. range, increasing the average temperature a few degrees will transform a “mosquito no-fly zone” into a malaria-breeding zone.[3]  Already, malaria-carrying mosquitoes have spread to formerly cool African highlands.[4]
Although not without controversy[5], the phenomenon of global warming is irrefutable: over the last 60 years increasing temperatures have resulted in:
* Major reductions in the mass of alpine glaciers in Alaska, Asia, Africa, the Alps, Indonesia, and South America[6]
* An increase in permafrost thawing
* A reduction in the extent and thickness of Arctic sea ice
* Later freeze-up and earlier break-up dates of ice on rivers and lakes
* An increase in calving rate of Antarctic ice shelves
* Shifts in the distribution of plant and animal species both attitudinally and attitudinally
* Changes in the phenology of plant leafing and flowering
* Storage of heat in the near surface ocean
* An increase in overall sea-level 10 to 20 centimeters in the past century[7]
* Increases in ground temperature.[8]
Given that more than 100 million people live within one meter of mean sea level, the direct threat to human well being from increasing sea levels is acute.[9]  In addition, sea level changes affect beach erosion, incursion of saltwater into fresh water aquifers, and the probability of damage during storm surges.[10]
“…taking no action at all will, in the long run, be more expensive than taking preventive action now.”
            —Klaus Topfer, former Executive Director, UNEP
Climate Strategy 1: Reversing Global Warming/Removing Fossil Energy Subsidies
The world currently gets 90% of its commercial energy from carbon-based sources such as coal, oil and natural gas primarily because these sources are “cheap.”  One reason they are cheap is that they are heavily subsidized.  For example, Russia and Germany subsidize coal mining, and the U.S. subsidizes oil by spending billions on keeping the Mid-East, not “safe for democracy” as anyone familiar with the autocratic regimes of most of the region can attest, but “safe for oil companies and consumers.”  Other subsidies, such as tax credits, cheap oil and gas leases on federal lands, government-run energy corporations, and price subsidies permeate the global energy system. 
Removing these subsidies (as outlined in Chapter 10, Clean Energy for All), would have a series of important climate, environmental, economic, and human health impacts.  For one, the $1.7 trillion that is projected to be invested in new electric power generating capacity in developing countries in the next 15 years[11] would more likely be invested in renewable energy sources, as these will be the most cost effective in an energy subsidy-free world.
Removing subsidies to carbon-based energy sources and a progressive tax on their use would also be a money-saving measure that would lower carbon emissions and slow the onslaught of global warming. The cost for the Removing Fossil Energy Subsidies program, already covered in the Clean Energy for All programs, is $2 billion per year for 10 years.
Climate Strategy 2: Reversing Global Warming/Eliminating Air Pollution
“There is little doubt that air pollution from current patterns of fossil fuel use for electricity generation, transport, industry and housing are already sickening or killing millions throughout the world.”[12]
Along with the removal of subsidies to fossil energy sources, the further step of reducing, and eliminating where possible, all air pollution from the remaining fossil energy sources would dramatically improve the health of hundreds of millions of people in the world.[13]  For example, reducing air pollution from just the older coal-fired power plants in the U.S. could avoid 18,700 deaths, 3 million lost workdays, and 16 million restricted-activity days each year.[14]  This loss in life alone costs U.S. society almost $19 billion.[15]  Nearly 700,000 lives are lost worldwide each year related to air pollution[16]— at least a $7 to $70 billion drain on the global economy.[17]
One recent study calculated that if greenhouse gas mitigation technologies were used in four cities  (Mexico City, New York, Santiago and San Paulo) to reduce particulate matter and ozone ambient concentrations by about 10%, 64,000 premature deaths could be avoided.[18]  Applying these results to the 3 billion urban dwellers in the entire world could result in over 4 million avoided deaths, a $43.2 billion, $432 billion to $4.3 trillion savings to the global economy (depending on whether you value each of those lives at $10,000, $100,000 or $1 million).
The Eliminating Air Pollution program will combine tax incentives, government regulations, international agreements and direct assistance that results in pollution-control equipment being placed on all coal combustion sites, plus increases in efficiency of industrial processes, transportation and appliances.  The cost for these measures would be $5 billion per year for ten years.  This is 5.6% of what is spent on cigarettes in the world each year, or .53% of annual global military expenditures.

This $5 billion per year for 10 years cost of the Reversing Global Warming programs (those not covered by other strategies listed previously in the book) is about 6% of what developing countries are spending on subsidizing their electricity prices, or 55% of the $70 billion the insurance industry paid out in 2002 for weather-related natural disasters[19] (three times what they paid out in the 1980s).[20]
Benefits from the Reversing Global Warming programs would include the reduction or elimination of acid rain[21], a more stable environment, more secure food sources and food production regimes, more current coastal lands not submerged, less flooding, less insurance payouts for weather damages, fewer weather caused natural disasters, fewer extinctions caused by shifting ecosystems[22], more stable national and international economies and fewer environmentally caused diseases such as malaria.  All together, the benefits to the global economy and the health of the people of the world would be in the trillions of dollars each year.
Stopping the progressive and debilitating planetary disease of global warming not only decreases the trillion dollar costs to society of adjusting to climate changes, the actions needed to slow, stop, and reverse the already felt impacts will bring additional wealth into the world. We get richer as we enrich nature.  Our collective wealth increases as we decrease the negative economic tolls that global warming forces us to pay on our path to the future.
If we rise to the challenge of global warming and avoid its severe economic and ecological costs, will we be home free? Given the even lengthier ongoing destruction of the world’s soils, dealing with the immense challenges of global warming won’t be enough to make sure we have all that we need to make it to the future abundance of billionairehood.  The next chapter looks at the need and presents strategies for reversing the destruction of the world’s top soils.

[1] Climate Change 2001: The Scientific Basis, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (
[2] “Climate Tempestuous” (The Economist, July 26, 1996, p. 68.)
[3] WHO, Removing Obstacles to Healthy Development (Geneva, WHO, 1999, p. 28).
[4] Vital Signs 2003, (Worldwatch Institute, 2003, p. 40).
[5] “Hot Potato,” (The Economist, February 15, 2003, p.72.) cites methodological problems with some economic growth assumptions for developing countries in a scenarios used to project future global warming impacts.
[6] Vital Signs 2003, (Worldwatch Institute, 2003, p. 40).
[7] Donald Kennedy, “Climate Change and Climate Science,” (Science, June 11, 2004, p.1565).
[8] Raymond S. Bradley, “Many Citations Support Global Warming Trend,” (Science, June 15, 2001, p. 2011)
[9] Mark F. Meier, Mark B. Dyurgerov, “How Alaska Affects the World” (Science, July 19, 2002, p. 350)
[10] ibid.
[11] Reducing Emissions While Maintaining Economic Growth: Electric Power Options in Developing Countries (Pew Center on Global Climate Change, Arlington VA, 2000).
[12] Luis Cifuentes, et. al., “Hidden Health Benefits of Greenhouse Gas Mitigation,” (Science, August 17, 2001, p. 1257)
[13] ibid.
[14] Abt Associates, Inc. “The particulate-related health benefits of reducing power plant emissions” (Prepared for the Clean Act Task Force, Boston, MA, 2000)
[15] Valuing each life at $1 million.
[16] Luis Cifuentes, et. al., “Hidden Health Benefits of Greenhouse Gas Mitigation,” (Science, August 17, 2001, p. 1257)
[17] Valuing each life at $100,000 yields a loss to the world of $70 billion; valuing each life at $10,000 yields a loss of $7 billion; valuing each life lost at $1 million yields a loss of $700 billion;.
[18] Luis Cifuentes, et. al., “Hidden Health Benefits of Greenhouse Gas Mitigation,” (Science, August 17, 2001, p. 1258)
[19] “Natural Disasters Set to Cost Over $70 billion,” (UNEP News Release 2002/78
[20] As global warming takes hold most climatologists think that the frequency and intensity of violent storms will increase thereby increasing the losses of the insurance industry.
[21] Due to the reduction to elimination of coal fired power plants
[22] C. Drew Harvell, et. al., “Climate Warming and Disease Risks for Terrestrial and Marine Biota” (Science, June 21, 2002, p. 2159) “Climate warming can increase pathogen development and survival rates, disease transmission, and host susceptibility.”

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