DID YOU KNOW?
• Dr. Godwin Obasi of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) at a recent WMO meeting in Madrid indicated that the reason there has not yet been a significant increase in world atmospheric temperatures is that until now, the oceans have absorbed the heat created by humans. Dr. Obasi warns, however, that there is a limit to how much heat the oceans can absorb and once that limit is reached -probably within the next decade - the Earth’s temperature will rise very quickly, becoming 2 to 6 degrees warmer by the year 2100. This temperature increase will raise ocean levels by 8 to 45 inches submerging many of the world’s islands and coastal areas.
• Mauritius is the first nation to ratify the Climate Change Convention. The agreement, agreed by 156 nations at The Earth Summit in Rio last June must be ratified by a minimum of 50 nation states before it can enter into effect. Mauritius is a small, low-lying island nation in the Indian Ocean and likely to be one of the first countries to feel the impact of global warming. The low-lying areas of the world face the possibility of contamination of their fresh water sources by sea water as the oceans expand and flooding as sea levels rise.
• Quito, Ecuador and specifically its sprawling historic center with its vestige of the pre-Columbian, Colonial and Republican periods was declared part of the world’s cultural heritage by UNESCO. Its monuments, churches, monasteries, collections, art treasures and iconography constitute a wealth of different styles and forms of artistic expression in a microcosm of unusual sociological diversity.
Unfortunately, urban development in and around Quito has sparked a range of problems which have made living conditions increasingly difficult and the conservation of its cultural wealth a constant struggle.
Quito’s population has increased from 100,000 in 1939 to over 1 million today and the city today is congested, polluted and teeming with auto and pedestrian traffic. The walls of the city’s historic buildings are covered with layers of greasy, acidic smog. The ancient streets have become depots for piles of rotting household garbage.
• The massive volcanic eruption of Mt. Pinatubo, Philippines, in June 1991, may be contributing to the depletion of the ozone layer worldwide. This possibility is based on the hypothesis that volcanic eruptions intensify ozone loss by spewing forth sulfur-based aerosols which react in the stratosphere in a similar manner as chlorofluorocarbons.
• In 1980, there were some 220 million contraceptive users in developing countries, or 38 to 40 percent of married women of reproductive age (MWRA), By 1990, there were 380 million users, or 51 percent of MWRA. (This progress in population control shows what can be done and what is being done.) Despite such progress, however, the press of population growth continues to threaten future generations. French oceanographer Jacques-Yves Cousteau put the population crisis in perspective at the recent Earth Summit when he said, “even if we found a way to feed this human tidal wave, it would be impossible to provide this multitude with decent living conditions. Surviving like rats is not what we should bequeath to our children and grandchildren.”
• Iran’s current population of 5 7 million is expected to reach 130 million by the year 2010 and could possibly leap to 900 million by the year 2080. While birth control pills are readily available and inexpensive, women still need the benefit of a massive education program. For every literate woman in Iran there are two who remain illiterate.
• Wind generates electricity at 5c per kilowatt-hour, which covers the initial cost plus operation and repair. An oil-burning plant pays that much for fuel alone.
• The large remaining tract of primary forest in West Africa, the Tai National Park in the Cote d’Ivoire, is in serious danger. Cocoa and rice planters, poachers and gold diggers, who depend on the park’s resources for their livelihood, are wreaking havoc on the flora and fauna of this supposedly “protected” biosphere reserve.
There are only 61 rangers for surveillance duties in this large forest... less than one ranger to patrol 8,000 hectares.
• Environmental analysts look to the history of island cultures because they tend to reveal how the environment and humans respond when burgeoning populations put stress on an isolated ecosystem.
Easter Island in the Pacific provides a cautionary example. When Europeans first landed there in 1722, they found 3,000 Polynesians living in extremely primitive conditions on the island amid the remnants of a once flourishing culture. The story of Easter Island is one of ecological collapse that began around the year 1600, when a swollen population of 7,000 stripped the island of trees, depriving inhabitants of building materials for fishing boats and housing. As the populace retreated to caves, various clans warred over resources, then enslaved and later cannibalized the vanquished. By the time Europeans arrived, the beleaguered survivors had forgotten the purpose of the great stone heads erected during Easter Island’s glory days.
SOURCE: U. S. Environmental Protection Agency.
• Like the rest of the planet, Antarctica is being adversely affected by human activity.
Airborne pollutants originating in the Northern Hemisphere have been detected in increasing amounts in the Antarctic atmosphere which now shows significant concentrations of carbon dioxide, halocarbons, sulphur dioxide and various radioactive substances. Research on the Antarctic’s ice cores shows levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere increasing over the last century from about 260 parts per million (ppm) to over 345 ppm.
The appearance of a hole in the protective atmospheric ozone layer over the South Pole has also received wide attention. This year the hole has increased 15 percent, the size of the North American continent. The effect of ozone depletion on polar marine life may prove to be widespread if, for instance, increased radiation diminishes the production of plankton which forms the basis for the Antarctic food chain.
This fragile polar environment is especially vulnerable to human activity because biological processes occur slowly and on a small scale, thus making regeneration difficult. Scientific research stations disturb the natural habitat of plants and animals via construction, waste production and fuel spills. Stress from repeated visits of tourists and researchers has been specifically blamed for the reduction of penguins at the Cape Royds Adelie penguin rookery.
Agenda 21, the action plan adopted at The Earth Summit in Rio last June recognizes the need to preserve and protect the Antarctic environment which plays a critical role in the Earth’s climatic equilibrium.
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