North America’s Ecological Debt
Ecological debt refers to the debt that is accumulated by northern industrial countries towards the developing nations on account of plundering or wastage of resources and the use of environmental space to deposit wastes (Warlenius, 2016) The developed countries are the major contributors to global warming as the carbon emissions in such states are noticeably high. Essentially, the ecological debt seeks to make them accountable for their destructive actions. Environmental damage has no boundaries, and thus, it affects various ecosystems beyond the national boundaries. The idea of the Debt Treaty was proposed in 1990 during the Rio Summit, and it brought the move from the term external debt. (Hornborg & Martinez-Alier 2016). Ecological debt is further witnessed when rich countries over-exploit the environmental space without payment to the nations affected thus polluting the affected states. Therefore, an ecological debt can be termed as a public debt and is calculated based on the carbon emissions. The North American environmental debt has a global implication as its impacts are felt the world over.
North-America is one of the regions with the most significant number of Industries worldwide. The biggest contributors to the carbon emissions are electricity production, transportation, and manufacturing industries. According to research conducted by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), approximately 67% of electricity is harnessed from coal and natural gas (Gray, 2007). When coal is burnt, it emits carbon that is even visible through the blackened hoses. The transportation sector, on the other hand, produces approximately 27% of the greenhouse gases through combustion of fuel. Besides, the human population in the frontier is also at an all-time high. The immediate cause is that many residential houses are coming up and their pavements and houses influence the weather systems. (Warlenius, 2016) Many people living in the Northern frontier complain of heat waves during summer as the great population has affected the natural ecosystems through the clearing of natural land for settlement purposes (Gray, 2007). The result of these activities is climate change as a result of the changes existent in the natural eco-systems. These effects are not felt on the Northern frontier alone but also globally. South America, for example, is experiencing rising sea levels due to climate change majorly brought about by the activities in the Northern frontier. The recent tsunami in South America is one such effect. The Polar Regions have also been affected, and the result is the reduced thickness of glaciers due to the melting of ice caused by rising temperatures (Chylek & Lesins, 2006). Animals in the polar region are becoming extinct due to the changes in the ecosystems. The white snow that is meant to cause camouflage has been melting thus consistently exposing the species. Many predators also shift regions as the lower temperatures make it possible for them to survive. In Africa, the once snow peaked Mt. Kenya has melted completely as environmentalist point the cause to be climate change. These examples show how ecological debts impact the world due to climate change. It is unfair that a less developed nation should exchange its natural resources for carbon dioxide emissions from the North American states (Hornborg & Martinez-Alier, 2016).
The idea of ecological debt greatly hinders the concept of sustainable development. Sustainable development aims to utilize the existing resources with the future generation in mind. It is the idea that pushes for environmental protection. On the contrary, ecological debt leads to the destruction of the environment at the expense of other nations. Ecological debt, therefore, cripples the idea of sustainable development globally. The semi-arid region of the world such as the Mediterranean, South Africa, and North-Eastern Brazil suffer from increased aridity due to the global warming (Hornborg & Martinez-Alier, 2016). In such areas, heavy rainfall does not lead to an increased water supply but augmented flooding. The North American Ecological debt has also proved destructive as many industries are continuously dumping wastes or engaging in activities that affect the water systems. (Warlenius, 2016) Additionally, the oil spill is a major issue in North America that affects global environmental sustainability. The notorious Exxon Valdez spill did not just change the Alaskan coastline; it killed many birds and affected many other oceans worldwide. Also, many edible sea fish have been found to contain mercury which has been blamed on polluted seas (Gray, 2007). It is evident that ecological debt cannot lead to global sustainable development as it promotes pollution in the name of national debt.
Many developing nations that feel the impact of the Northern Americas ecological debt is not that significant (Hornborg & Martinez-Alier, 2016). The exchange is unfair as one party allows the more economically stable one to deposit wastes on its environmental space at the expense of the health of the inhabitants. Ecological debt causes climate change which brings with it several illnesses (Hornborg & Martinez-Alier, 2016). For instance, skin cancer has become rampant in various parts of Africa because the ozone layer has been significantly destroyed by the greenhouse gases. Additionally, increased temperature has resulted in frequent and severe heat stress in Europe. The aridity brought about by the concept of ecological debt has led to the death of many people in Sub-Saharan Africa and the Mediterranean due to starvation and malnutrition. The unpredictable weather phenomena in Africa have also caused increasing cases of malaria due to increased temperatures and rainfall (Warlenius 2016) The Northern America ecological debt is a problem to many nations. The stable economy supported by increased production has brought detrimental effects to many nations. It is unfair trade and an unhealthy one.
In conclusion, ecological debt is the main cause of climate change in the global arena. The idea has justified a world order that manipulates the poor people with the promise of an improved economy. Moreover, it destroys the idea of environmental sustainability and damages the health of many individuals at the expense of prosperity. The Northern America ecological debt destroys the concept of environmental justice globally as the monetary economics cannot be compared to biophysical protection. It justifies economic polarization at the expense of the developing nations globally. Although the Northern America ecological debt has gained much attention, it needs to be reconsidered in the light of environmental justice.
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Chylek, P., Dubey, M. K., & Lesins, G. (2006). Greenland warming of 1920–1930 and 1995–2005. Geophysical Research Letters, 33(11). Retrieved from http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1029/2006GL026510/full
Gray, V. (2007). Climate change 2007: the physical science basis summary for policymakers. Energy & Environment, 18(3), 433-440. Retrieved from https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/sources-greenhouse-gas-emissions
Hornborg, A., & Martinez-Alier, J. (2016). Ecologically unequal exchange and ecological debt. Journal of Political Ecology, 23(1), 328-333. Retrieved from http://jpe.library.arizona.edu/volume_23/Hornborgintro.pdf
Warlenius, R. (2016). Linking ecological debt and ecologically unequal exchange: stocks, flows, and unequal sink appropriation. Journal of Political Ecology, 23(1), 364-380. Retrieved from http://jpe.library.arizona.edu/volume_23/Warlenius.pdf
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