Earth Summit has answer to Asian brown cloud

It's a little less talk, a little more action...

Feature story - 13 August, 2002
Asian brown cloud nothing new. The solution is overdue. The Earth Summit can take action. So can you.

Fossil fuel consumption in Asia is one of the contributors to a brown cloud of pollutants stretching across the region.

Pilots and astronauts have been talking about it for years. Now the United Nations and climate scientists have made it official: there's a giant cloud of brown haze stretching across Asia. And unless they get their heads out of the fog, they'll do exactly what pilots and astronauts have done: talk about it for years.

But hold on a minute. Scientists say the cloud is playing havoc with rainfall patterns, could be dramatically affecting monsoons in the region, and destabilising the agricultural output of the region. According to UNEP chief Klaus Toepfer, the cloud is caused by:

  • The burning of fossil fuels by vehicles, industries, and power stations
  • The burning of agricultural wastes
  • Emissions from millions of inefficient cookers burning wood, cow dung, and other bio-fuels
  • Forest fires
That's funny. Global warming is supposedly caused by all those things, and having the same impact.

So isn't the answer to these problems the same? Astute reader, the answer is "Yes." And it's already on the list of demands that the Earth Summit in Johannesburg will be considering in a few weeks' time:

Get renewable energy into the hands of two billion people without power. Take 10 years to do it if you must, but get on with it now.

A majority of the world's powerless (electrically speaking at least) live in Asia. Unless we get clean, renewable energies into their hands, the haze is only going to get thicker. How do we know that?

Well, consider the following story, from the BBC's Science and Technology pages:

"Scientists from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego, which coordinated the project, say the pollution is unprecedented in the region's history, and will get worse as the population increases.

Tiny particles in the cloud reflect the sun's rays, cutting its heat by up to 10 percent.

In the ocean, less sunlight could threaten the survival of water-plants and plankton - key organisms in the world's food chain. Reduced sunlight also means that less water evaporates from the ocean - leading to lower rainfall and increasing the risk of drought.

Scientists now want to discover how permanent the cloud is, and whether it is growing."

Guess what? That's not a story from this week. It's from a story dated June 11, 1999 - three years ago - and entitled "Pollution Cloud Threatens Asia."

In 1999, the cloud was detected only over the Indian ocean, not the whole of Asia. So the answer to one question is "Yes, it's growing." Now, is it permanent?

Not if we can help it. What can you do to help clean up the haze? Sign the petition that Greenpeace and the Body Shop will be presenting to the Earth Summit in Johannesburg, demanding renewable energy for two billion people within 10 years.

If we can put human beings on the moon, we can put clean energy into the hands of a fraction of the earth's population - without just talking about it for years.

Click here to tell the Earth Summit to shut up and take action.