Estimates put about 46 million people per year currently at risk of flooding due to storm surges.
In the absence of safety measures, and without taking into account anticipated population growth, a centimeter sea-level rise would increase this number to about 92 million; a 1-meter sea-level rise would raise it to about million. Some small island nations and other countries will be more vulnerable because their existing sea and coastal defense systems are less well established.
Countries with higher population densities will be more vulnerable. Storm surges and flooding could threaten entire cultures. For these countries, a sea-level rise could force an internal or international migration of populations. Bangladesh, to take an example, is a densely populated country of about million people located in the complex delta region of the Ganges, Brahmaputra, and Meghna Rivers.
Storm surges in November of and in April of are believed to have killed over , and , people, respectively. In addition to raising the vulnerability of such regions to catastrophic flooding, climate change increases the threat that tropical storms will be harmful. The health of the poor worldwide is at greatest risk from global warming. Climate change is expected to cause significant loss of life in the poorest nations.
Direct health effects include increases in cardiorespiratory mortality and illness due to an anticipated increase in some regions in the intensity and duration of heat waves. Some increases in nonvector-borne infectious diseases—such as salmonellosis, cholera, and giardiasis—also could occur as a result of elevated temperatures and increased flooding.
Limited supplies of fresh water and nutritious food, as well as the aggravation of air pollution, will also have human health consequences. The food supplies of the poor are especially at risk from global warming. Relatively small changes in temperature and precipitation, together with the nonlinear effects on evapotranspiration and soil moisture, can result in relatively large changes in runoff, especially in arid and semi-arid regions. Global food supplies during the next century may become increasingly inadequate to meet projected consumption due to both climatic and nonclimatic factors.
The poorest nations have the least financial and institutional ability to adapt to climate change. The poorest nations are the least prepared to spend money on strategies that might allow them to adjust to hotter and drier climates, more violent storms, rising sea levels, degraded agricultural resources, and increased burdens on human health organizations.
Many countries cannot afford food imports, irrigation systems, large-scale public works to prevent flooding, or costly health protection strategies. In the poorest nations, the capacity for research, analysis, and policy development is generally weak. Yet it is precisely the poor who will be most vulnerable to the unanticipated shocks of climate change.
How much degradation from human-induced climate change should be tolerated by the international community?
To solve the climate change problem, governments will eventually have to agree at what level to stabilize greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. For instance, nations could agree to stabilize greenhouse gases at a level that protects human health but allows significant damage to endangered species and ecological systems.
Therefore, the decision about the ultimate level of stabilization raises serious ethical questions about what the duties of human beings are to other forms of life, as well as our duties to future generations and to those in poverty, who will suffer the most from human-induced climate change. At the third Conference of the Parties to the Convention in Kyoto in , the developed nations agreed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 5 percent on average below levels.
But this is only a small percentage of what will be needed to stabilize greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. The international community has yet to face the issue of setting an ethically defensible level for these gases. Is the absence of scientific certainty about the consequences of human-induced climate change a valid excuse for not taking protective action? Those opposing U. This American insistence on eliminating uncertainties violates the UNFCCC, a document ratified by the United States, in which the signatories agreed not to use scientific uncertainty as an excuse for not taking action.
We know, for instance, how naturally occurring greenhouse gases warm the planet, how these greenhouse gases absorb infrared radiation, that humans are releasing large amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, that greenhouse gases are accumulating in the atmosphere in proportion to their human use, and that there has always been a strong correlation in the historical record between levels of greenhouse gases and temperature. The most recent IPCC assessment identifies numerous additional areas where scientific uncertainties have been entirely resolved, or where uncertainties persist but adverse global consequences are highly likely.
What we do not know with certainty, given nonlinear feedback mechanisms in the climate system, is the actual timing and magnitude of the change. This situation poses an important ethical question: is scientific uncertainty about the timing and magnitude of climate change a valid excuse for not taking action? Those who argue that nations have an ethical responsibility to act now can list a number of good reasons for their position:.
Should cost-benefit analysis of climate-change programs be used as a prescriptive tool for national policy? Some in the United States who oppose government action on climate change argue that action is not justified because the costs to the United States of reducing greenhouse gas emissions outweigh the benefits to the United States of preventing global warming. This use of cost-benefit analysis as a prescriptive tool raises several ethical issues, most of which are hidden in public-policy debates.
The questions raised by a cost-benefit analysis include:.
Do the developed nations have special responsibilities to act before the poorer nations? Another standard objection to American action on climate change is the argument that the United States should take no action until the developing world agrees to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This argument rests on the fact that the United States cannot solve the problem of climate change by itself, and some nations in the developing world continue to contribute to the problem. If the United States acts and the developing world does not, so goes this argument, climate change will still happen and American industry will put itself at a competitive disadvantage.
For this reason, there has been strong opposition to the Kyoto Protocol provisionally signed by the Clinton administration in December of In response, the Clinton administration announced it would not seek Senate ratification of the Kyoto Protocol until it obtained firmer commitments to reduce emissions from the developing world. In the meantime, the U. Congress would not approve any government action to reduce greenhouse gases, arguing that such action would amount to a back-door ratification of Kyoto.
Although the George W. Bush administration has recently announced that it will reject the Kyoto Protocol, on several occasions it has stated that developing-world commitments will be a cornerstone of its approach to an international regime created to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Yet the United States emits a disproportionate share of greenhouse gases. The United States has also contributed mightily to the magnitude of the existing problem. Given the historical contributions of developed nations like the United States and the current imbalance in per capita emissions, those who argue for immediate action by the developed nations make their argument on grounds of equity.
They argue that those who have caused most of the existing problem and have the resources to finance reduction strategies have a special duty to reduce emissions immediately. Many have argued that the United States should not unilaterally reduce greenhouse gases until the details of a worldwide system for trading carbon are agreed to.
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Although the general framework of these trading mechanisms was agreed to in Kyoto in , many of the details are still contentious. Yet the United States insists on waiting until an international trading regime is in place before taking domestic action.
Our economic system is based on compensation for contribution to the economy, often assessed using an hourly wage. We must learn to see that the amount of coal and oil burning in one country may affect temperatures in many others. Anthropocentrism does not however necessarily exclude a long-term and serious environmental commitment as it may recognise the dependence on nature for a human prosperity see e. Published online: 13 Mar Published online: 10 Feb As a result, serious new environmental problems have emerged on a global scale. In addition, as the previously unpublished essays which constitute the volume directly and controversially address current environmental debates in a non-technical manner, it is of great interest both to professionals in those areas and to readers who care about the planet's future.
To establish such a regime, a large number of complex issues will need to be worked out:. Because of the complexities entailed by any scheme to implement a trading regime, insisting that all the details be worked out in advance could delay for years any agreement on reductions. Given that the United States is currently the nation emitting the most greenhouse gases, it is ethically dubious for it to make universal agreement on trading rules a precondition for American action to reduce emissions.
One of the most important ethical issues entailed by the trading controversy, therefore, is whether a nation that is emitting large amounts of a pollutant that is likely to cause great damage can use as a valid excuse for not taking action the fact that other nations will not agree to a trading regime that might reduce costs.
There are, finally, several other ethical issues raised by the American approach to establishing a trading regime. What national targets for reducing greenhouse gases are equitable? In addition to the dubiousness of allowing efficiency to trump ethical concerns, the trading regime suffers from another potentially serious ethical problem: it can only be ethically benign if the preliminary allocation is just.
In Kyoto in , the United States agreed to a 7-percent reduction below levels.
This was a first step toward reducing greenhouse gases, but only a small step: far greater levels of reduction will be needed to stabilize greenhouse gases in the atmosphere at safe levels. Given the variations in historical and cumulative emissions, current total and per capita emissions, and factors such as wealth, energy structures, and resource endowment, what are equitable national caps for greenhouse gas emissions? Some developing nations have argued that distributive justice demands that national allocations be based on a per capita calculation.
The United States has resisted discussions of an equitable basis for determining national responsibilities, despite the fact that in ratifying the UNFCCC the United States agreed that each nation should reduce its emissions according to equitable criteria. Biodiversity is usually analyzed at three different levels: genetic diversity, species diversity, and ecosystem diversity. Although species extinction has existed since life first emerged on Earth, worldwide concern about rapid loss of biodiversity has been steadily increasing.
Current rates of extinction are probably much greater than they have been at any time in history, except at periods of cataclysmic destruction. Rates of species extinction have increased dramatically as human numbers and technological power have increased. The actual rates of species extinction are not known, because relatively few species have been identified. Although scientists have been cataloging species for over two centuries, only 1. While a great deal is known about higher-level species, such as mammals, birds, and some plants, less is known about insects and microorganisms.
Because so many species have not been identified, scientists worry that many will become extinct before they are ever discovered and properly cataloged. Given known rates of extinction, it is clear that humans are accelerating these rates as their impact on the planet increases.
Scientists can account for the extinction worldwide of 75 mammals and over 1, birds, resulting in a loss rate of one species every four years up until the end of the nineteenth century. Between and another 75 mammals and birds became extinct, and the loss rate accelerated to one species a year. In , the estimates for mammal and bird extinction were between one and three species a year. The most optimistic scientific estimates suggest that depletion rates for all species currently run from one to three species a day. Some of these projected losses are to species such as pollinating insects that may play important roles in maintaining ecosystems.
Scientists estimate species loss rates by making projections from known rates of habitat loss and comparing these with known species losses in similar ecosystems that have lost habitat. Worldwide, the major threats to biodiversity are nonnative species introduction, habitat destruction, and hunting or other acts of deliberate extermination. Habitat destruction is caused by land development, by degradation caused by pollution or vegetative removal and erosion, and by fragmentation of ecosystems.
We have a duty to protect biodiversity. Loss of biodiversity raises the ethical question of human responsibility to protect plants and animals. Figure 7. In spite of general progress in the area of environment and health in Europe, the global human toll of environmental health impacts remains deeply worrying. Unsafe water, poor sanitation and hygiene conditions, urban outdoor air pollution, indoor smoke from solid fuels and lead exposure and global climate change account for nearly a tenth of deaths and disease burden globally, and around one quarter of deaths and disease burden in children under 5 years of age It is again poor populations in low latitudes that are affected most heavily.
Table 7. Source: World Health Organization j. Many low- and middle-income countries now face a growing burden from new risks to health, while still fighting an unfinished battle with the traditional risks to health. Europe is likely to be faced with the increased problem of emerging or re-emerging infectious diseases that are critically influenced by changes in temperature or precipitation, habitat loss and ecological destruction 23 In an increasingly urbanised world, which is tightly linked by long-distance transport, the incidence and distribution of infectious diseases affecting humans is likely to increase During the 20th century, global sea level rose by an average of 1.
This was due to an increase in the volume of ocean water as a consequence of temperature rise, although inflow of water from melting glaciers and ice sheets is playing an increasing role. In the past 15 years, sea-level rise has been accelerating and averaged about 3. Sea level is projected to rise considerably during this century and beyond.