Johannesburg, South Africa, 26 August - 4 September 2002
Last month representatives from many countries met at
the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) in
Johannesburg, South Africa, to talk about helping the
world's poor people and protecting the global environment.
The United Nations, an international governmental body
whose offices are in New York City, organized WSSD.
Sustainable development is how countries can feed, clothe
and provide shelter for their citizens and protect the
environment at the same time. Many people in the world
do not have access to basic needs such as drinkable water,
electricity and medicine. The participants of WSSD decided
on ways to fulfill these needs.
Sometimes the way energy for electricity is produced ends
up harming the environment. For instance, generally the
world is dependent on burning fossil fuels (oil, natural
gas and coal) for energy. Only a certain amount of fossil
fuels exists. Burning fossil fuels for energy produces
a lot of a gas called carbon dioxide, one of a number
of gases called greenhouse gases. Through a complex reaction
these gases help warm the earth like a greenhouse. The
earth's atmosphere is then warmed enough for humans to
However, many scientists have found that we have produced
too much carbon dioxide, and our earth's temperature may
be heating up too much and too fast for the natural world
to adapt. This is called global warming. Animal and plant
habitats (the right surroundings for their survival) are
changing, and some species (animals or plants of exactly
the same type) may become extinct (when all animals or
plants of the same species die) because of it. Other effects
include sea levels rising because ice sheets from the
North and South poles are melting, and an increase in
mosquito-carried tropical diseases, which will affect
greater numbers of people, due to their habitat spreading
with the increase of warmth.
Sea level rise threatens humans because of the large groups
of people living at sea level. Tropical diseases threaten
humans when the diseases are carried to places they have
not been before; then they can infect people who are not
used to them. Sustainable development uses other types
of energy called renewable energy.
Renewable energy is produced naturally, using earth's
products that are constant such as wind and sun (solar
energy). There is an unlimited amount of this type of
energy available, so it is called renewable. Using renewable
energy keeps the environment cleaner and doesn't cause
The participants of WSSD agreed on ways to produce more
renewable energy for the world's poor people, so they
could have electricity and not damage the environment.
Although often it is difficult for so many countries to
agree on issues such as these, it is very important for
the earth's survival that these subjects to be discussed.
The United States is now in the fourth year of a severe
drought. Many parts of the country have lost a year's
worth of rainfall during the last four years.
Drought is the lack of rainfall over an extended period
of time, usually a season or more. Its effects include
not enough water for farmers' crops and livestock, critically
low levels of water supply for urban as well as rural
areas, and less fish and other freshwater species' habitats.
A chain of events is set in motion when farmers begin
to be affected by the lack of rainfall. If they are beef
cattle producers, as the grass stops growing and the ponds
dry up, often they must sell their stock. In the beginning,
as they all begin to sell, beef prices are lower. As the
drought continues, and beef becomes less available, beef
prices rise. If they are crop producers, eventually the
same thing happens; grain and vegetable prices go up.
Drought is a natural occurrence, and it is only really
noticed when it becomes as serious as the present one.
The people of the United States usually have enough water
so that it is not a normal problem we have to think about,
as people in other countries frequently have to. In this
country we tend to take water supply for granted, and
therefore we are not prepared when a difficult drought
Some water conservation practices include turning off
the faucet while brushing teeth, rinsing dishes or soaping
up in the shower, fixing leaky faucets, making sure outside
hoses are always turned off securely, and only watering
gardens early in the morning or late in the evening.
Many scientists all over the world agree that the greenhouse
gases mentioned in the first article are affecting the
global climate. These effects include:
Higher global temperatures that disturb natural
Changes in rainfall amount that affect water supply
and food production
Increase in extreme weather events like floods,
blizzards, tornadoes and droughts
Rise in sea level affecting coastal areas
There are a handful of greenhouse gases, but carbon dioxide
is the most problematic because there is more of it everywhere
in the world. Cars emit carbon dioxide, and just think
of how many cars there are in the world. Some cars, such
as trucks and SUVs (sport utility vehicles, like Jeeps),
emit more than others. Electricity producing plants can
emit carbon dioxide, too.
There are wide-reaching effects of global climate change,
but also things that everyone can do to slow it down.
AMERICAN FRESH WATER FISH
One effect of global climate change is a change in American
fish habitats. Many researchers from all over the country
have reports about how fish habitats are or will be changing.
In the Rocky Mountains, cold-water trout will lose about
one-fifth of their habitats when the average air temperature
in July has increased by one degree Celsius (an international
temperature calculation), causing the water temperature
to rise accordingly.
Not only will trout habitats become smaller as the fish
are pushed farther up the mountains, they will become
widely separated so that the trout populations will exist
in small pockets. When only small, separate groups of
a species exist, that species is more likely to become
The Chesapeake Bay, bordering Maryland and Virginia, is
one of the most productive estuaries (the mouth of a river
or stream where fresh water and saltwater mingle) in the
world. In the spring a large amount of fresh water flows
into the bay, carrying many nutrients. This starts production
of phytoplankton (microscopic floating plants) that is
then eaten by zooplankton (tiny animal organisms). Millions
of fish larvae depend on certain of the zooplankton, but
at different times. If winter gets shorter and spring
comes earlier, the natural cycle may be thrown off, and
some of the larvae may starve.
The amount of ice covering lakes can affect survival of
a species also. For instance, whitefish in Lake Michigan
have had little hatching success in the years when there
has been inadequate ice cover; the eggs roll around in
rough winter water instead of sitting still on the bottom.
Think about how the natural world around you may be changing
because of global climate change.
Although global climate change is an international problem,
local city governments have started acting to lower their
greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Through a program called
Cities for Climate Protection (CCP), the International
Council for Local Environmental Initiatives (ICLEI) ensures
that local governments have the ability to lower their
The participating local governments must:
Find out the amount of GHG emissions
Figure out how much they can lower GHG emissions
Make a Local Action Plan
Carry out their Plan
Check the results
Many of the changes that local governments make have other
benefits, such as saving money because of better energy
efficiency, more jobs because of new energy system installment,
less air pollution, less traffic, and better communities
to live in.
You can make a difference, too. Turn off the lights or
any other electrical appliances if you're not using them,
don't let water run unnecessarily, turn down the heat
and wear warmer clothes in the winter, and walk more places
or use buses or subways instead of driving.