A worthwhile New Year's resolution? A clean planet!

Dossier ~ Friday 7th January 2011
Thes Shooting Star (1942) - Page 53

The end of the year usually means one or more of the following: holidays; snow; presents; goodwill; resolutions and end-of-year statements. We are seeing in the New Year with a roundup of pressing global issues facing humanity today. The following six subheadings concern subjects that may well make news headlines in 2011. It is time for friends of Tintin to do what he would do, and take action!

Global warming or a new ice age?

There could be a tug of war between the two. On one hand, scientists have been observing a decrease in solar activity. Normally there are numerous eruptions and explosions on the surface of the Sun. This activity unleashes an enormous amount of energy, which influences the climate on Earth. Over the last few years there have been less eruptions, meaning that less energy has been released. The consequence of this is a slight cooling on Earth. On the other hand, the release of CO (carbon dioxide) acts like a blanket of insulation wrapped around the Earth. CO is an industrial waste product that is also produced by the burning of fossil fuels such as petrol and gas (heating, aeroplanes, cars, etc.). The disappearance of the rainforests also contributes to CO pollution: trees and plants 'breathe' CO and in so doing negate the gas's negative effects on the atmosphere. Fewer trees means higher concentrations of CO. Nature doesn't like hot and cold! It is quite normal for the climate to react badly considering the present conditions. If you think that global warming is the number 1 problem facing the world today, vote 1!

Prisoners of the Sun page 61
The Blue Lotus page 42

Are we going to experience more and more natural disasters?

It certainly looks like it, but why? The main reason is the ever-increasing human population on Earth. Every living being creates and leaves behind what is called an 'ecological footprint'. Food, general consumption and waste are part of this footprint. There will soon be 7 billion human beings living on Earth. While the ecological footprint created by animals is relatively steady, the footprint left by humans is rapidly increasing in size. This effect is attenuated by the fact that certain countries are becoming richer, allowing their inhabitants to consume more. While more and more people are leaving bigger and bigger ecological footprints, the population of human beings on Earth is increasing. If things continue in the way that they are currently going, it has been calculated that relatively soon we will need the equivalent of seven Earths, simply to provide enough food and resources (petrol, metal, etc.) for human beings to survive as we are today. We continue to exploit the world while we wait. It seems that the Earth is rebelling against us with frequent flooding, droughts and earthquakes, some of which could be caused by misguided management of her natural resources! If you think that natural disasters are the number 1 problem facing the world today, vote 2!

The Red Sea Sharks page 14
Tintin in America page 53

Is genetic modification threatening our health?

Perhaps it is. First it is important to understand what genetic modification (GM) means. At first glance it seems like good intentions lie behind the idea. Take wheat as an example. This grain is sensitive to temperature changes, insects and illnesses that can destroy entire crops, leading to terrible famines. In laboratories scientists have transformed grains of wheat to make them more resistant to the weather, vermin and disease, meaning that our daily bread is guaranteed. Nevertheless, it is worth pointing out that 'natural' (non-GM) wheat has already undergone transformations and mutations ever since our ancestors, more than 4000 years ago, cultivated (and thus domesticated) grains that already grew in the wild. Certain companies in the food industry have pushed research further. They are keen to genetically modify many plants solely for profit and financial gain. Some genetically modified plants cannot reproduce, meaning that farmers of these plants have to buy new seeds every year. This is a very lucrative market. It has also become apparent that, overwhelmed by their appetite for financial gain, certain companies have cut corners when it comes to testing for basic consumer safety standards. Be careful of GM products! If you think that genetic modification is the number 1 problem facing the world today, vote 3!

Mineral resources: the cause of wars to come?

Many people think that wars fought over resources are a thing of the past. Roman emperors and barbarian hoards invaded countries to take control of their resources. Wars were fought in the name of gold and precious stones, as well as commodities such as wheat and salt. Yet more recently, human beings have gone to war over oil. It is likely that more and more conflicts will be fought over food. An unequal balance of resources on a global scale exacerbates hunger and famine in the world. In Europe surplus food is destroyed, while people in Africa are short of essential nourishment. It is not only petrol and food that can unleash wars: water is set to become a coveted commodity due to an explosion in demographics: some scientists believe that the population of the world could nearly double to 12 billion by 2050! The increase in consumption will likely lead to all sorts of new international tensions. China is already curbing exports of all kinds of minerals including 15 metallic substances called rare-earth elements (gadolinium, neodymium, etc), which are used in the construction of computer chips, electric motors and all kinds of new 'green' technology. The problem for the rest of the world is that China produces 95% of these substances! If you think that the control of natural resources is the number 1 problem facing the world today, vote 4!

Oil slicks: have the leaks been plugged or is there more to come?

This is a subject that appears to have concerned you all very much: the 2010 oil slick spilled just off the coast of Louisiana, received a record number of comments on Twitter. The ever-growing need for oil and petrol, in more and more countries, is what lies behind the sickening increase in oil spillages. There are those that produce the oil (meaning those countries that have their own oil reserves) and those who are obliged to import oil. Two methods of oil transportation exist: pipeline or ship. Oil resources are far from being exhausted: the problem is that companies are having to search for oil deeper and deeper in the sea, which costs more and more money. Oil companies try to increase their profits. How? Above all by cutting production costs. Among these costs are included the security on modes of transport (mainly on ships) and on the extraction technology (oil rigs). As long as this continues, there will be further oil slicks. Another factor to take into account is the artificial increase in the price of oil, instigated by oil-rich countries often to make up for losses incurred through bad investments. In Dubai, for example, 800-metre tall buildings have been constructed in the middle of the desert. Around 60% of these useless buildings have failed to find buyers or tenants, although through their construction they have left an immense ecological footprint! This is a real financial catastrophe for the emirs of the country, who have tried to recoup their losses through increases in the price of the oil they export. This means that companies from other countries will try to cut more transport costs, and so the vicious circle continues. If you think that oil slicks are the number 1 problem facing the world today, vote 5!

Land of Black Gold page 25
The Red Sea Sharks page 31

Animal species on the road to extinction

More and more species of animals are becoming extinct. In November 2010, an international conference came to an agreement to protect the tiger, which is projected to become extinct in 2030. The reasons behind the rising levels of extinction: unscrupulous hunters who bring shame to humankind, the depletion of the rainforests (natural habitats for many endangered species), intensive fishing (which affects not only fish but also dolphins and sharks, which get caught in nets), the use of chemicals in agriculture as well as the science of genetic modification. One of the biggest victims of human activity and influence on the environment, are bees: Over the last three years a veritable slaughter of bees has been witnessed. Many think that insecticides sprayed over crops, are responsible. The extinction of species is problematic for many reasons, including the fact that each species plays its role in the survival of the planet as a whole. Albert Einstein predicted that the extinction of bees would spell the end of the world in three years! Why? Because bees transport pollen from flower to flower, as they fly about, which ensures the continuing survival of many species of plants. Without these plants, living beings would quite simply die of hunger. Polluting the sea results in the death of simple organisms such as plankton, which are at the bottom of the food chain: plankton > fish > mankind. If you think that the extinction of animal species is the number 1 problem facing the world today, vote 6!

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