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RIO+20 The Future We Want

RIO+20 the future we want

Jonathan Shanklin: The Future We Want

Jonathan Shanklin in the Antarctic

I write these words from Halley station, Antarctica.  Today the station is surrounded by a pristine white snowfield, which stretches as far as the eye can see, with a blue almost cloudless sky above, though on some days the scene changes to a raging blizzard with zero visibility.  Despite the abundance of snow, there are few living things here, because there is no liquid water. 

Ozone data from Halley lead to the discovery of the Antarctic Ozone Hole, which went from being barely detectable to two thirds of the ozone layer disappearing, in the space of just over a decade.  This rapid change demonstrates how vulnerable our atmosphere is to our interference, but it is not only our atmosphere that is vulnerable, it is the whole planet.  Today we are using its resources and destroying its environment at a rate that is not sustainable. 

building in the AntarcticMany governments advocate a policy of pyramidal economic growth.  This model ultimately requires unlimited resources, and an ever expanding population of consumers.  Of necessity it must increase the gap between the rich at the top of the pyramid and the poor at the bottom.  We must tackle the issues of un-sustainable growth and the growing population.  If we do not, we risk losing ever more of the planet’s species, and potentially the web of life that supports us.  At Rio the UN can collectively take the actions that will lead to a balance between our needs and those of our environment.  Will it have the courage to do so?


Jonathan Shanklin is a meteorologist with the British Antarctic Survey. With his colleagues, he discovered the "Ozone Hole".