The very uneasy and unbearable weather and the overall deteriorating environmental conditions in coastal areas all over the world have become the new trend of our planet’s environment, and the economic and military rivalries among different countries around the world are to be blamed. Such rivalries have been causing excessive industrialization and increasing the trend of production and usage of military hardware for conflicts and wars that are further causing the environment of our planet to deteriorate drastically.
The global and regional economic rivalries are pushing the rival states to thrust for an unprecedented and unchecked militarization of different geopolitical hotspots of our globe and to propel for the producing, acquiring and using of destructive weapons. Such economic and military rivalries is one of the reasons behind worsening weather conditions in victim countries with flat and low-lying coastal areas.
Geo-economic rivalries and the resulting pollution
The “industrialized” countries have already done enormous damage to our planet’s environment in each of their attempt to supersede the other in the industrial revolution and in terms of the size of their economies. The same is happening in case of “young industrialized”. In the race for economic might, the victims have always been the environment and human beings.
The effects of industrial competition among the economic powers are far-reaching and liable to affect the eco-system for many years to come. One particularly damaging effect is the dumping of harmful used-water from industrial sites into open oceans, seas or rivers, damaging many of the water sources around the globe and, thus, causing health issues for the people who use such water for different purposes.
For instance, the same water is used by the farmers for irrigation, which affects the quality of the food that is produced, causing health issues to the people who consume those foods. Moreover, industrial competition among the economic powers have pushed them to increase their industrial capacities to an excessive level and, thus, causing immense air pollution that has taken a toll on the environment and the health of humans. Both humans and the environment are at risk from exposure to radiation from different sources, including radioactive materials, accelerators, electrical installations, mobile broadcasting centers, etc. The most alarming effect of this economic competition among the economic powers is global warming.
Environmental impacts of militarization
The heavy economic competition among the global and regional economic powers is resulting in geopolitical rivalries among themselves. These countries, therefore, are resorting to heavily arming their arsenals with weapons, from light firearms to heavily destructive firearms, to barrel bombs and chemical weapons, to nuclear missiles. Some state-players are also resorting to wars and proxy wars.
Wars around the globe have been seriously impacting the natural environments of not only the war-torn countries, but also most of the countries around the globe. The weaponry and military vehicles used in the war zones have been producing many hundreds of thousands of tons of carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, hydrocarbons and sulfur dioxide – all of which are immensely injurious to our planet’s environment. Air pollution from weaponry and military vehicles have, over the years, adversely affected human health. An inncrease in cancer, birth defects, and other adverse health conditions are associated with war-related environmental damage.
Rise in temperatures and sea-level
The urge for economic supremacy among the powerful economies around the globe has increased the human activity of burning fossil fuels such as coal, oil and natural gas. Such a trend is altering the relatively stable and liveable environmental conditions of our planet. Such burning of fossil fuels, which release carbons that have previously been locked up in coal, oil and natural gas for millions of years, and are causing a gradual rise in average global temperatures. Such a gradual rise in average global temperatures (global warming) poses a number of threats: (i) the threat to human health increases by many times, (ii) the ecosystem is damaged due to higher temperatures, (iv) changing weather patterns cause irreversible damage to agriculture, (iv) coastal areas are vulnerable to the lethal combination of “rising sea levels” and increasing number of severe ocean storms that are caused by the melting of mountain-ice and polar glaciers.
The effects of the rise in sea-levels are profound, as this threatens to submerge many areas around the globe, especially coastal ones — and perhaps it will not take decades for the coastlines to change. The rise in sea-levels has been causing more floods, especially during storms. Higher sea-levels have increased the size of the flow of water that the super-storms generally bring inland from the ocean. Some short term impacts of rise in sea-level are regularly experienced these days by many victims around the globe. Tsunamis are an ideal example of what sort of disaster the rise in sea-level could lead to.
Developing countries with flat and low-lying coastal areas
Global and regional economic and military rivalries have been causing environmental deterioration around the globe and developing countries having flat and low-lying coastal areas are among the victims of such deteriorating environmental conditions. Besides the major problems of poverty and illiteracy, these countries’ vulnerability to environmental deterioration is alarming. The overall economic development of these countries have been troubled to a considerable extent by the adverse effects of deteriorating global environmental conditions.
With flat and low-lying landscapes, the coastal areas of these countries are highly vulnerable to floods and storms. Among the major impacts of the environmental deterioration – particularly of the global warming – the increasing rise in sea-level every year has been the most alarming one so far, with the possibility of submerging a substantial percentage of the total coastal landmass of these countries under water.
A prediction made in 2007 by the UK Department for International Development suggests that there is the possibility that 6%-8% of ‘flood-prone’ Bangladesh may be submerged under water by 2030. From the 4th assessment report published by the International Panel on Climate Change or IPCC, it appears that a substantial portion of coastal areas of Myanmar is predicted to be submerged under water by 2050.
In long run, the coastline and coastal cities of many developing countries having flat and low-lying landscapes will be lost because of the rise in sea-levels. But in the short term, sea-level rises will cause more damage through floods and powerful storms that might bring water inland, causing devastation like that of a tsunami. A substantial portion of the total population of these countries live in the coastal areas, where the majority of the population are affected, directly or indirectly, by coastal floods or tidal flows, salinity, tropical cyclones, erosion of river-banks, etc. With the rise of sea-levels “even by a meter”, these countries could lose a substantial percentage of their total landmass under water, turning millions of inhabitants living in the coastal areas into climate refugees.
German scholars from Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PICIR) warned that if incentives of the global warming are not reduced immediately worldwide, a series of unstoppable events will be triggered, causing a dramatic rise in sea-levels and the total annihilation of coastal cities inhabited by millions of people. Therefore, in line with the suggestion from PICIR, the incentives of global warming, which, among others, includes the worldwide economic and military competition, must be reduced. Otherwise, millions of coastal inhabitants around the globe would face a survival threat.
Developing countries with flat and low-lying coastal areas are likely to experience more ‘immediate’ adverse impacts of environmental deterioration. Agriculture, industry, school, hospitals, roads, bridges, livelihoods, marine resources, forestry, biodiversity, human health and other utility services will suffer severely.
All in all, it is high time for “affected” and “to be affected” countries to start working together on real solutions with the utmost urgency in the global and regional level.
*Bahauddin Foizee, primarily a legal practitioner, teaches law at Dhaka Centre for Law & Economics, and regularly writes columns on international affairs.