Throughout history, human beings
have been at the mercy of their environment. Our ancestors had
to cope only with seasonal weather variations, natural disasters
and long-term shifts in climate. But, as people cleared land
to grow crops, diverted streams and rivers for irrigation and,
eventually, built towns and cities, they started to have an
increasing impact on the world around them.
Even so, it was not until the Industrial Revolution that our
activities began to affect the global environment. Learning
to harness the energy in fossil fuels was a major step forward,
but it had a price. The carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere
by burning fuel has added to the greenhouse effect - the natural
insulation of earth by its atmosphere - leading to an increase
in average temperatures. This could change the climate in many
parts of the world. Global warming is not the only issue that
needs international action. Our use of chlorine compounds -
like CFCs - has damaged the ozone layer in the upper atmosphere.
There is now a definite hole that is letting through dangerous
quantities of ultraviolet radiation from the sun. This could
harm life on our planet.
Europe is playing a major role, often the leading role, in exploring
the science behind these global changes. Teams of scientists
are working together to see what can be done. Only by acting
now, on the best information that we have, can we make the right
policy decisions to safeguard our planet for future generations.