Is the Ecological Crisis the Human Rights Concern of the Century?

Topics: Human rights, United Nations, Human Pages: 9 (3328 words) Published: April 7, 2012
The ecological crisis has now become an important topic throughout the years. Even so, toward the end of the last century, the issues of such crises became a focal talking point of governments, international organisations and scholars. This most likely is, as Leigh (2005) discusses, an increasing acceptance that such ecological disasters affecting mankind has been one of “the most critical turning points” that the world has ever encountered.

Such crises are experienced when our environment is modified in ways which undermine our continued existence. As the environment and its ecosystems are in a constant state of being damaged, its quality is vastly ruined and this has major effects on the lives that are dependent on it. Magdoff and Foster (2011) suggest that for the ecological crisis to be understood, it must be looked at in the sense of the boundaries of the planet. They go on to indicate that ultimately the Earth has several thresholds which it must remain in in order to preserve the gentle conditions that the Earth has experienced in the past century. These thresholds include loss of biodiversity, climate change, a depleting ozone layer, world-wide freshwater and chemical pollution. Unfortunately, the planet has already passed two of these, including loss of biodiversity and climate change due to our damaging activities that cause environmental disparities.

Until recently, the ecological crisis and its subsequent effects have been discussed mainly in the scientific disciplines as merely an environmental issue. It has also been made into an economic concern. However, it is now more than ever in the 21st century being debated and referred to as a subject for human rights. This essay seeks to examine the issue of the impact of the ecological crisis, its human rights implications, and how it has come to be considered the human rights concern of the century.

The Ecological Crisis
The end of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st has seen a remarkable increase in the number of environmental catastrophes that the Earth has experienced. These disasters have not been just limited to one geographic region but they have affected nearly every single part of the planet. Some have included climate change, which in turn has been affected by the greenhouse effect and gases ; the advent of peak oil; loss of biodiversity and therefore diminished quantities and quality of food supplies; plus deforestation, chemical pollution and oil spills. These in turn have had a knock-on effect on the way of living for man and caused such issues as rising sea levels, floods, reduced food resources, droughts, and polluted air and water supply. As mentioned, the Earth’s threshold for climate change and biodiversity loss has been passed and this has already been causing irreparable harm to the planet’s ecosystems and the environment. It is still possible, however, to stop such effects from permanent harm to the environment, which is why the ecological crisis has become such an important matter for discussion today.

Climate Change
“Of all the environmental issues that have emerged in the past decades, global climate change has been the most serious and most difficult to manage” (Dessler and Parson, 2006). Like with the above quote, it is thought by many scientists and scholars that climate change is and will be the biggest threat to the environment mainly because of its potential to bring about such brutal destruction. Oxfam International (2008) stated that some of the 23 richest countries in the world (comprising Canada, Australia and USA) where just fourteen percent of the entire world population inhabits, produced almost sixty percent of the planet’s carbon emissions since the 1800s.

The Earth’s climate is changing. In fact, it has always been varying from time to time. However, the degree of change is now the big worry. The Great Warming (2006) defines climate change as an alteration in the “long-term climate”...
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