One generation to save world
The human race has only one or perhaps two generations to rescue itself, according to the 2003 State of the World report by the Washington-based Worldwatch Institute.
Paul Brown, environment correspondent
Thursday January 9, 2003
The human race has only one or perhaps two generations to
rescue itself, according to the 2003 State of the World report by
the Washington-based Worldwatch Institute.
The longer that no remedial action is taken, the greater the
degree of misery and biological impoverishment that humankind
must be prepared to accept, the institute says in its 20th annual
Overuse of resources, pollution and destruction of natural areas
continue to threaten life on the planet. Conditions continue to
deteriorate rapidly, the report says, although there are some
hopeful signs in that technical solutions to the problems have
been found and - where there is political will - adopted. In most
cases, though, nothing is being done.
Among the worst trends worldwide is that 420 million people live
in countries which no longer have enough crop land to grow their
own food and have to rely on imports. Around 1.2 billion people,
or about a fifth of the world's population, live in absolute poverty -
defined as surviving on the equivalent of less than $1, or 62p, a
About one quarter of the developing world's crop land is being
degraded, and the rate is increasing. The greatest threat is not a
shortage of land, says the report, but a shortage of water, with
more than 500 million people living in regions prone to chronic
By 2025 that number is likely to have increased at least fivefold,
to between 2.4bn and 3.4bn. A probable world population
increase of 27% over the same period will create social and
Global warming is accelerating, and carbon dioxide in the
atmosphere has reached 370.9 parts per million, the highest
level for at least 420,000 years and probably for 20m years.
Toxic chemicals are being released in ever-increasing quantities,
and global production of hazardous waste has reached more
than 300m tonnes a year. There is only a vague idea of what
damage this does to humans and natural systems, the report
Another threat is the movement of highly invasive species to
regions where they may pose problems to native species.
The state of the world's natural life support system is perhaps
the most worrying indicator for the future, says the report. About
30% of the world's surviving forests are seriously fragmented or
degraded, and they are being cut down at the rate of 50,000sq
miles a year, it says.
Wetlands have been reduced by 50% over the last century.
Coral reefs, the world's most diverse aquatic systems, are
suffering the effects of overfishing, pollution, epidemic diseases
and rising temperatures.
A quarter of the world's mammal species and 12% of the birds
are in danger of extinction.
On the hopeful side, the report says that renewable energy
technologies have now developed sufficiently to supply the
world. They could significantly reduce the threat to the world
from pollution - but currently there is a lack of political will to
introduce them fast enough.
Another industry which causes widespread destruction, mining
for minerals, could be largely replaced by re-use and recycling.
Mining consumes 10% of the world's energy, spews out toxic
emissions, and threatens 40% of the world's undeveloped
forests but these effects could be drastically reduced.
Another crisis which the report identifies is in the world's cities,
where one billion people seek shelter in shanty towns, often on
hillsides, flood plains, in rubbish dumps or downstream of
The inhabitants of these settlements live at constant threat of
eviction, but also of natural disasters and disease. Urban
centres in the south now dominate the ranks of the world's
Slum dwellers are organising for greater rights and better lives,
the report says. One of the great challenges for governments is
to help their poorest citizens feel secure in their own homes,
make a living and improve their environment.
Dark clouds, silver linings
· Malaria claims 7,000 lives every day
· Bird extinctions running at 50 times natural rate
· Global rate of ice melt more than doubled since 1988; sea
levels may rise 27cm by 2100
· New fishing technologies help to locate and further exploit
Reasons for hope
· Populations have stabilised in Europe and much of south-east
· Organic farming is the fastest-growing sector of world
· Wind and photovoltaic electricity generating capacity to
increase 30% a year for five years (1% for fossil fuels)
· Production of ozone-depleting CFCs fell 81% in the 90s,
slowing growth in ozone hole
add a comment on this article
add a comment on this article