˜Society must help in saving planet"

The Nation - Tuesday, March 08, 2005

The problems of global warming and air pollution cannot be left solely to scientists and politicians to resolve, one of world’s leading authorities on the Earth’s atmosphere said yesterday.

Professor Mario J Molina of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology said the whole of society must play its part.

“It’s no longer a science issue but a social issue,” said Molina, who won the 1995 Nobel Prize for Chemistry for his work on atmospheric chemistry. People must make a value judgement on how much risk they’re willing to take, he said.

Molina warned of a one-in-five probability that the world’s temperature was set to rise by as much as five degrees Celsius if drastic measures were not taken soon.

“A change of five degrees would have enormous implications. It’s too large a risk,” he told an audience at Thammasat University yesterday.

In Bangkok as part of the “Bridges: Dialogues Towards a Culture of Peace” series of events organised by the Vienna-based International Peace Foundation, Molina said the world had already witnessed a global climate change of half a degree Celsius over the past few decades.

“The planet is just too small. There is not enough room to absorb all the pollutants. It’s imperative that we work together,” he said.

He added that the current level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was the highest it has been at any time over the past half a million years. Polar bears are already suffering the consequences of this, he said, and further rises over the coming decades could lead to irreparable damage to the globe’s ecological systems.

The Mexico-born professor earlier told The Nation that the US was taking an unacceptable risk by not joining the Kyoto Protocol.

“This [the protocol] is the first step. If you don’t take it you’re never going to take the second step,” he said. He added that the US government had made its decision without consulting the American public or the scientific community, which is overwhelmingly in favour of Kyoto.

Molina said that hope now rests in the hands of powerful US states like California, which is currently initiating its own pollution control measures.

“The changes in the atmosphere have already led to damage,” he said. But he said he hopes that measures could be taken to minimise the likelihood of extreme and catastrophic weather conditions in the future.

“Many societies are now very vulnerable. When the sea level rises, where are people going to go?”

On the subject of air pollution caused by car emissions in big cities like Bangkok and Mexico City, Molina said that both the public and the government must be aware of the risks they are taking. The financial cost of introducing measures to reduce carbon dioxide emissions was nothing compared to the price society may one day have to pay, he said.

Increased mortality rates, a higher incidence of lung disease, and brain damage in children are just some of the consequences of high emissions from cars and industry, Molina said. He recommends the greater use of catalytic converters, more investment in mass-transport systems, clearing the roads of old fleet vehicles and the introduction of ultra-low sulphur fuels as possible solutions.

Continuing as we are is simply “unacceptable” he said.

Professor Molina will give another lecture on “Air Quality and Climate Change” at Chulalongkorn University at 2pm on Thursday.

Pravit Rojanaphruk