From the collapse of the dam in Brazil to the new Energy Union, the year that has just come to an end marked an important point in terms of environmental questions. It was also the year of the encyclical letter ”Praised be” which puts the created (hence nature and men) at the center of the world debate. Attention not only to nature, but also to human and economic relations based on the concept of respect for the human person and not merely on profit. Something has begun to change and it is a prelude to significant steps forward in 2016, provided that the governments are going to transform their good intentions into concrete things.
But what has happened last year? It started on 25 February with the European Union’s proposal of an Energy Union, starting from the crisis in Ukraine and the role gas has in the tension with Russia. The first alarm sets off in June: a study conducted by a team of international scientists of Science Advances declares that we are entering a new era of global extinction caused by man. Man’s activities and their impact on the planet, from the destruction of habitats to climate change, might be responsible for a rate of extinction one hundred times bigger than the natural one.
One tangible sign of this scenario among others, arrives a particularly dry season which between August and September causes some of the most devastating fires ever in California. A phenomenon that finds its causes in the season of fires, which has increased over the last decade of almost a month, and in climate change.
But environment means also business. And different things have happened on this front. In September – as it has been explained by Lorenzo Colantoni on Radio Bullets -, Shell decides to abandon its exploratory activities in the Arctic due to the strong opposition of the environmental activists around the world. The controversial focus of the company on the Arctic costed it over seven billion dollars to obtain just a small discovery in the Chukchi Sea in Alaska. Still in September, EPA, the American agency for environmental protection, accuses Volkswagen of using a software that falsifies the emissions test of its diesel cars. The study will give origin to the so-called “Dieselgate”, which will lead to the withdrawal of eleven million cars, costs of rectification of seven billion and the loss of 38% of shares between September and October.
Going back to governmental decisions, in October UN Member States approved the Sustainable Development Goals, objectives of sustainable development which replace the Millennium Development Goals, approved in 2000. The difference between developing countries and industrialized countries decreases in the new targets, focusing on sustainability as the fil rouge of different sectors (energy, health and so on). What is still missing, however, an institutional framework adequate to achieve it, a slap in the face of the real possibilities to realize their intent.
Still in October, Indonesia suffers one of the most terrible hazes of the last year, the cloud of smoke caused by the numerous fires provoked to deforest areas where soy and palm oil will be produced. The phenomenon is so wide, that it affects 500,000 people and four neighboring countries: Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and the Philippines.
One month later, in November, Brazil suffers the worst environmental disaster in its history after the Fundão dam broke, leading to the inundation of the contiguous valley and over 800 kilometers with 62 million liters of toxic mud from the mine at the top of the dam. Besides its devastating impact on the biodiversity of the river Doce, the disaster struck heavily the indigenous communities which lived in the area.
In a world that discovers an increasingly violent nature, with tragic consequences often triggered precisely by man’s activity, a historic agreement on climate change was reached in December, at the end of the Conference of Paris. Despite the difficulties in reconciling the different interests and failures of the previous conferences, COP21 in Paris succeeded in proposing an ambitious agreement, the success of which will be decided – as already said – essentially by the real commitment of the signatory countries in the following years.
In December weather conditions caused emergencies in different regions of the world. In Beijing, along with electricity and industrial production, as well as transport, bad weather caused yet another smog emergency. Air in the city was classified as “good” or better only in 20% of cases. A similar situation, although on a smaller scale, happened also in Italian cities such as Rome and Milan. The United Kingdom is suffering some of the worst floods in recent years. The latter are associated with other events caused by the El Niño phenomenon, as the drought in Ethiopia and Central America, and to the effects of climate change.
To sum up, the planet is changing. And it does not happen out of its own will. Pollution, the greenhouse effect, and deforestation are mining the delicate balance which sustains us. If we add to it the fact that many of the wasted resources are taken away from poor countries by the civilised world, we see rather clearly that arguments concerning the respect of nature and that of the human being are intimately interconnected.