Individualistic Climate Change

We all hear about the terrible effects of climate change and environmental abuses on our earth. These are abuses against our human rights and are something that majorly affects peace worldwide. We are all urged to change our individual actions to reduce our carbon footprints and told how this is the best way to stop negative climate change.

Sometimes I wonder.

Now, I’m not saying that we shouldn’t take these measures– I am a hardcore advocate of sustainability who writes about these types of issues frequently and urges people to think of generations to come and our individual footprint on this earth. What I am saying is that I don’t think this is the entire picture of what’s going on in our environment. Why is everything always thrust upon the individual who really has very little say (or none) in what happens worldwide? Where is governmental restraint? Corporate restraint? What other factors are contributing to climate change?

Sometimes I wonder what effect the over 2,000 nuclear bomb tests done globally since the 1940s have had on our environment and how this, in and of itself, has contributed to global climate change and environmental harm.

Let’s entertain that idea for a second.

A nuclear bomb has enormous destructive capability. More modern nukes can have the explosive power of more than 50,000 kilotons (that’s thousands of tons) of TNT. Tests have been done in the atmosphere, underground, in the water and even in outerspace, spewing out tremendous heat, energy and radiation into the air, ground and water; along with creating shock waves carrying immense pressure that is able to take  down buildings. Hmmm. And we are expected to believe that this has had no lingering effect on the climate, weather patterns, or our health? Well, not entirely, but its definitely not in the forefront of our environmental ideology.

A nuclear explosion underwater has the capability to create a tsunami. A nuclear explosion underground has the ability to create an earthquake. A nuclear explosion in the atmosphere rains radiation down to the earth and has enough explosive power to take down large buildings in a massive radius. What long term effects does this radioactive legacy have on our environment and our climate? What cancers and other maladies has it caused in humans and animals? What weather patterns changed on account of these explosions?

They say that simply increasing ocean temperatures by a few degrees can drastically change the weather. So we are expected to believe that numerous underwater ocean tests of nuclear devices that give off extreme amounts of heat and radioactive power have not effected ocean temperature or toxicity at all?

Now, I’m not a scientist. I’m not a nuclear specialist. I’m not a climatologist. But I do think that the entire truth of the situation is being downplayed. How can these explosions NOT have a lingering, long-term negative effect on our health, our climate and our world? How can they expect us to believe that individual actions are responsible for all our climate problems? I think that this shift to the individual helps to dissuade the blame and ensures that states can take the least amount of responsibility and action. If the problem is individual– then the best way to solve it is through individual actions– right?

Treaties have been established by international bodies to try and stop nuclear weapons testing. The Partial Test Ban Treaty of 1963 banned nuclear tests in the atmosphere, underwater and in space (most recently violated by the US), still allowing for underground testing, and was originally signed by the USSR, the UK, and the US. And the testing continued.

Then in 1968, the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty set to limit the spread of nuclear weapons. 189 states became party to the treaty, with five signing states (US, Russia, UK, China and France) already in possession of nukes and unwilling to fully give up their power. Four states have never signed and have also been in possession of nuclear armaments: India, Israel, North Korea and Pakistan. And the testing still continued.

In 1996, the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test Ban Treaty was adopted by the UN General Assembly to ban all nuclear explosions in all environments, yet has not fully entered into force. Tests are still happening. Our environment is still being polluted with radioactivity. And yet, where is the discussion on their effects on climate change and the environment? Why is this not talked about in the mainstream?

And where is the legislation necessary to protect our rights? Why is the individual responsible when it is governments who are letting it happen? When there are no laws to protect the citizenry from major toxicity and environmental harm we all face the consequences. Democracy is supposed to be by the people, for the people. In reality it is by a few individuals, for a few individuals (and corporations) and the well-being of the general population is not what is being protected.  Why are there such lax laws governing corporate or governmental environmental abuses? Why are major treaties not being respected?

I say it’s time for states to take responsibility and stop thrusting it all on the backs of the individuals. I say it’s time for the international community to take responsibility. I say its time we started looking into ALL the reasons behind our climate problems and stop blaming the individual for everything. It is not individual changes in and of itself that is going to make a real difference for our future, it is through collective action that difference will be made. If our states are not acting in our collective interests, whose interests are they acting for? Who is looking out for our collective interests and the interests of future generations? We need to speak our voice against atrocities and make change or our voice will be taken away from us.

Nuclear weapons have one purpose- destruction and death. I say its time for those countries in possession of such destruction to become accountable to the rest of the world for their actions. I say its time these countries faced the truth of their actions. I say its time that international bodies and states started actually representing collective interests instead of focusing on their own power and greed. Individual state power is not in our collective interest. If these governments truly represent the people, they should start acting like it and start thinking of all of our futures. It is time the true reason for government– to protect our rights and help keep us safe from abuse– becomes reality.

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A different kind of human right violation.

Environmental issues are often left out of many human rights discussions to focus on more direct abuses. This is an overwhelmingly important topic to human rights, so why is it so often shrugged off? Why do people not see environmental abuses as violations against their human rights? Why are they not more angry at the amount of toxins and pollutions they are subjected to through their daily living practices?

The area where I live (Kitchener-Waterloo region) is reported to have some of the worst air quality scores for ground level ozone in Ontario. Ozone is a key ingredient of urban smog. It is mostly formed with oxides of nitrogen and volatile organic compounds (VOCs), combined with heat. When it forms in the atmostphere it provides a filter for damaging ultraviolet light emitted by the sun. When it forms on the ground, it can have severe health effects for humans and damaging effect for plants and animals. Repeated exposure can cause permanent structural damage to the lungs, aggravated asthma, reduced lung capacity, increased susceptibility to respiratory illnesses like pneumonia and bronchitis and even death. It also interferes with the ability of plants to produce and store food and makes them more susceptible to disease, insects, other pollutants and harsh weather. Plants that are unable to produce or store food are unable to produce food for us to eat.

Burning of fossil fuels is one of the main emittors of nitrogen oxides. In Kitchener’s case, it is reported that over half of our pollutant load comes directly from coal plants in the Ohio Valley across the border. Ontario is contributing to the pollution as well. Ontario ranked 5th highest for pollution release in North America with 184,415 tonnes of pollution released per year, mostly created during the production of electricity utitlities. Our pollution affects more than just Ontario residents, and we are affected by pollution created elsewhere. This is bigger than just a national problem, it is a global one. We are affected by everyone else.

This pollution is causing great harm to people and is even responsible for human deaths (around 2000 per year in Ontario alone). It is costing a great deal of money to our health care system, our lives, and our future. If you doubt this, take a look here. The sad thing is that it is mostly avoidable. There are other electricity production and industrial options that do not have this effect. So why do we continue to allow extremely environmentally damaging industries and production facilities?

The sad reality is that this problem encompasses so much more than air pollution. We are bombarded with toxins and pollution at every turn. In our products, in our homes, in our water… Clean water is a thing of the past, as the levels of pharaceuticals, pollutions and toxic chemcials rises and rises and becomes harder and harder to remove or even test for. In fact, the “acceptible” levels of toxins allowed in our products is incredibly disturbing. Many antiquated laws allow known dangerous chemicals to remain in our products in certain levels.

The US Environmental Protection Agency reviews about 17,000 new industrial compounds each year, with about a 90% approval rate. The 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act requires that any chemicals that display evidence of potential harm to humans must be tested before approval, however, only a quarter of the 82,000 chemicals in use in the US have EVER been tested despite their potential to harm. A similar occurence is happening here in Canada, though perhaps in slightly lower numbers.

Testing the levels of toxicity in humans leads to incredible results. The average person has at least 100 toxins in their body and perhaps even more than this, some in incredibly damaging levels. Unfortunately, the testing is super expensive (like $15,000 to test for only about 300 toxins– and there are literally THOUSANDS upon thousands that we are potentially exposed to). Many of the toxins stay on in our bodies in our fatty tissues and are not removed naturally. They build up over time with each exposure and are passed on to our children at birth. Many of these toxins found in every day products are hormone disrupters, or are incredibly neurologically damaging or carcinogenic (cancer causing). The overall costs of using these type of chemicals is incredibly high.

Regardless of your beliefs on climate change, does it make any sense to continually toxify ourselves with polluting and damaging practices? These practices are interfering with our right to life, and our right to an adequate standard of living and health for ourselves and our families. From a purely economic standpoint, they are costing us BILLIONS of dollars each year.

The current “acceptible” levels of toxins and pollutions are causing us great harm, and this needs to change. Humans are innovators. We have the capacity, skill and determination to overcome many problems. So why are we stuck in the stone age of production, when there is soo much information on the subject and acceptable alternatives to use? Why do we not learn from our studies and use technologies that are already in existence to slow or stop the production of new toxic or polluting substances?

My thoughts on the matter– it comes down to one thing. Money. The profits to be made or lost for corporations, and the overall effect for the economy.

That’s just not a good enough reason for my human rights to be interfered with. I cannot avoid these chemicals, even if I live a life full of organic foods; pollution and toxins still rain down on me. They are still introduced through products with flame-retardants sprayed on them. They are still introduced through everything else I use in my home. They are still breathed in through my lungs, and are everywhere I go in society.

Toxins and pollutions won’t be reduced overnight, but ignoring environmental protection acts or allowing lax policies is certainly not helping. We need to take a stand for our own human rights. Why do we have agencies for our protection, if their number one concern lies with industry and corporate rights and not with the general public? This is a major disservice to humanity and needs to be changed.

It’s time humans wised up to their own stupidity and started to make real changes. Our future depends on it.

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