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 live.

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 global warming.

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 comes.

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 systems
• 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.

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 extinct.

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 GHG emissions.

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.