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Climate Change - Second only to Nuclear War Devastation

Updated on April 25, 2013
Toronto skyline at sunset.
Toronto skyline at sunset.

"We do not inherit the earth from our parents. We borrow it from our children."

By Edwin C. Mercurio

“Humanity is conducting an unintended, uncontrolled, globally pervasive experiment whose ultimate consequence could be second only to a global nuclear war. The Earth’s atmosphere is being changed at an unprecedented rate by pollutants resulting from human activities, inefficient and wasteful fossil fuel use and the effects of rapid population growth in many regions. These changes represent a major threat to international security and are already having harmful consequences over many parts of the globe.” (Conference Statement – The World Conference on the Changing Atmosphere.)

A year after I migrated to Canada straight from my lay missionary work with six indigenous peoples in the mountains and hinterlands of Mindanao in the Southern Philippines, I was fortunate to attend the global conference on climate change as an accredited media practitioner. Canada then was at the centre stage of the world leaders' effort to combat “acid rain and global warming”. As politicians and political parties came and went, so did the country’s policies. The Climate Change issue has been relegated to the backburner. Times have changed. After the recent onslaught of global disasters, hurricanes, flash floods, heat waves and severe snowstorms descended upon us all, we started examining our lifestyles and our disregard for our environment. Meanwhile, many 'rich' countries spent trillions of dollars for wars of aggression and interference in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and elsewhere. Politicians continue to ignore the serious implications of global climate change.

At the “World Conference on the Changing Atmosphere; Implications for Global Security”, held in Toronto June 27-30 1988, more than 300 scientists and policy makers, from 46 countries, United Nations Organizations, International bodies and non-governmental bodies participated in drafting a conference statement of utmost significance to all of us.

Scientists and UN representatives went on to say that far-reaching impacts will be caused by global warming and sea-level rise as a result of continued growth in atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. “Other major impacts are occurring from ozone-layer depletion resulting in increased damage from ultra-violet radiation. The best predictions available indicate potentially severe economic and social dislocation for present and future generations, which will worsen international tensions and increase risk of conflicts among and within nations. It is imperative to act now.”

The conference statement went on to say that the continuing alteration on the global atmosphere threatens global security, the world economy and the natural environment.through:"climate warming, depletion of the ozone layer, long range transport of toxic chemicals and acidifying substances."

The global climate change according to the statement will imperil human health and well being. Increases in soil erosion mainly caused by forest denudation and greater shifts and uncertainties in agricultural production, mainly in many vulnerable regions, will result in global food insecurity. It will jeopardize prospects for sustainable development and the reduction of poverty. It will affect the distribution and seasonal availability of water resources. It will also affect and accelerate the extinction of animal and plant species. The yield, productivity and biological diversity of natural and managed ecosystems, particularly forests will be altered. These changes, the statement says will increase political instability and the potential for international conflict.

"These problems will become progressively more serious, more difficult to reverse, and more costly to address, if rapid action is not taken immediately," the conference statement adds.

Many years have passed after the global conference on Climate Change.

As I read my notes on the World Conference on the Changing Atmosphere, I can still hear the voice of the Conference speaker calling “upon governments, the United Nations and its specialized agencies, industry, educational institutions, non-governmental organizations and individuals to take specific actions to reduce the impending crisis caused by pollution of the atmosphere. No country can tackle this problem in isolation. International cooperation in the management and monitoring of, and research on, this shared resource is essential.”

Today, the Earth speaks to us in many ways...Global warming, extinction of many species, abrupt change in weather patterns, extreme heat and cold snaps, forest and brush fires, flash floods and the melting of polar ice caps. Are many of us heeding the natural world's warnings? Are politicians and world leaders listening?

A great native elder once reminded his people to take care of Mother Earth with these words of wisdom: "We do not inherit the Earth from our parents. We borrow it from our children."

(Photos by E.C.M.-Copyright)


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  • profile image


    6 years ago

    "whose ultimate consequences could be second only to a global nuclear war."

    Perhaps, but an extremely distant second. This kind of alarmismism is why 1st world governments have all but abandoned action on climate change. The reason is the time scale involved: warming and rising sea levels are happening only very gradually -- year to year, you can't even perceive the change.

    For most people, it's just difficult to believe that climate change could "end the world" as we know it (see & ). Reasonable estimates for temp. increase are about 3 C, at the high end, by the end of this century, i.e., 90 years from now, which wouldn't be good but it's hardly the end of the world. Same with rising sea levels: reasonable predictions suggest a rise by the end of the century that will be more than manageable.

    More to the point, if you're really worried about the end of the world, it can easily happen, and not in 90 years but in less than 90 minutes. In 30 minutes in fact.

    20 years after the fall of the U.S.S.R. and the end of the cold war, 1000s of multi-megaton thermonuclear weapons remain on high alert. The chances of an accidental small or all out massive nuclear exchange are far from zero and we've had several very close calls w/in the last 50 years, the most serious in 1994 when Yeltsin actually had to open his nuclear football to enter launch release codes before they figured out that the missile their early warning radar was tracking was carrying a weather station into space.

    Today, the U.S. & Russia have a combined strategic nuclear force of about 6000 multi-megaton thermonuclear weapons, 3000 on each side, not counting reserves after a first strike or retaliation. An attack with just two 1-megaton nuclear warheads would unleash explosive power equivalent to that caused by all the bombs used during World War II. Today, there's over 6000 multi-megaton weapons on high alert, and most of these weapons are at least 1-2 megton, many are in the 5-10 megaton range (designed to obliterate large cities, e.g., NYC, Chicago, etc., and kill 10 million people in quarter of a second). works through the consequences of even a small exchange. Where as climate change predicts, at worst, a 2-3 C rise in global temp. over the coming century, a small nuclear exchange would drop global temps of at least that w/in 24 hours -- not 90 years, ONE DAY. An out all exchange would drop temps by up to 10 C. Basically, this will be a man made ice-age, and it would only take a few hours to create it, killing 100s of millions in the process and ending both civilization and history w/in the same time frame. Oh, and radioactive fallout would blanket much of the planet.

    Steven Starr, senior scientist with Physicians for Social Responsibility, said research makes clear the environmental consequences of a U.S.-Russian nuclear war: “If these weapons are detonated in the large cities of either of their nations, they will cause such catastrophic damage to the global environment that the Earth will become virtually uninhabitable for most humans and many other complex forms of life.” And it would only take 24 hours to create these conditions.

    Climate change has nothing on accidental or deliberate nuclear war.

    Why haven't we had an accidental exchange? We've been lucky, many times, but if you keep doing something dangerous, sooner or later, your luck runs out. We need to de-alert these massive weapon systems now. We need serious disarmament now. For those of us old enough to remember the cold war days . . . climate change is a problem but hardly the end of the world . . .

  • MercuryNewsOnline profile imageAUTHOR


    9 years ago from Toronto, Canada

    Dear Immartin,

    Sometimes writing articles in the dead of night could be a lonely job. More so if one writes about ecological balance and the environment. Please know that I am very pleased to read your comment.

    There are no easy answers to your 'quo vadis' (where do we go from here?)question.

    How do we guarantee that we humans continue to survive? Your answer is as good as mine. But we can all begin by asking ourselves what we are doing to our one and only home - Mother Earth.

    A fisherman once asked a wise old man, "Why river fish stocks in their village are dwindling". He smiled and replied, "Well, what are you doing to the river?"

    My best wishes to your family and the kids.

  • lmmartin profile image


    9 years ago from Alberta and Florida

    An excellent article. Where do we go from here? People are all involved in just getting through the days and not looking ahead. Perhaps the greatest speaker on this issue Al Gore has been held up to ridicule for speaking out. Many politicians insistently deny the problem. Is it possible we are doomed to forge blindly ahead to the bitter end? I'm of an age where it will not by my problem to deal with, but wonder what world we are leaving to my grandchildren's children. Thanks for writing this.


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