United Nations-sponsored scientists have issued a report containing grim projections for the human race if climate change is not promptly addressed. But just a few days earlier, another UN report was released that showed humanity's battle against environmental degradation was already being lost. The report originated from the World Health Organization, and its chief finding was that an estimated seven million people perished from air pollution in 2012, the latest year on record.
True, the overwhelming number of those victims were from the financially pressed developing world, compared to the United States and other industrialized countries which could point to varying degrees of improvement in their air and water quality.
Yet in the big picture, environmental victories in the wealthier nations are no more than temporary respites. That is because the battlefield is not a single country. It is the entire planet. No more living in splendid isolation. In this day and age, the heavy volume of pollution generated by modern technological mechanization and burgeoning human populations is not static. It is carried around the world by wind and water currents, ultimately creating a connectivity between all members of the human race, rich and poor, rural and urban, educated and illiterate. And it's not just contaminated air and water that bind us to a common destiny. Species of fish migrate from their spawning grounds to places where they are overharvested or victimized by pollution, thereby depleting an important food staple for many human populations.
Specific examples of the migratory nature of modern-day pollution and its effects are rife. Inhabitants of California are experiencing a preview of what potentially lies ahead as they grapple with air pollution wafting across the Pacific from China. Waste discarded in Asian waters has occasionally washed up on the shores of our West Coast. Last April Fools' Day was no joke to London. Pollution from the European mainland sent air quality soaring to dangerous levels while the British capital's structures were covered by a thick layer of dust originating from the Sahara Desert.
Environmental degradation can also cause human migration. Severe ecological degradation in developing counties can result in civil strife or worse, leading to an exodus of "environmental refugees." These folks can easily become a destabilizing force wherever they end up, merely by upsetting the established order.
Clearly, no one country can solve its own environmental problems by itself, let alone those that circle the planet. But better-off nations can share their technological expertise with the pollution-ridden Third World counties, provide resources when possible, and follow a lifestyle that sets a sustainable example. Such a lifestyle would encompass an emphasis on energy efficiency, clean, renewable energy use, emission reduction technology, and modern waste disposal. Developed countries should also promote more environmentally sustainable transportation networks, land use, and agricultural practices not just within their own borders but beyond.
The human race musts face the reality that it will be unable to achieve lasting victory against environmental degradation unless and until everyone is a victor.
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