The root cause of the greenhouse effect

When protesters gathered at a climate change summit, they made an unexpected claim – that capitalism is actually to blame for extreme weather and global warming

THE climate crisis has brought an unparalleled threat to the world, owing to polar ice melting, sea level rising, habitat loss and the increasing frequency of extreme weather. To call on the international community to take action against the climate crisis, the United Nations (UN, 聯合國) held a climate summit on 23 September in New York (紐約), inviting more than 120 national leaders, senior government officials and non-governmental representatives to attend.

Before and after the summit was held, about 600,000 people from 166 countries in the world protested on the streets asking various countries to look at the issue of global warming squarely, while 3,000 people poured into Wall Street (華爾街) to condemn capitalism, not carbon dioxide, as the cause of global warming. How are capitalism and climate change related?

Who should be responsible?
REDUCING greenhouse gases should be the responsibility of all nations, but do they really do what they should?

Developed countries think reducing greenhouse gas emissions is equivalent to stifling economic development, whereas developing countries believe that since they were not involved in the mass greenhouse gas emission during the industrial age, they bear no responsibility for the climate change today.

Shelving responsibilities
THE Kyoto Protocol (《京都議定書》), which was signed in 1997 and became effective in 2005, requested 38 countries and the European Union (歐盟) to have stronger controls on greenhouse gas emissions. The ‘world’s number one gas emitter’ at that time, the United States (美國), refused to sign the Protocol on the grounds that it would stifle economic development, and the ‘world’s number two gas emitter’ at that time, China, was exempted from the Protocol due to its status as a developing country. Russia (俄羅斯) announced its withdrawal afterwards as well. With the premise of economic development, the commitments on gas emission were shelved again.

In pursuit of GDP
AIMING to achieve economic growth, some countries end up trying to stimulate consumption. The growing consumer demand causes enterprises to consume more natural resources to produce more goods, ultimately leading to the exhaustion of social and natural resources.

It seems that capitalism is not only the cause of climate change, but also of other environmental isues such as grassland desertification and deforestation.

Hence, the United Nations issued the New York Declaration on Forests (紐約森林宣言) at the climate summit, declaring its goal to halve the rate of the natural forest loss globally in 10 years, and to strive to end natural forest loss by 2030, in order to restore hundreds of millions of hectares of degraded landscape and forest lands and to improve the imbalanced environmental development caused by capitalism.

Critical Questions:
Think about these questions and discuss them with your classmates.
1. How can the way we live and social development affect the environment and the use of energy?
2. How can the general public, organisations and governments respond to the need of sustainable development?