Global Warming and the threat to Human Development

This post explores the extent to which Global Warming poses a threat to continued social and economic development.

According to the latest data from Climate.gov global warming is currently causing sea levels to rise by 0.3 centimetres a year, which means that sea levels may have risen by up to 2.5 metres by 2100.  

A recent report by Climate Central (2019) suggests that 300 million people live in areas that will be subject to severe flooding due to climate change, China and Bangladesh have the most people living in at-risk areas.

The Polynesian Island of Tuvalu, population 11 000, is on the frontline of Sea Level Rise – located in the Pacific Ocean this is a thin slip of an Island where the residents are now struggling to survive because of rising sea levels. This Guardian article (2019) takes an in-depth look the problems the residents face. There is a very real chance all of these people could end up being climate change refugees within the next decade. NB the United Nations is aware of their plight, but it’s difficult to see what we can do that is practical.  

This documentary from 60 Minutes Australia (2019) explores the rapid disappearance of parts of the Solomon Islands, where sea levels have increased by up to 15 centimetres in the last 20 years:

From a research methods perspective this is interesting as one researcher used old photos to compare where some of the islands used to be compared to their reduced sizes today; and there are also interviews with people who grew up on the islands – some of the places they used to picnic as kids are now gone forever, completely under water!

The Global Climate Risk Index is a useful broader source than the above – it focuses more on all extreme weather events, so not just flooding (also droughts and extreme weather events).

NB – just to reiterate that the latest modelling suggests that if anything sea levels are rising FASTER than previously projected, so these problems are set to get worse!

Global Warming: Last Chance to Save Planet Earth?

The Intergovernmental Panel’s Report on Climate Change (IPCC), published earlier this week, doesn’t make for pretty reading…

Human activities are estimated to have caused 1.0°C of global warming above pre-industrial levels. Global warming is likely to reach 1.5°C between 2030 and 2052 if it continues to increase at the current rate.

With this level of warming, the report estimates that about 4% of the earth’s surface will undergo significant ecosystems change (in layman’s terms that means some areas becoming deserts, and lots of dead polar bears in the arctic), more extreme weather conditions, and some small island communities disappearing due to sea level rise.

And those in less developed countries will generally bear the brunt of the negative consequences of climate change.

The report also points out that warming could be more severe, and that to limit warming to 1.5C, will involve “annual average investment needs in the energy system of around $2.4 trillion” between 2016 and 2035.

Relevance to A-level Sociology: 

Unfortunately this important update is only of direct relevance to the minority of students who study the Global Development topic. For those that do, this report puts everything in perspective: this is the ‘global challenge of the day’.

However, for all students of sociology it’s possibly a good reminder of the limits of optimist globaliszation. Globalization has gone so far that we’ve effectively got a global consensus that climate change is taking place and that it’s man made. HOWEVER, we’ve actually known this for decades, but still nothing significant is being done about it, because those who occupy the seats of global power don’t see it as being in their current interests to actually take the necessary large-scale action (i.e. make the massive investments now) to reduce the risks of global warming.

Of course, if you’re a hard line neo-liberal risk society theorist, you might just see all of this IPCC stuff as scare mongering, nothing to worry about, and remain confident in the fact that the planet can handle the shock, and that techno-solutions will be found at some point in the not too distant future.

ExxonMobil – The Worst Corporation in the World?

ExxonMobil is the world’s largest oil and gas corporation – its main ‘business lines’ involve producing a range of fuels for cars, planes and ships, as well the technologies surrounding the extraction and refining of these fuels.

Exxon Mobil.jpg

ExxonMobil: Key Facts and Stats

  • Registered in Texas, USA.
  • Assets (2016) – $330 billion
  • Revenue (2016) – $218 billion
  • 75 000 employees globally
  • The CEO from 2006 to 2016 was Rex Tillerson, until Donald Trump appointed him as the 69th Secretary of State, a position he formally took up in February 2017. Tillerson has a relatively modest Total Net Wealth of $245 million (although I simply CANNOT believe that’s an accurate figure.)

Oil and Money
Rex Tillerson: Putting Oil and Money First?

Criticisms of ExxonMobil

This video outlines a fairly basic criticism of Exxon’s dealings with the ruling family of Equatorial Guinea – which is the richest country in Africa in terms of GDP, but not in terms of social development, because although Exxon pump a lot of oil out of the country, pretty much all of the money from that oil revenue gets pumped into the hands of the ruling family. They’re so rich, that the Vice President (the president’s son) owns a $30 million dollar mansion in Malibu.

I posted about Equatorial Guinnea a while back – this post covers some of the figures surrounding oil extraction.

Teodorin Obiang
Teodorin Obiang – Total Net Wealth of $115 million

NB – Obiang is going on trial in Europe to investigate the obvious corruption that has led to his vast wealth, thanks to the French courts, no thanks to the TNC Exxon.

A second criticism of Exxon is that it could have effectively prevented climate change: its own internal memos show that the company proved the link between burning fossil fuels and global warming in the late 1970s, but then buried the research and instead funded climate change sceptics to spread doubt about man-made climate change, and cynically invested in areas such as the arctic which it thought global warming would open up for further oil extraction.

According to this Guardian article, Bill Mckibben argues that if only Exxon had been honest, we could have taken much early steps to avert global warming.

Further Sources of criticisms of Exxon…

http://www.cracked.com/article_24303_5-leaked-memos-that-prove-famous-companies-are-evil-as-hell.html

Related Posts/ how to use this material

The most obvious use of the above information is to use it to evaluate the role of Transnational Corporations in Development, summaries of which are provided here:

 

 

 

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