By: Doris Balvin [1]

  • The current state of the global environmental situation and those responsible.

Talking about the global environmental situation, within the framework of the Open World Meeting of New Humanism, entitled “The human being as a central value”, leads us to reflect on the challenges we face today as a human species, precisely when the 26th Conference of the Parties on climate change is taking place in Glasgow. In this sense, I would like to begin my presentation by taking up the words of the inaugural speech of the Executive Secretary of the United Nations, Patricia Espinoza, because it places two elements that seem to me to be substantial in framing this roundtable: the relationship between climate emergency and the human being.

“The devastating loss of lives and livelihoods this year due to extreme weather events clarifies the importance of convening COP26 even though the impacts of the pandemic are still being felt. We are on track for a global temperature rise of 2.7°C, while we should be on track for the 1.5°C target. Clearly, we are in a climate emergency…”.

It is clear that we have two choices: either we respond in an evolutionary direction, i.e., we place the evolution of life and in particular the human being as the central value in society, or we respond in the opposite direction to evolution by maintaining the automatic direction we are heading, allowing global temperatures to reach 2.7°C and entering the so-called point of no return, what scientists call climate collapse.

We are at a crossroads; we are facing an existential, planet-wide climate and ecological crisis. Life as we know it is at risk, and in particular the human species. The evidence from the latest science-based report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is compelling, showing that there is irrefutable evidence that global warming is human-caused; that in any of the scenarios analysed, we will face changes that are already irreversible even if the increase in greenhouse gas emissions is brought down to zero degrees Celsius; and that many of these changes will be irreversible for centuries or millennia, especially changes in the oceans, ice sheets, and sea levels.

  • What is the root of the problem we face?

It would be convenient to clarify that just saying that climate change has a human cause is insufficient, because if we analyse things, the root of the problem is a system of social organisation that places money as a central value in society, a system that reifies the human being and puts at serious risk the terrestrial ecosystem that sustains it, that is to say, the evolution of life.

Groundbreaking research by the Carbon Majors Project in 2017 concludes that 71% of greenhouse gas emissions since 1988 are the responsibility of 100 fossil fuel producers, such as ExxonMobil, Shell, BHP Billiton, among others. The report also indicates that half of the emissions can be attributed to just 25 corporate and state-owned producers.[2] How is it that this situation continues despite the fact that the emissions from fossil fuels have been rising since 1988?

How is it that this situation continues despite warnings from science through the IPCC since 1988? This is a question for another debate.

  • What is the scope of the IPCC report?

Scientists point out that we need to reduce net CO2 emissions to zero to stabilise the climate and keep global temperatures below the critical 1.5°C warming threshold; and that even if the best-case scenario is implemented, greenhouse gases will continue to increase until 2050. They warn that climate change is already affecting all regions of the planet and that its effects will continue to increase, but what are these effects?

  • There will be increasing heat waves, longer warm seasons and shorter cold seasons.
    At 2°C of global warming, heat extremes would more often reach critical tolerance thresholds for agriculture and human health.
  • Changes in the water cycle will continue to bring increasingly intense rainfall and associated floods, as well as severe droughts in many regions.
  • Variation in rainfall patterns will increase precipitation in the highlands, while precipitation is projected to decrease in much of the subtropics; and changes in precipitation will occur in monsoon climates [3].
  • Sea-level rise over the 21st century will contribute to more frequent and severe coastal flooding, coastal erosion, and the recurrence of extreme sea-level events.
  • Further warming will amplify permafrost thaw and loss of seasonal snow cover, melting of glaciers and ice sheets, and loss of Arctic Sea ice in summer.
  • Increasingly frequent marine heat waves, ocean acidification and reduced oxygen levels are already affecting both ocean ecosystems and the people who depend on them, and will continue for at least the rest of this century.
  • In cities, the effects of climate change will continue to be amplified, including heat, flooding and sea level rise in coastal cities.[4] How is the climate crisis expressed and how is it expressed?
  • How is the climate and ecological crisis expressing itself in the Latin American region?

All of these factors have and will have a wide range of consequences for human health, especially in developing countries where, in addition to the effects of the ecological crisis they face due to the degradation and pollution of ecosystems, they already face the impacts of climate change. The current environmental problems derived from the extractivist production structure, as well as the occupation of high-risk areas given the conditions of social inequality, poverty and extreme poverty, are already triggers for the multiplication of socio-environmental conflicts, the feedback of environmental degradation and the deepening of climate vulnerabilities with their consequent effects on human health.

Moreover, according to ECLAC, there is a fundamental asymmetry between emissions and vulnerability. Total emissions from Latin America and the Caribbean represent only 8.3% of global emissions, but at the same time, the region is particularly vulnerable to the impact of climate change due to its geographic, climatic, socio-economic and demographic characteristics.[5] Against this backdrop, the approach to address climate change in the region must be based on a holistic approach that takes into account the needs of the region’s population.

Against this backdrop, the approach to tackling climate change taken by official United Nations bodies does not help, as it is only oriented towards reducing greenhouse gas emissions and adapting to the consequences of climate change. In the same logic, the ruling classes in the countries of the global South do not question the productivist and consumerist economic structure that is deepening the climate and ecological crisis with our own “collaboration”. They believe that we have the “right” to continue “growing” – i.e. polluting – and to receive economic support from the global North in order to adapt.

This way of approaching solutions to the problem does not question the roots of the system that has led humanity to this dilemma and aims to maintain the same scheme of North-South relations; a system that “feeds” on extractivist economic activities that deepen, for example, the destruction of the Amazon forest – fundamental in the regulation of the region’s climate – with activities such as oil extraction, logging, mining, drug trafficking, agricultural and livestock development, or mining developments in the Amazonian Amazon; or mining developments at the headwaters of freshwater sources in the Andes, polluting water sources and competing with subsistence agriculture; or industrial fishing or oil extraction in the coastal marine zone – competing with artisanal fishing on which entire populations live. These activities exacerbate the vulnerability of large sectors of the population and contribute to greenhouse gas emissions.[6] We find ourselves tied to a primary-export economy chained to the productivist and consumerist system, which also has a tendency to lower its productivity and a greater impact on our carbon footprint; in other words, an economy that maintains the vicious circle of the climate and ecological crisis.

From the South, we are faced with the need to rethink the role we play in the global economy in the context of the climate emergency, in order to break the vicious circle that feeds climate change, that turns its back on human beings, that reifies them and that has serious negative effects on the evolution of life and on human health.

With regard to the relationship between the climate crisis and health, I would like to mention just a few relevant climatic events and environmental degradation that are currently having a negative impact on human health and that we need to overcome:

  • The French journalist, Marie – Monique Robin, in her recent book “Pandemic Factory” tells us that she interviewed 62 scientists from five continents from very diverse disciplines and they all have the same conviction that the best antidote against the next pandemic is to preserve biodiversity. They mention that “…they have discovered a series of mechanisms that show how the destruction of biodiversity – deforestation or the destruction of primary tropical forest in Africa, South America or Asia – is at the origin of zoonoses…, diseases caused by pathogens that are transmitted from wildlife to humans and, very often, through domestic animals.”[7] Another dramatic case, denounced by the European Commission, is that of the “zoonotic diseases”, which are transmitted from wildlife to humans and, very often, through domestic animals.
  • Another dramatic case, denounced by REHUNO in Pressenza, is that of the Paraná River, where the deforestation of the Amazon forest – to produce animal protein for the markets of the North – is responsible for 45% of greenhouse gas emissions in Brazil, with consequences in the lowering of the waters of the Paraná River to catastrophic levels for the subsistence of coastal populations, ecosystems and human health [8].
  • Friday for the Future Peru denounces that, in Cerro de Pasco, a mining town that coexists with the Volcan mine pit, a few days ago Esmeralda Martin Añasco, one of the girls whose bodies were contaminated by heavy metals, died in the midst of the just protest of the families who are still seeking reparation for the serious situation in which their children find themselves. In addition to Esmeralda, there are many more children who have high levels of lead in their blood, with growth and learning problems, and nose bleeds.[9] We can also point to the case of the contamination of the bodies of Esmeralda’s children by heavy metals.
  • We can also point to the case of air pollution “…the latest Lancet Countdown report concluded that deaths attributable to heat increased by 152% and that Peru had the second highest death rate in South America due to air pollution. “[10] Despite this alarming public health case in 2017 the government relaxed the environmental air quality standards by increasing the value of sulphur dioxide and particulate matter; peaks of SO2 emissions are now allowed in the atmosphere by more than 12 times – compared to previous standards – with the most harmful to health being the 10-minute and one-hour pollution peaks.” This decision not only opens the door to polluting industries such as the La Oroya smelter, which have not yet managed to comply with environmental standards, [11] but it has also created a disincentive for cities to continue with their plans to clean up the air.
    In conclusion: It is clear that we are facing a crossroads, that there are few responsible parties and accomplices with the capacity to decide, that the human being is far from being the central value in this society, as can be seen in the consequences of the climate and ecological crisis on human health, and that it is up to the great majorities to respond to this crossroads in an evolutionary direction… And how do we do it?

Finally, I would like to affirm that the evolutionary way out is possible if we stop this mad and automatic race that we are following by accepting that this productivist and consumerist system that benefits only a few will be imposed, a system that has outgrown the human being. This will be possible, from the climate action being promoted by social organisations, indigenous peoples and environmental collectives, especially the youth; local experiences of solidarity economy that privilege local and agro-ecological production; scientific developments placed at the service of the evolution of life; but especially it will be necessary to go deep within ourselves to connect with the meaning that animates the evolution of life and our own meaning. Only in this way will we give way to a new humanity, leaving this dilemma that we face today as a bad dream or an anecdote in the long process of life’s evolution.

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[1] Senior researcher at the Centro de Estudios Humanistas Nueva Civilización, Lima Peru, specialist in social ecology.


[3] Monsoon climate occurs mainly in low-latitude areas from West Africa to the western Pacific Ocean.

[4] IPCC report

[5] ECLAC, 2020, “La emergencia del cambio climático en América Latina y el Caribe ¿Seguimos esperando la catástrofe o pasamos a la acción?” United Nations, 2020, Santiago de Chile.

[6] According to ECLAC, the Latin American region is mainly centred on the extraction of natural and agricultural resources, it is a “productive and export structure anchored in primary products” (see ECLAC, 2019, Economic Commission for Latin America and the (LC/PUB.2019 /20-P), Santiago, 2019, p. 68); in 2019, 40% of Latin America’s exports corresponded to mining, oil, gas, agricultural and fishery products (see, ECLAC,2019, already cited p. 70)[6]. The Peruvian case is one of the most dramatic since almost 90% of our exports correspond to primary products and within these 65% to mining, oil and gas (see, Banco Central de Reserva del Perú, and 24.6% to agricultural and fishing products.)

[7] Marie – Monique Robin, 2021, “The best antidote to the next pandemic is to preserve biodiversity”, Friday 26 February 2021

[8] REHUNO, 2021, “Río Paraná en bajante, causas y efectos.


[10] Ojo Público, 2021, “El estrecho vínculo entre la crisis climática y la salud de los peruanos”, 31 October 2021

[11] Pressenza, 2017, Alert! Setback in environmental protection, 10 June 2017.