This article was written by Gopika Pillai, a student of Jindal Global Law School.

In February of 2015, US Senator Jim Inhofe came prepared to disapprove all those ‘stupid scientists’ that claimed that climate change was real. He showed up with a snowball that he had picked up outside- from the snow that covered Washington- and he held it up as proof that when it was this cold outside there could be no way that climate change was real.

Regardless of Sen. Jim’s views regarding climate change and global warming; the truth is that environmental crisis has been an issue that humans have ignored for decades and would probably have continued to do so if significant progress hadn’t been made by activists to bring this issue to the forefront.

Environmental crises are distinguished by rapid and largely unexpected changes in environmental quality that are difficult if not impossible to reverse.”[1] These changes in the environment may be offset due to a number of reasons but the distinctive factor of an environmental crisis is the rapid change in the quality of the environment which in turn threatens the survival of different species.

The reasons causing environmental study occupies a sphere of research that is heavily debated; finding proof to establish causal relations between these reasons and the environmental crisis itself is difficult to achieve.  If that is done, then there is the herculean task of trying to understand the crisis, the problems it causes and the solutions it would require. While this was a more neglected topic in the 80s-90s, the 2000s have seen a rise in interest for studying about climate change- a change that can mainly be attributed to the continued perseverance of activists and scientists alike. Other than this, the use of political economy also helped the cause. Social scientists who for long had continued to ignore environmental factors and the effect they had on political societies, started to factor them in their discussions. Social scientists then began to make the connections between the environmental crisis and class struggle faced by people in the societies.

Carson and Walter H. in their book, The Global Ecology Handbook: What you can do about the environment, offer up the idea that environmental crisis can be caused by three main factors: Population growth and the greenhouse effect, development and the overuse of natural resources, and the general lack of waste management. The above reasons will be discussed in detail through the course of this paper.

Population has rapidly expanded in the last two decades. The rise of modern medicine coupled with breakout advances in technology has allowed mortality rates to achieve all-time lows.  While these rates were high before and during the pre and post industrialization period, advances in the 21st century has allowed them to become significantly lower. Life expectancy rates that averaged maximums of 30-40s in the 19th and 20th century now see it rising to nearly early 80s. This means that in most parts of the world, an average human being is expected to be able to live up to the age of 80.

While the life expectancy rates have gone up, development has also allowed rapid population growth. Parents were encouraged to have more children especially during good economic times which lead toa significant jump in the population index. The total number of population in the world was estimated to be around 1.6 billion in the 1900s and that number has according to recent studies jumped to 7.6 billion in the 2000s.[2]

This rapid expansion of population along with increase in life expectancy and the significant developments made in technology lead to an increase in the carbon footprint of each individual. Carbon footprint is the total amount of greenhouse gas emissions made by an individual.  According to a study in 2008, the carbon emission made by a child itself is twenty times worse than the amount saved by driving ecofriendly cars, using LED bulbs and any other environment-friendly product.[3] This means that the carbon emissions had worsened so badly to the extent that using a few environmental friendly items would be futile unless there was an overall plan to try and reduce the carbon footprint.

The study at Oregon State University concluded that, “the potential savings from reduced reproduction are huge compared to the savings that can be achieved by changes in lifestyle.”[4] They argued that one sure step to reduce the carbon footprint of people worldwide, therefore, would be to reproduce less; this would ensure that more carbon emissions are not added onto the ones that are already being deployed by the parents. Of course, the carbon emissions made by children are also closely tied with the area that they are born in.

The reason why these carbon emissions are so dangerous is because their rapid development has in fact lead to the increase in the greenhouse effect. The greenhouse effect refers to the way the sun’s rays get trapped in the earth’s atmosphere, due to its transparency, thus allowing the Earth to warm itself. Increased carbon emissions by humans, causes the atmosphere to become more thick which leads to more rays of the sun being trapped which warms the Earth faster.[5]This in turn causes huge problems for humans and animals alike. Therefore, there is in fact a direct co relation between the bigger carbon footprints and the effect it has on the temperature of the Earth.

Another reason for the sudden incidence of environmental crisis is the advancement and progress that has been made in terms of development in the last century. Industrialization in the 19th century was the first breakthrough achieved by human beings in terms of using the natural resources available in order to make our own lives more efficient. Therefore, as development has progressed and the world has moved from machine based industries to service based industries and now finally to technology based industries, the act of manipulating natural resources in order to help human progress has remained.

Furthermore, the rapid rate of development has also forced humans to use resources at a much higher rate, and for a long time the renewability of the resources was not considered. For example, the onset of industrialization caused people to look towards processes such as fracking and mining in order to support the machine based industries. At that point in time, the end goal was only to be able to provide for the machines that were being produced (like cars, trains, planes) and the viability of the resources was not a consequential factor. Therefore, that lack of consideration in regards to the resources produced a huge burn out rate.

This burn out rate would not have mattered if the human development did progress at the fast paced, break neck speed that it did. People were driving cars, then flying planes, then communicating over landlines and soon they were connecting to a wireless global network. The rate of progress of human beings vastly outplayed the amount of natural resources available.

By the time that humans were able to identify this aspect and fix it, most of the damage had already been done. Billions of green forests had been destroyed, mining had depleted and destroyed large areas of land and different parts of the ocean had already been ruined. These effects did not only harm the crust of the Earth but also the organisms living on it. The rapid burn out rate had created a huge bio-diversity issue: the organisms and plants that were required in order to have a healthy living environment was rapidly becoming endangered. This lack of bio-diversity also meant that there was no way to actually balance out the dangers that were being caused by the massive carbon emissions. Since this balance was being destroyed it meant that there wouldn’t be any sort of naturally existing check on the rapidly changing climate structure.

Another significant factor that has led to the current environmental crisis is the ineffectual systems of waste management. As human progress developed and humanity went through the industrialization and then the technology changes, there was also the sudden increase in waste. Waste in this context refers to the toxic waste that is produced through the different processes that are employed by human beings. This waste in a lot of cases are not disposed of or even used efficiently which then continues to cause huge problems for the environment. For example, many a times industries produce toxic waste once they are through with the process of producing their products. These wastes are then dumped onto the nearest water or land source- as it is a cheap method of disposal- instead of being disposed off properly. This would then cause the land or water resource along with the organisms living on it to be either seriously injured or to die.

These wastes could in fact be gathered and utilized to reduce carbon emissions that come from within these industries themselves. So, while the carbon emissions of the waste itself may not be as large, by not utilizing them effectively, industries in fact increase the carbon emissions which in turn lead to destruction of the environment.[6] Therefore, the underutilization of these types of wastes is also a leading contributor to the changing climate.

While vast progress has been made in trying to understand and identify climate change and its causes, scientists all agree it is not one particular factor alone. Different man made factors that were deployed over a century- along with some naturally occurring factors- has caused the climate to shift and become one of the major threats against human survival. The thing to do now is to find ways to decelerate this process and not throw snowballs at the theory, trying to disprove it, when it has in fact already been proven.

[1] M. Scott Taylor, Environmental Crises: Past, Present and Future, Canadian Journal of Economics (2009).

[2]https://ourworldindata.org/world-population-growth/, last viewed: 18th June 2016.

[3]Paul A. Murtaugh, Michael G. Schlax; Global Environmental Change, Oregon University, 19, 14-15 (2009)

[4] Paul A. Murtaugh, Michael G. Schlax; Global Environmental Change, Oregon University, 19 (2009)

[5] “Emissions resulting from human activities substantially increase the atmospheric concentration of the greenhouse gases: Carbon Dioxide, Methane, Chlorofluorocarbons, and Nitrous Oxide. These increases will enhance the greenhouse effect, resulting on average in additional warming of the Earth’s surface.” – Francois Bartiaux, Jean-Pascal Van Ypersele; The Role of Population Growth in Global Warming, 3, 33-34 (1993)

[6] “Although minor levels of emissions are released through waste treatment and disposal, the prevention and recovery of wastes (i.e. as secondary materials or energy) avoids emissions in all other sectors of the economy. A holistic approach to waste management has positive consequences for GHG emissions from the energy, forestry, agriculture, mining, transport, and manufacturing sectors.” –  UNEP, Waste and Climate Change: Global Trends and Strategy Framework.

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