Human consumption straining earth's resources
PROFESSOR Gerald Lalor, director general of the International Centre for Environment & Nuclear Sciences at the University of the West Indies, Mona, says human demands are straining the earth's resources. Agriculture, adds the scientist, is a main driver of environmental damage.
"The present demands on our planet are staggering in scale," said Lalor. Agriculture for instance already accounts for 70 per cent of our fresh water use and nearly 40 per cent of land uses are food demands. this is closely linked to environmental damage."
Lalor was delivering the keynote address last week at the opening ceremony of the two-day conference on the environment.
The second national conference on the environment hosted by the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) and the Jamaica Institute of Environmental Professionals was held yesterday at the Jamaica Pegasus hotel under the theme: "Sustainable development - myths and realities".
One example, he said, was that the worldwide cattle population generated 94 million tons of methane gas annually - which is 20 per cent more damaging as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.
Noting the correlation between population growth worldwide, and the earth's finite resources, the nuclear scientist said that while the world's poor sought valiantly to adopt the lifestyle of the average US citizen, it is unknown if the earth could sustain the demands.
"If every resident of China were to acquire the average standard of living of the US, we would need another four earths," Lalor said.
Jamaica contributes very little to global degradation, but, said Lalor, "there is much to do right here," to correct environmental damage - for example, the resuscitation the dying corals, preservation of the biodiversity, reduction of the smog which suffuses Kingston, restoring the Kingston harbour, rehabilitation of mined out lands, halting the depletion of the soil's fertility and eliminating the potential threats to children exposed to lead batteries.
These, he said, are problems "crying out for attention."
A fundamental element of the sustainability of the environment is energy generation and while several alternatives are being explored, Lalor implied that it was a myth to hope that these alternative energies could be produced on a global scale.
"The supply situation with oil is fraught with problems, and fossil fuel combustion at projected levels seem pretty certain to lead to global warming," said the scientist.
"Worldwide there will be increased usage of so-called renewables based on biomass, solar, hydro, wind, wave among others, which, generally, are more environmentally benign than the combustibles, but are unlikely to fill the global demand for energy during the present century."
Lalor noted that such considerations are partly the reason for the resurgence of interest in nuclear power and despite the freeze on new construction in the West several countries in Europe and Asia supplement energy needs with nuclear power.
For example, France generates 79 per cent of its electricity with nuclear power; Belgium 60 per cent; Sweden 42 per cent; Switzerland 39 per cent; Spain 37 per cent, the United Kingston 21 per cent; and the United States 20 per cent.
He stated emphatically that nuclear energy was the only feasible global alternative to oil based on the increasing cost of oil but small nations like Jamaica should be in a watch and wait mode.