PROTECTING THE ATMOSPHERE AND THE AIR WE BREATHE
One of the major difficulties in dealing with air and atmospheric pollution is that corporate interests, often driven by short-term goals and the need to maximize market share and profits, resist regulation, inhibiting the development of technological processes and economic structures that might support a shift towards a healthy atmosphere.
But the problem is not just big business. We are all involved. Public opinion is significantly influenced by concerns that regulations to protect the atmosphere will damage the economic health of nations. More often than not these are irrational fears with no substance. Information driven by a concern for the common good is needed if there is to be clear thinking. Genuine goodwill, not the sentimental façade of goodwill, is what will lead to policies that guarantee a pure atmosphere.
The current policy crisis around protecting the air we breathe is a political and moral crisis, reflecting a profound spiritual crisis. People of goodwill, almost by definition, have a primary concern for the well-being of humanity and the other kingdoms of nature. Bringing this concern into the political and economic life persuades governments and industry to do what must be done in order to ensure clean air and a healthy environment. The spiritual crisis can be summed up in terms of the awakening of a spirit of universal responsibility amongst the people of goodwill. The awakeners are those intelligent, mindful people whose selfless wish to contribute to the good of the whole is the driving force in their life of the spirit, as well as in their social relations and their professional, economic and political life. These awakeners can intuitively be understood as the representatives of the Higher Worlds, whether they are conscious of this or not, for it is the hierarchy of enlightened beings who are guiding humanity into and through this spiritual crisis. In the process of taking responsibility for purifying the physical atmosphere, the air we all breathe, we will be drawn closer to the next spiritual kingdom the kingdom of souls, and become more responsive to the incoming energies of Aquarius. This is the story of our time.
The Group of World Servers is in process of taking leadership in the education and mobilization of people of goodwill in all the great issues of our time. Their approach transcends the traditional politics of right or left. Those who are driven by a primary concern for the well-being of the atmosphere will no doubt support different practical measures for achieving a healthy and clean environment: regulation, market incentives, education etc.
Close analysis reveals that forces of goodwill are already producing policies at local, national and international levels designed to protect the integrity of the atmosphere and, where necessary, to heal the effects of toxins. Clearly much more is needed, effective policies are only just in their earliest stages of development, but we can draw inspiration from gains that have been made in some areas.
Two of the most outstanding success stories are to be found in actions national governments have agreed to take following international treaties and conventions facilitated through the United Nations and its agencies.
A layer of ozone molecules in the upper atmosphere absorbs much of the harmful UV-B radiation from the sun and screens out lethal UV-C radiation. Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and halons are gases that have been used extensively in a range of products since the 1930’s including refrigerators, air conditioners, spray cans and fire extinguishers. These gases finally break up in the atmosphere, releasing chlorine and bromine atoms, which cause ozone depletion. As a result, the 1970s and 80s saw dramatic increases in the incidence of skin cancers and eye cataracts, immune systems were being weakened, animals were adversely affected, ocean eco-systems were damaged, and fish populations and plant yields reduced.
The Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer was adopted by governments in 1985 and entered into force in 1988. It fostered cooperation between signatories to study the effects of human interaction on the ozone layer. The accompanying Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer, requiring signatory countries to take specific actions to control ozone depleting substances, was signed in September 1987. Taken as a whole, the Convention and the Protocol have become one of the most successful environmental treaties of all time. With 197 parties, they are the most widely ratified treaties in United Nations history, and have, to date, enabled reductions of over 97% of all global consumption of controlled ozone-depleting substances.
In his Millennium Report, former UN Secretary-General Kofi Anan highlighted the role played by the awakeners from civil society in this ozone treaty, noting: Prior to the Protocol intergovernmental negotiations on their own failed to mobilize sufficient support for the far-reaching measures that were needed. But intensive lobbying by civil society organizations, the presentation of overwhelming scientific evidence—and the discovery of the huge ozone hole over Antarctica—eventually created the consensus necessary for the agreement to be signed.
Since 1987 the Protocol has been amended five times, accelerating the phase-out schedule of the harmful gases. Governments that ratify the protocol are legally bound to implement the restrictions required under the protocol. In spite of very significant successes, this continues to be an on-going story, for while the Protocol itself has been ratified by all government signatories, a number of the amendments, requiring stronger control measures, still await ratification from several governments.
It is a curious fact that the most serious health risk associated with breathing comes from a behavior choice, often made by young people, some of whom are aware of the dangers. The inhaling of tobacco smoke is a widespread addictive habit in cultures throughout the world. According to the United Nations World Health Organisation, the tobacco epidemic is one of the biggest public health threats the world has ever faced. It is responsible for almost 6 million deaths every year – over 600,000 of these the result of non-smokers exposed to second-hand smoke. There are one billion smokers world-wide – eighty percent of these living in low- and middle-income countries.
Not only is smoking a popular pastime in many societies, its spread around the world is supported by powerful economic interests producing and marketing cigarettes and tobacco products. Ending the spread of the habit and encouraging people to either stop smoking or not to start smoking is a formidable task requiring significant changes in social attitudes and behavior. To break the habit individuals need clear information about the health risks and, as a result of that information, they need to want to quit smoking. At the same time the marketing of cigarettes needs to be restricted, if not banned. Faced with such difficulties it is heartening to note the progress that has been made in world-wide efforts to fight the tobacco epidemic.
In recent decades many countries have pioneered strict anti-smoking regimes, banning smoking in public places, severely limiting the advertising of cigarettes, taxing cigarettes so that at least some of the costs of hospital care for smoking-related illnesses are covered by smokers, and funding campaigns informing the public of the dangers and supporting smokers who want to quit. This movement has become a global campaign and in 2005 the World Health Organization (WHO) Global Framework Agreement on Tobacco Control entered into force. It has become one of the most widely embraced treaties in the history of the United Nations with 176 Parties covering 88% of the world’s population.
Since 2008, the international campaign led by the WHO has focused on six practical, affordable and achievable measures to help countries reduce the numbers of people smoking tobacco: monitoring tobacco use and prevention policies; protecting people from tobacco smoke; offering to help quit tobacco use; warning about the dangers; enforcing bans on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship; and raising tobacco taxes. One of the greatest success stories in response to this program has been Turkey, a country traditionally steeped in tobacco culture. Six years ago, more than one in three adults used tobacco. By 2012, thanks to action on the six measures, smoking was down by 13.4%, and there was a 20% decline in the number of citizens admitted to hospital for smoking-related diseases.
These two international treaties, governing ozone depletion and a reduction in smoking, and the actions which have flowed from them, provide the clearest evidence of our ability as a species to take the steps we need to take in order to ensure a healthy, life-sustaining atmosphere. It can be done – but it will only be done as people of goodwill demand it.