The current big polluters are the United States, China and India. Trump’s backward polices will definitely affect developing countries which are more vulnerable to the processes of climate change, including unprecedented floods, droughts, and forest fires, among others. Sooner or later, the environmental debt needs to be paid back
Nowadays virtually everyone, wherever they are in the world, aspires to a consumer lifestyle, with its commodities, access to malls and supermarkets, private motor vehicles and its supposed comfortable lifestyle.
Industrialisation has therefore spread from the great industrialised countries of the past, the United States, Great Britain, Germany, and Japan to countries such as India, China and in Southeast Asia.
They have become the new great polluters, especially when we include deforestation, and China today is now on a par with the United States in terms of emissions of greenhouse gases from fossil fuels.
The policies fostered by these big polluters are causing an excessive economic cost as well as an environmental debt, as demonstrated by the disastrous consequences of hurricanes and typhoons.
The intensity of these natural disasters clearly shows that big economies are as vulnerable as are developing countries.
Peter Bunyard is a British scientist, environmentalist, author and campaigner. In recent years, he has worked on the relationship between rainforests and climate, his research indicating that without expanses of forests to provide surface humidity entire continents, such as South America, will dry up and desertify.
Peter tells The Prisma that damaging the environment does not lead to overall economic gain, but quite the contrary, the unaccounted-for-costs, including those to health, to biodiversity, to climate, to well-being, far exceed the so-called benefits.
President D. Trump labelled climate change science “a hoax” and is encouraging the dismantlement of Obama’s greenhouse gas policy, together with the US Environmental Protection Agency. Why is the United States promoting policies that damage the environment?
The first thing is to distinguish between what President Trump has done and what is happening in the United States at the current time. He certainly did not sign the Paris Agreement and he stated he did not believe in those human activities that are leading to climate change and therefore he has been dismantling what were Obama’s polices with regard to climate change.
But in the U.S, by popular demand, many of the states, amongst them California and Massachusetts, have aggressively continued policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by encouraging the use and development of renewable energy. For instance, in May 2017 California managed to generate 80 per cent of its electricity needs from renewable resources. Including solar, wind and hydroelectricity. What becomes clear is that there is a divide between the White House, what companies are doing and what individual states are doing.
Do you think there are the economic and political gains involved in the promotion of such policies for the White House?
Yes, when I think about Trump’s polices, his determination not to sign the Paris Agreement and taking the United States out of the agreement I ask myself if is that an economic benefit for the United States. Well, actually, it is quite the contrary. It shows very dramatically that a pursued green policy actually leads both to economic and political gains, including its demands for a technically-trained labour force.
One reason for Trump to come out from the Paris Agreement was his statement during the presidential election that he was there to help the coal industry; Trump is really behind the times. Coal is increasingly uncompetitive when matched against wind energy and solar; moreover, once batteries and other storage devices are put in place, then the intermittency of the renewables becomes much less of a problem. If indeed Trump succeeds in promoting the use of coal, it will lead to more expensive energy, quite aside from the environmental costs and the enhanced emissions of greenhouse gases.
Do you think that Trump’s position on the environment is affecting developing countries?
Absolutely, in the sense that the United States is continuing to follow a policy of isolationism, cutting itself off from these international agreements about climate change while it continues, with China, to be among the largest emitters of greenhouse gases. In the case of the United State, the average emissions per individual, far exceed those of China because of its much larger population.
Trump’s backward polices will definitely affect developing countries which are more vulnerable to the processes of climate change including unprecedented floods, droughts, forest fires and greater damage from sea surges owing to rising sea levels. However, as we have seen this autumn, the United States is by no means immune to climate-related disasters.
So, if these policies are affecting the environment so severely, why is the United States continuing to foster them regardless the global disaster they are generating and that they are also affecting themselves?
That is going to change. I do not think that Trump will be able to maintain his position with regards to his scepticism about global warming and climate change. The hurricanes of 2017 have been particularly telling, with Harvey, Irma and Maria causing at least 180 billion US$ worth of damage in a swathe across the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico. The intensity and the number of category 5 hurricanes indicate that the United States is just as vulnerable as developing countries. So I honestly believe that United States policies will undergo dramatic changes in the next few years.
Do you think that there would be economic and political losses that the United States would face for being environmentally sustainable?
Quite the contrary, I think that the economic benefits of pursuing an energy efficient strategy actually in terms of employment and economic benefits will far exceed any supposed losses for the United States in pursuing those sustainable actions.
Who is paying the environmental debt created by the United States?
We know about many islands in the Pacific and Indian Ocean that will suffer from sea level rise, and from stronger storms such as we are already seeing. We have been focusing now on hurricanes, but of course in the Pacific they have typhoons which are Pacific hurricanes that are also becoming more damaging and will affect China, Japan and so on.
Really, the problem is that everybody through out the planet wants a lifestyle that is represented by industries in the United States and Europe. So we are all contributing to this.
There are few human beings that are trying to keep themselves apart from these developing processes. In general we are all responsible.
But of course there are countries that developed industrially more than others, such as countries of Northern Europe and the United States.
Undoubtedly these countries incurred an environmental debt, for which we are beginning to pay the consequences. Sadly and inevitably other less developed countries have been trying to catch up to pursue similar policies. Yes, the current big polluters are now the United States, but also China and India. Both China and India are realising the consequences of development without taking the environment into account. As a result they are beginning to take measures to reduce their impact.