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Damage control - a greater problem than climate change

By Valerie Yule - posted Thursday, 14 May 2009

“Climate change” has become a happy hunting ground to divert us from the greater problem which subsumes it - damage control. The world is becoming almost irretrievably damaged in almost every direction. Meanwhile people focus on arguing about climate change, and governments focus on carbon trading, an expedient which will profit some and allow the biggest carbon villains to continue emitting, while the destruction of problematic “offsets” like forests is temporarily delayed.

To realise this is to try to do something about it. This is not a doom-wallowing article.

The causes of global damage include the effects of warming, whether it is an escalating climate trend or not, and whether humans contribute to it or not. Observing the heat over cities, the sparkling world of lights seen from space, the billions of cars and power plants spewing away more heat, it is difficult to believe that these efforts of mankind have no effects on the atmosphere. All these can be reduced without diminishing quality of life - and indeed, in many ways will improve it.


The causes of global damage include the effects of pouring carbon dioxide into the atmosphere - as well as thousands of other pollutants. Whether these cause climate change or not, these do cause acid rain and a range of human illnesses, from mental retardation caused by lead, to possibly the strange increases in asthmatic disorders.

Some global damage is attributed, at least in part, to warmer seas but also to human activity that sends effluents into seas where corals are dying, and over-fishing and trawling the bottoms off the oceans diminish the fish stocks on which whole populations depend.

The New Scientist is a curious magazine today - almost three-way split between relatively esoteric enthusiasm about space and physics, partly sparked by hopes there may be escape to other planets; then amazing inventions and projects; but thirdly, almost every week, it reports more damage inflicted upon the world. One week, it is about flora and fauna changing habitat because of global warming - retreating to once cooler regions, or having migration problems because landing places can no longer support them. Another week, glaciers and snows are disappearing, threatening the water supplies of continents.

But the damage to the other creatures is not only through climate change or carbon emissions, man-made or not. They are being killed off, and they are losing habitat - mainly because bigger human populations need more food and more land.

I enjoy reading travel books - but the adventurers riding elephants through India or bikes across Eurasia or meeting primitive tribes in America or Africa also mention “things that were” and are no longer. Treeless plateaus had been forests in living memory; in larger jungles, tigers and elephants did not threaten land-hungry peasants, and bush meat was not being eaten to threatened extinction. Cities were not so flooded with peasants unable to make a living on their ancestral lands.

Photographs and films would tell us more stories if they were not so often fashionably cropped to show only the faces of grief or stoicism. See the strings of elephants plodding across bare lands to find a tree to eat. See the scenes of bare lands with a single picturesque tree - what happens when that one tree goes? See the villages set amid treeless dust, and compare with the National Geographic magazines of the 1930’s.


Most photos of bare and barren lands that we see in the news today are scenes of war, where soldiers foray and planes bomb. Successes in wars have traditionally been counted by the enemy dead. What also must be counted is the lasting damage to the land and the homes. It has always been assumed war-damage can be repaired - but damage remains visible from wars thousands of years back to ruins of 1941-45 and now.

Deserts are spreading faster than they are being reclaimed. Land-hungry people move into semi-desert, and it becomes more desert. Irrigation that could not handle salination has been causing deserts for thousands of years, and in Australia is a growing problem.

Where are the online documentaries and books that compare now with then in aerial pictures as well as on-site and maps?

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About the Author

Valerie Yule is a writer and researcher on imagination, literacy and social issues.

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