The earth’s sustainability

This has been a hot discussion topic recently, so this article definitely caught my attention.

Humans are damaging the Earth at such an unprecedented rate that the strain on the planet may destroy about two-thirds of its ecosystem services, according to a landmark international study.

The consequences of humans’ activities are severe and include: new diseases, sudden changes in water quality, creation of “dead zones” along the coasts, the collapse of fisheries, and shifts in regional climate, according to the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment Synthesis Report.

“At the heart of this assessment is a stark warning,” said the 45-member board.

“Human activity is putting such strain on the natural functions of Earth that the ability of the planet’s ecosystems to sustain future generations can no longer be taken for granted,” it said.

The four-year, 2,500-page assessment was drawn up by 1,300 researchers from 95 nations in an effort to inform global policy initiatives.

Scientists warn that about 60 per cent of the ecosystem services that support life on Earth, such as fresh water, air and water regulation and natural hazards, are being destroyed.

The report warns that the consequences of this degradation of the environment will significantly worsen over the next 50 years.

“Any progress achieved in addressing the goals of poverty and hunger eradication, improved health, and environmental protection is unlikely to be sustained if most of the ecosystem services on which humanity relies continue to be degraded,” said the study.

There is much more, so “read the whole thing.” I realize we’ve seen alarmist reports about a lot of subjects in the past, but these guys are well credentialed and respected (including, for example) the chief scientist for the World Bank) and it’s not inconsistent with other reports on the sustainability of the earth’s resources.

Optimism is a great quality, and I can respect the viewpoint that everything will work out fine. I just think it’s going to take a lot of work and a lot of time, and since addressing the crisis costs a lot of money we’ll most likey wait until the very last minute.

Update: The topic of nuclear power has come up in the comments, and here’s a good article that backs up the general consensus.

The Discussion: 14 Comments

And the longer we wait, the more it will cost to fix.

UK Guardian has a report on this also.

March 30, 2005 @ 1:44 pm | Comment

the chief scientist for the World Bank

Who should be looking for a new job… he probably won’t last very long once Wolfie takes over.

Cheap shot, I know… but if Wolfowitz has any inclination whatsoever to take issues of resource depletion and environmental stress seriously, he’s done a phenomenal job of hiding it.

March 30, 2005 @ 1:55 pm | Comment

I don’t often find myself in agreement with Thomas Friedman (and I don’t know enough about nuclear power issues to judge that portion of his argument), but look at what he has to say about Bush’s environmental policy, or lack thereof:

“How will future historians explain it? How will they possibly explain why President George W. Bush decided to ignore the energy crisis staring us in the face and chose instead to spend all his electoral capital on a futile effort to undo the New Deal, by partially privatizing Social Security? We are, quite simply, witnessing one of the greatest examples of misplaced priorities in the history of the U.S. presidency.”

March 30, 2005 @ 3:43 pm | Comment

Friedman can be a dork, but he’s brilliant and he’s often right on. Like in this case. Historians are going to be scratching their heads and asking questions about a lot of things the Bush gang has done.

March 30, 2005 @ 4:13 pm | Comment

Nuclear Power is the way ! (Well, part of the solution, tho’ it’s no miracle cure either)

Why are you americans afraid of nuclear power ? Reduces need of oil, reduces global warming ! 🙂

March 30, 2005 @ 7:26 pm | Comment

I do believe nuclear power might be the way — if it could be managed. Unfortunately, Three Mile Island and Chernobyl scared the people shitless. I do believe America’s aversion to it is irrational, like the Europeans’ dread of irradiated food. But these superstious phobias are very, very powerful and hard to reverse.

March 30, 2005 @ 7:37 pm | Comment

Why are you americans afraid of nuclear power ? Reduces need of oil, reduces global warming ! 🙂

Beats me, Emile! Are you from France? I notice the French got very serious about converting to nuclear power after the Arab oil shocks of the 70’s. Good move, as they now produce WAY less CO2 than the rest of us!

March 30, 2005 @ 10:58 pm | Comment

The only problem is that uranium is ALSO a limited resource! And of course it requires huge amounts of energy (which these days means oil) to mine, process, and ship it.

March 31, 2005 @ 12:02 am | Comment

Well, the French have already developed a car that can save the planet, and you’re a big fat hypocrite if you don’t go get one right now.

So there.

March 31, 2005 @ 1:41 am | Comment

Sam : Yup, I’m a frog-eater (currently in China). A lot of my friends are ecologists, so we argue about that quite a bit 🙂 As a result, I’m a bit of a pro-nuclear activist (a bit of a pet peeve, you could say ^^), though I’m also a bicycle-riding tree-hugging bleeding-hearted liberal.

vaara : ah, that’s possible. I think uranium gives out more energy than it takes to extract it. And even if it’s limited, it might still be enough to get us alive through this century.

March 31, 2005 @ 1:42 am | Comment

For more on nuclear power, see the update I just added to this post.

March 31, 2005 @ 10:34 am | Comment

Oh, that is a good article. Hey, Emile, if you have time, read it. Goes a long way to explaining American attitudes (and fears), too.

April 1, 2005 @ 12:27 am | Comment

I can’t agree more with this blogger: US should lead the innovation of green energy, transform the hunger for oil to new technology, and finally win the competition with China. The sooner the better.

April 1, 2005 @ 6:27 am | Comment

Yeah, pretty good article ! And full of information 🙂 Thanks for the link =)

April 1, 2005 @ 8:30 pm | Comment

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