When populations are subjected to these devastating phenomena, they eventually move away. Wealthy countries will not be spared. Droughts are occurring all over the planet. In Australia, half of farmland is already affected. We are in the process of compromising the climatic balance that has allowed us to develop over 12,000 years. More and more wildfires encroach on major cities. In turn, they exacerbate global warming. As the trees burn, they release carbon dioxide. The system that controls our climate has been severely disrupted.
The elements on which it relies have been disrupted. The clock of climate change is ticking in these magnificent landscapes. Here in Siberia and elsewhere across the globe it is so cold that the ground is constantly frozen. It’s known as permafrost. Under its surface lies a climatic time bomb:methane. A greenhouse gas 20 times more powerful than carbon dioxide. If the permafrost melts, the methane released would cause the greenhouse effect to race out of control with consequences no one can predict. We would literally be in unknown territory.
Humanity has no more than 10 years to reverse the trend and avoid crossing into this territory life on Earth as we have never known it. We have created phenomena we cannot control. Since our origins, water, air and forms of life are intimately linked. But recently, we have broken those links.
Let’s face the facts.We must believe what we know. All that we have just seen is a reflection of human behavior. We have shaped the Earth in our image. We have very little time to change. How can this century carry the burden of nine billion human beings if we refuse to be called to account for everything we alone have done?
20% of the world’s population consumes 80% of its resources
The world spends 12 times more on military expenditures than on aid to developing countries.
5,000 people a day die because of dirty drinking water
1 billion people have no access to safe drinking water
Nearly 1 billion people are going hungry
Over 50% of grain traded around the world is used for animal feed or bio fuels
40% of arable land has suffered long-term damage
Every year, 13 millions hectares of forest disappear
One mammal in 4, one bird in 8, one amphibian in 3 are threatened with extinction
Species are dying out at a rhythm 1,000 times faster than the natural rate
Three quarters of fishing grounds are exhausted, depleted or in dangerous decline
The average temperature of the last 15 years have been the highest ever recorded
The ice cap is 40% thinner than 40 years ago
There may be at least 200 million climate refugees by 2050
The cost of our actions is high. Others pay the price without having been actively involved. I have seen refugee camps as big as cities sprawling in the desert. How many men, women and children will be left by the wayside tomorrow. Must we always build walls to break the chain of human solidarity, to separate peoples and protect the happiness of some from the misery of others?
It’s too late to be a pessimist. I know that a single human can knock down every wall. It’s too late to be a pessimist. Worldwide, four children out of five attend school. Never has learning been given to so many human beings. Everyone, from richest to poorest, can make a contribution. Lesotho, one of the world’s poorest countries, is proportionally the one that invests most in its people’s education. Qatar, one of the world’s richest states has opened its doors to the best universities. Culture, education, research and innovation are inexhaustible resources. In the face of misery and suffering, millions of N.G.O’s prove that solidarity between peoples is stronger than the selfishness of nations. In Bangladesh, a man thought the unthinkable and founded a bank that lends only to the poor. In barely 30 years, it has changed the lives of 150 million people around the world. Antarctica is a continent with immense natural resources that no country can claim for itself, a natural reserve devoted to peace and science. A treaty signed by 49 states has made it a treasure shared by all humanity. It’s too late to be a pessimist. Governments have acted to protect nearly two percent of the world’s territorial waters. It’s not much but it’s two times more than 10 years ago. The first natural parks were created just over a century ago. They cover over 13% of the continents. They create spaces where human activity is in step with the preservation of species, soils and landscapes.
This harmony between humans and nature can become the rule, no longer the exception. In the United States, New York has realized what nature does for us. These forests and lakes supply all the drinking water the city needs. In South Korea, the forests have been devastated by war. Thanks to a national reforestation program, they once more cover 65% of the country. More than 75% of paper is recycled. Costa Rica has made a choice between military spending and the conservation of its lands. The country no longer has an army. It prefers to devote its resources to education, ecotourism and the protection of its primary forest. Gabon is one of the world’s leading producers of wood. It enforces selective logging. Not more than one tree every hectare. Its forests are one of the country’s most important economic resources but they have the time to regenerate. Programs exist that guarantee sustainable forest management. They must become mandatory. For consumers and producers, justice is an opportunity to be seized. When trade is fair, when both buyer and seller benefit, everybody can prosper and earn a decent living. How can there be justice and equity between people whose only tools are their hands and those who harvest their crops with a machine and state subsidies?
Let’s be responsible consumers. Think about what we buy. It’s too late to be a pessimist. I have seen agriculture on a human scale. It can feed the whole planet if meat production doesn’t take the food out of the people’s mouths. I have seen fishermen who take care of what they catch and care for the riches of the ocean. I have seen houses producing their own energy. 5,000 people live in the world’s first ever eco-friendly district in Freiburg, Germany. Other cities partner the project. Mumbai is the thousandth to join them.
The government of New Zealand, Iceland, Austria, Sweden and other nations have made the development of renewable energy sources a top priority. I know that 80% of the energy we consume comes from fossil energy sources. Every week, two new coal-fired generating plants are built in China alone. But I have also seen, in Denmark, a prototype of a coal-fired plant that releases its carbon into the soil rather than the air. A solution for the future? Nobody knows yet. I have seen in Iceland an electricity plant powered by the Earth’s heat-geothermal power. I have seen a sea snake lying on the swell to absorb the energy of the waves and produce electricity. I have seen wind farms off the coast of Denmark that produce 20% of the country’s electricity. The U.S.A., China, India, Germany and Spain are the biggest investors in renewable energy. They have already created over two and a half million jobs. Where on Earth doesn’t the wind blow? I have seen desert expanses baking in the sun.
Everything on Earth is linked and the Earth is linked to the sun, its original energy source. Can humans not imitate plants and capture its energy? In one hour, the sun gives the Earth the same amount of energy as that consumed by all humanity in one year. As long as the Earth exists, the sun’s energy will be inexhaustible. All we have to do is stop drilling the Earth and start looking to the sky. All we have to do is learn to cultivate the sun. All these experiments are only examples that they testify to a new awareness. They lay down markers for a new human adventure based on moderation, intelligence and sharing.
It’s time to come together. What’s important is not what’s gone, but what remains. We still have half the world’s forests, thousands of rivers, lakes and glaciers and thousands of thriving species. We know that the solutions are there today. We all have the power to change. So what are we waiting for?