Nobel laureate concerned by global warning

The Nation - Tuesday, December 02, 2003
Nobel laureate for chemistry Paul J Crutzen yesterday expressed "worries" about the unchecked negative impact by man on the atmosphere.
All countries should take stronger actions to reverse the trend as the world's population was expected to double to 10 billion by the end this century, he said.

Prof Crutzen who is an expert on climate, said he was disappointed by the lack of political will among governments in both the industrial and developing nations to tackle the problem.

Ultimately, he said, the pressure to create a healthier atmosphere has to come from people, not large organisations.

Crutzen, who arrived here on Sunday, also feared what he saw in Bangkok, a city covered in grey smog from petrochemical fuel emission, much of which is caused by heavy traffic congestion.

"I don't want to see Bangkok develop into a city of 20 million," he said. "How would people get around in the traffic [with that many more people]?

"We have other kinds of communication. The advent of the Internet, business does not necessarily required people to be concentrated in the city but can be decentralised. People can do their work from the countryside."

He cited cities in Europe, which grew very rapidly after WWII, but now have seen residents moving to the countryside because of urban pollution and congestion. Air pollution has caused many health threats such as asthma and lung diseases.

During his first meeting with the local press yesterday, he said: "Politicians in rich countries are aware of the problem, but action is taking a long time."

While scientists estimate the world temperature will increase from 1.4 to 4.7C, some governments tend to listen to the small number, he said.

"I'm disappointed, but [I] never lose the inspiration to do more work," he said. "Real good research is the base of good action."

Crutzen, a former member of the Expert Advisory Group on "Global Change, Climate and Biodiversity" at the European Commission, will today begin his series of speeches called "Air Pollution in Asia and its impact on Regional and Global Climate".

The speeches are a part of a programme organised by the International Peace Foundation.

In his keynote address at Chulalongkorn University today, Crutzen will discuss growing chemical imbalance in the atmosphere caused mainly by industrial development.

He said rich countries still emitted the most carbon dioxide and other pollutants while developing countries also have problems of burning of biomass and agricultural wastes.

He noted that the world might need to prepare for more surprises regarding the loss of balance in interactions between complex chemical, physical and biological web.

Crutzen recalled the discoveries of an ozone hole caused by chlorinecatalysed ozone destruction in the Antarctica by British scientists in 1985.

"The ozone hole came as a total surprise, also for scientific world. Nobody had expected maximum loss of ozone [which] occurred over Antarctica, the furthest away from locations where CFCs [chloroflurocarbons] are released in the atmosphere," he wrote in his paper to be presented today.

His speech today starts at 2pm.

Nantiya Tangwisutijit

The Nation