Only One Planet

The Earth is heated by the Sun. The atmosphere that blankets the Earth is made up, for the most part, of Oxygen and Nitrogen (99%). However, there are traces of many other gasses, including water vapour, carbon dioxide, ozone, methane and nitrous oxide. These gasses are responsible, to a very great extent, for regulating our planet's surface temperature by trapping infra-red radiation which is re-radiated by the planet's surface. This is known as the "Greenhouse Effect".


This greenhouse effect is actually very important for our planet because the energy reflected/re-radiated back down from the greenhouse layer warms the Earth by about 32ºC; that means that, without the greenhouse effect, our mean global temperature would be around -18ºC!

Certain activities of industrial-age Man (mainly the burning fossil fuels like coal, oil and gas) are causing these "greenhouse gasses" to increase, resulting in a slow, but inevitable, increase in the surface temperature of our planet.

Over the past hundred years this temperature rise has been measurable and has been recorded at about 0.6ºC. Seven of the ten warmest years in the 20th century occurred in the 1990s. Over the next hundred years it is projected that the surface temperature will rise by another 2 to 3ºC (some estimates come out as high as a 5.8ºC rise). Now, that may not seem like much. Perhaps you think that it's just the difference between a mild and a slightly warmer day. However, the startling fact is that the average surface temperature during the last ice age was only 5ºC lower than we now experience. So, I hope that you can see that a 2 to 3ºC rise will result in an extremely dramatic change in climate conditions.

The mean global temperature over the entire period has been 13.9°C (that's the zero line on the graph above). I've included the eight biggest volcanic events (magnitude 5 or greater) of this period (numbers in blue) to determine any effects these might or might not have on global temperature. The biggest three were 1,3 and 5.

Such a rapid "global warming" will have dramatic effects on the World's eco-systems. Many species of animals and plants will not be able to adapt to these changes. The sea levels around the world will rise (by between 50 and 100 centimetres) as the warming oceans expand and the polar ice sheets melt, flooding many coastal areas. Weather systems will become more extreme with more storms, droughts and floods. Agriculture will have to change, as traditional crops become harder to grow under the changing conditions. The nightmare is that many of the World's poorest areas will find it impossible to cope with the changes. We will undoubtedly see increasing famine, pestilence and human tragedy on a most terrible scale. The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine warned in 1996 that nine of the world's ten most dangerous vector-borne diseases (including malaria, dengue fever, and yellow fever) are likely to expand or shift their ranges due to climate change. In 1996 The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine warned that nine of the world's ten most dangerous vector-borne diseases (including malaria, dengue fever, and yellow fever) are likely to expand or shift their ranges due to climate change.

Well, the current situation has a certain amount of momentum, which means that the warming trend is set to continue in some degree. However, it will be made worse if we continue to pump carbon dioxide and other chemicals into the atmosphere at ever increasing rates, as we are currently doing. The World's leaders have been trying to tackle this problem for some time now. The key to this is the "Kyoto Protocol", which seeks to get international leaders to agree to reducing their national greenhouse gas emissions. The main stumbling block to Kyoto is national self interest and the principal offenders are the United States (responsible for 36% of the World's greenhouse gas emissions), Canada (who have the third highest per capita emission rate in the World after the USA and Australia) and Japan (fourth).


Year 2000 Carbon Dioxide Emission Figures
Per Capita
T CO2/p.a.*
U.S.A. 22.04
Australia 17.31
Canada 16.32
Japan 10.16
E.U. (15) 9.06
E.Eur. + FSU 7.19
France 7.04
World Average 3.85
China 1.98
Brazil 1.87
India 0.95
Rest-of - World 2.09

*Tonnes of carbon dioxide emitted per capita per year

George W. Bush
 George W. Bush
On March 28, 2001, President George W. Bush announced that the United States would not implement the Kyoto Protocol on global warming. He said he could not sign an agreement that would "harm our economy and hurt our workers." According to the European Commission, instead of cutting emissions, the Bush administration has initiated policy changes that could increase its emissions by up to 30%.

An interesting and informed footnote to this political stand comes from Greenpeace, who say that the oil and gas industry donated more than $25 million to the Republican Party in the 2000 U.S. presidential race and add that BP and Esso were two of the three biggest donors according to Political Money Line, an independent website that tracks political contributions.

As a response to a request by the Bush administration in May 2001, the National Academy of Sciences (USA) has produced a report: "Climate Change Science: An Analysis of Some Key Questions" which is available from the National Academy Press to read online (click on the link to reach the contents page). The 268-page report, which blames human activities for climate change, was submitted to the United Nations on 4 June 2002 by the Bush administration. It concludes that "Greenhouse gases are accumulating in the Earth's atmosphere as a result of human activities, causing global mean surface air temperatures and subsurface ocean temperatures to rise."

But President Bush has staunchly stuck by his anti-Kyoto position. Of the report, his comment was that he had "read the report put out by the bureaucracy," but added that the provisions of Kyoto "would seriously damage the American economy, and I don't accept that." Errrr ..... do the words "ostrich" "head" and "sand" ring any bells?

Not quite an aside, but anyone interested in US interest in the World Oil industry should view this BBC Newsnight report: The CIA and Saudi Arabia, The Bushes and the Bin Ladens

Hi there, is that the Federal Bureau of Bureaucracy?
"Hi there, is that the Federal Bureau of Bureaucracy? I'd like some more of that scientific toilet paper please"
In May 2002 all 15 European Union states ratified the Kyoto Protocol. Margot Wallstrom, European Commissioner for the Environment,  praised the ratification as "an historic moment for global efforts to combat climate change," adding "The European Union urges the United States to reconsider its position. All countries have to act, but the industrialised world has to take the lead.".
Australian PM John Howard
Australian PM John Howard
Blowing a Raspberry at Kyoto
John Howard, Prime Minister of Australia, announced in June 2002 that his government would not ratify the Kyoto protocol, claiming it would "cost jobs and damage our industry".

Hmmmmm, now where have I heard that one before?

In fact Howard announcing to the Australian Parliament that it would not be in the country’s interest to ratify without the inclusion of the U.S.A. and developing countries. 

Howard and Bush.

Howard and Bush.
Apparently the best of buddies.
In May 2002 Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien announced that, as the only signatory to the Kyoto agreement to export non-polluting energy to a non-signing country that pollutes a lot (USA), that Canada should be given special consideration. He went on to say that Canada was "not in a position to ratify it (Kyoto) until some of these elements are clarified."

Many commentators are wondering if the Canadian Government, already under heavy pressure from national energy producers and business groups to leave the Kyoto table, is deliberately pushing an idea it knows is unacceptable as a way of effectively abandoning the treaty.

The Boston-based Tellus Institute released a report on 23 April 2002 which concluded that Canadian ratification would result in economic growth for Canada and generate jobs. The report was commissioned by the David Suzuki Foundation and World Wildlife Fund.

The report's principal author Dr. Stephen Bernow (vice-president of the Tellus Institute) is an internationally recognized authority on energy policy and a past adviser to the World Bank and the U.S. Department of Energy, among many others. He stated that “our study concludes that reducing greenhouse gas emissions will not slow down the Canadian economy or kill jobs. On balance, industry, workers and consumers will benefit,” adding “The benefit of implementing these policies to reduce annual greenhouse gas emissions would exceed the costs. Our study forecasts the net addition of 52,000 Canadian jobs by 2012, and a $2 billion addition to the GDP, over and above the growth forecast in ‘business as usual’ Canadian government projections.”

A note of sanity: on 4 June 2002 Japan's Environment Minister, Hiroshi Oki, announced that Japan will ratify the Kyoto Protocol, making it the 73rd signatory. Japan's Prime Minister, Junichiro Koizumi, called for the United States to get back on board the Kyoto bus.


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This page last updated: 01 July 2002