III. The post Stockholm balance
The past half century is like an open book, which allows us to see with extreme clarity the actions of Homo sapiens in that period and the little attention that has been given to the letter and spirit of the Stockholm Declaration. This figurative book that we propose is framed in a short period, which allows us to appreciate what we have done and what we have not done in climate-environmental matters in these fifty years. From this point of view, a posteriori analysis becomes relatively easy and useful. This period is so short that, for example, Peter and Monica, who are now 65 years old, were 15 years old when the Stockholm proclamations were being drafted.
What happened to the Earth’s climatic-environmental system has happened during the life of Pedro and Mónica, perhaps they did not perceive it as a destruction that happened before their eyes. They were unaware of the depredation of tens of thousands of flora and fauna habitats. Neither of the innumerable rivers that flowed mightily when they were children, which today are nothing more than thin polluted streams, semi-dry and almost imperceptible.
All of us who currently live on the planet, in one way or another, suffer the consequences of what we have done to the Earth in just two generations. Yes, in just two generations. This is a wake-up call for us to become aware of the seriousness and urgency of the situation and face the next half century (2022-2072), as summoned to fix what we have messed up, while possible.
Many pages of our imaginary book are still blank, and it is urgent to fill them, so that it stops being a metaphor and becomes a real book, a kind of “Earth user manual”. We propose it as a free, collaborative encyclopedia, made and supervised by several people, so that it can be used for various purposes, including so that the climatic-environmental situation is documented for posterity, on the one hand, and on the other, to serve as a guide to repair the most pressing damage.
The conclusion of UNEP, the UN Environment Program
In the period studied, the environmental setback has been so great that the damage may be irreversible. It is not in vain that there is already talk of “adaptation”, since returning to the status of 1972 is impossible. Those that have made progress, and with firm steps and without rest, are the accumulation of CO2 in the atmosphere, the increase in temperature, the deterioration of air quality, the degradation of the soil and the oceans, the scarcity and contamination of waters from rivers and lakes, just to name the main problems. We do not say it, it is expressed with dramatic realism by the main support of the UN for the environment.
“Now, 50 years after the Stockholm meeting, the world is facing the three planetary crises that threaten its future: climate change, biodiversity loss, and pollution and waste…”.
In our words, humanity has wasted this precious half century. 50 years have slipped out of our hands, and they will never come back. In this first half century after Stockholm, much of the damage done to the environment could have been avoided.
The second half century after Stockholm has just begun. It is a good opportunity to begin to rectify. It’s time to pick up the pace to make up for lost time. If we don’t, maybe there won’t be another chance.
Let’s look at our previous example, but now in reverse. Yes, Elizabeth and Julius, who are 15 years old today, will be 65 in 2072. If they fall asleep and don’t lift their heads out of the water to realize what is happening in the world, we will all have lost the fight against climate change. We are all Elizabeth and Julius. Think about this and draw your own conclusions. All the young people are Elizabeth and Julius.
While we were preparing this analysis, July 2022, we were reading the news: “Brazil sees record Amazon deforestation in first half of 2022” CNN. It is unusual that, at the end of the first quarter of this 21st century, the depredation continues and breaks down new records. The great jungle of South America and the world have no substitute, if we allow it to be lost, perhaps we too will be lost.
Why didn’t they take advantage of these 50 years?
On the one hand, because there is too much interest from those who strive to preserve the status quo, and on the other, there is a lack of interest from the great majority to find out about the situation of the planet. They both prefer to stay in their comfort zone. Not all of them, but most of them are in “their business”, both those of the status quo and those of the great majority continue with their activities, as if the laws of ecology, that is, the laws of Mother Earth, could not affect them. Of course, those in the first group bear the greatest responsibility.
Sample of human activities after Stockholm 1972
The lights had not gone out in Stockholm when predatory activity on the part by some humans escalated to levels unknown in the world, revealing a contempt for the words of science, environmentalists, and other fighters for the Earth. In 50 years, the ferocity of a minority predatory sector came to light. Just look at the main damage done to the planet. The sampler that we place below is a clear demonstration of the little effect that Stockholm had in the following half century:
The indiscriminate and illegal logging of Borneo’s forests
What has happened on the third largest island in the world, the lung of Southeast Asia, was a disastrous case of mega deforestation between 1970 and 2000+. After the great depletion, the empty spaces were filled with the planting of oil palm. The orangutan, which only lives in Borneo and Sumatra, and had a large population, has been decimated by human predators, and put them in danger. Learn “Why is the orangutan in danger?” Orangutan.org.
Aggressive deforestation and the Amazon rainforest
In the largest tropical rain forest on the planet, the green lung of the world, the intensification of deforestation took hold in the 1970’s, and its illegal and uncontrolled deforestation has continued to this day. Much of the forest is in danger and may even disappear in the next half century if its destruction continues at the same rate, according to experts. Trees are felled illegally, at dizzying speeds by terrifying machinery, ironically called “tree harvesters”, putting life in South America and the entire planet at serious risk.
Deforestation in Africa
According to the FAO, “Africa recorded the highest annual rate of net forest loss between 2010-2020”, with 3.9 million hectares, about a third of the deforested area worldwide. The timber industry is one of the greatest threats to the still intact areas of the forests, to the detriment of the people and animals that inhabit them.
Excessive use of fossil fuels
In this half century, greenhouse gas emissions have increased exponentially, caused mainly by automobile traffic, aviation, heavy industries and light manufacturing. The increase in global temperature has not been long in coming, as has its consequence, climate change. As we write this, the production of old oil fields is maintained open, and new concessions and financing are granted to carry out explorations in order to open new oil fields.
In 68 percent it has vertebrate population decreased Worldwide
In just 40 years “The size of the populations of mammals, birds, fish, amphibians and reptiles has suffered, on average, an alarming drop of 68% since 1970”, according to the Living Planet Report of the World Wide Fund for Nature. WWF, Oct 30, 2018.
The degradation of the oceans
Another problem is the degradation and pollution of the oceans, which has worsened dramatically during the period studied. The decline in marine biodiversity is serious. Overfishing of marine species has reached alarming volumes. Many fish cannot reproduce as fast as they are caught. Waste pollution and oil spills are also worth mentioning. Plastic pollution is so serious that objects made of this material have been found even in the depths of marine trenches, thousands of kilometers from the surface. The acidification of the waters due to warming results in a decrease in carbonate ions, necessary for the formation of skeletons and shells of species such as crabs, lobsters, clams, oysters, putting these species at risk of extinction.
Mass whitening from Australia’s Great Barrier Reef
The largest reef system on the planet deserves a special section. The Great Barrier Reef , which is more than 2,300 kilometers long, is undergoing massive bleaching due to rising sea temperatures. The barrier is home to some 1,500 species of fish and 4,000 types of molluscs. More than two hundred species of birds visit it to spend the night, place their nests and reproduce. Thousands of fish come to feed and spawn under the shelter of the great reef. If the barrier were to disappear, it would mean a catastrophe that would affect a large part of the marine biodiversity and the coastal towns that live from fishing.
A mathematical truth
Regarding greenhouse gas emissions and the increase in global temperature, there are two fundamental, measurable and indisputable facts, such as increases in PPM, parts per million of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere and, as a consequence, the rise in global temperature. The numbers speak for themselves. The increase in PPM, which in 1750, in the midst of the Industrial Revolution, was 280 PPM. In 1972, the year of the Stockholm Conference, they were at 330 PPM. In 1992, the year of the Rio Summit, they stood at 360 PPM and today they have exceeded 415 PPM, an increase of almost 50% since the first measurement. Note that between Stockholm and today the increase has been somewhat greater than 25%. This is why the global temperature has broken its record 17 times in just this 21st century.
Scarcity and contamination of water
Water scarcity is a natural phenomenon, “but also a phenomenon induced by human beings” (Unesco). The water issue is one of the main problems of the 21st century, which many countries on five continents are facing. During the 20th century, water consumption doubled above the rate of population growth, and although it is not possible to speak of global water scarcity, regions with chronic levels of water shortage are on the rise. That is the one of the most challenge for humanity. It is important to be aware of the causes of water scarcity because they are varied and some of them can be solved without too much difficulty. Water scarcity affects about 2.8 billion people in the world for at least one month each year. More than 1.3 billion people do not have access to clean water.
Air pollution in cities
Cities are “ one of the biggest contributors to climate change”, according to UN Habitat. We know that increasing car traffic, coupled with factories that do not control their emissions, turn the air in cities around the world into clouds of smog. The levels of polluting particles exceed in many cases the safety limit for human health, according to the WHO. Air pollution today is a global environmental problem. Atmospheric pollution consists of the presence of materials or forms of energy in the air that can pose a risk, damage or nuisance of varying severity to living beings. Among the direct consequences of air pollution is the development of diseases and conditions in humans and other species.
Soil degradation “is defined as a change in the soil health status resulting in a diminished capacity of the ecosystem to provide goods and services for its beneficiaries” according FAO. The physical degradation of soils is mainly due to their intensive and extensive use. This causes the increase of erosion processes, produced by water and wind. Another damage is the use of heavy machinery for the construction of roads, cities and other civil works, which eliminate the layers of microfauna and microflora necessary for plant life. The chemical degradation of soils is fundamentally due to the use of unnatural fertilizers, the introduction of phytosanitary agents and the excessive use of pesticides. All these methods produce the extinction of the organic matter necessary to carry out the processes that intervene in the formation of humus, essential for the proper growth of plants.
The desertification of the planet
The UN has defined desertification as “land degradation in arid, semi-arid and dry sub-humid areas. It is mainly caused by human activity and climatic variations. Desertification is due to the vulnerability of dryland ecosystems, which cover a third of the planet’s surface, to overexploitation and inappropriate land use. Poverty, political instability, deforestation, overgrazing and poor irrigation practices negatively affect soil productivity.”
The forest fires
Scientists have confirmed that the main cause of mega vegetation fires is increased global warming. The warmer air produces drought which makes trees and other plants burn easily. Since the hostile deforestation of the great forests of the Earth began in the 1970s, the humidity in their areas of influence has been reduced, the rains arrive later, the summers are longer, and the environment is warmer than in previous times. These are common causes that are observed in most of the mega fires recorded in the rainforest and forests of the world. For more information, see our article The ABCs of Wildfires: Australia, Brazil, and California.
The melting of the glaciers
The Arctic is warming twice as fast as anywhere else on Earth, and sea ice is shrinking by more than 10% every 10 years. As this ice melts, more dark patches of ocean begin to emerge, removing the effect that previously cooled the poles, increasing air temperatures, and in turn, disrupting normal ocean current patterns, according to WWF.
The danger of CO2 escapes from permafrost
Permafrost soils are cold deserts, with very low humidity and little rainfall. They occupy huge territories, especially in the north of the planet, such as Alaska, Canada and Russia. Permafrost is one of the largest deposits of organic carbon on the planet. It is estimated that under its soil there could be twice the amount of this ancient carbon than exists in the atmosphere. With global warming in progress, there is a risk that the permafrost layer will thaw, and carbon will be transformed into CO2, due to the action of microbes that remain there for thousands of years and released into the atmosphere. Related article: “Arctic permafrost is thawing fast. That affects us all.” National Geographic
Even the sand is in danger of extinction
Sand is today the most demanded natural resource in the world, after water and ahead of fossil fuels. Sand has become a valued commodity, essential for modern civilizations. “Our society is literally built on sand”, admits Pascal Peduzzi, head of the Global Change and Vulnerability Unit of the United Nations Environment Program and author of the Arena Report (2014). Related article: “The devastating business of sand trafficking” Diario El País.
The Brundtland Report of 1987 and the origin of the concept “Sustainable Development”
The Brundtland Report is a document prepared by some countries, addressed to the UN in 1987, fifteen years after Stockholm. The commission was headed by Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland, Prime Minister of Norway. In this report, which was initially called “Our Common Future”, the term “sustainable development” was used for the first time, whose motto is “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the needs of future generations”. The text has the purpose of “analyzing, criticizing and rethinking the policies of globalizing economic development, recognizing that the current social progress is being carried out at a high environmental cost.”
Sustainable development is a concept in which it is urged to take into consideration the use of natural resources and, simultaneously, consider the social impact that includes specific points such as health and occupational safety, which allows the population a sufficient income to satisfy your needs. The Brundtland Report implies an important change regarding the idea of sustainability, mainly ecological, and a framework that emphasizes the economic and social context of development. This report has become a foundational reference for sustainable development.
“The report of the commission in repeated chapters refers to the need for birth control of the population, making a clear practical application of what Michel Foucault called biopolitics, since in the spirit of the commission the relationship between population and limited food resources. Wikipedia.