UN Environment Programme: The future of humanity is at risk

It’s more than global warming and climate change.

From the Guardian:

The future of humanity has been put at risk by a failure to address environmental problems including climate change, species extinction and a growing human population, according to a new UN report.

In a sweeping audit of the world’s environmental wellbeing, the study by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) warns that governments are still failing to recognise the seriousness of major environmental issues.

It doesn’t get much more blunt, although don’t expect to hear much about it from the corporate media.

The study, involving more than 1,400 scientists, found that human consumption had far outstripped available resources. Each person on Earth now requires a third more land to supply his or her needs than the planet can supply, it finds.

Meanwhile, biodiversity is seriously threatened by the impact of human activities: 30% of amphibians, 23% of mammals and 12% of birds are under threat of extinction, while one in 10 of the world’s large rivers runs dry every year before it reaches the sea.

This is a follow-up to a similar study, made in 1987. It’s a progress report.

As the UNEP press release explains:

GEO-4, the latest in UNEP’s series of flagship reports, assesses the current state of the global atmosphere, land, water and biodiversity, describes the changes since 1987, and identifies priorities for action. GEO-4 is the most comprehensive UN report on the environment, prepared by about 390 experts and reviewed by more than 1 000 others across the world.

It salutes the world’s progress in tackling some relatively straightforward problems, with the environment now much closer to mainstream politics everywhere. But despite these advances, there remain the harder-to-manage issues, the “persistent” problems. Here, GEO-4 says: “There are no major issues raised in Our Common Future for which the foreseeable trends are favourable.”

The report says there is a need for, and a lack of, international leadership. These problems are global, and intertwined.

GEO-4 recalls the Brundtland Commission’s statement that the world does not face separate crises – the “environmental crisis”, “development crisis”, and “energy crisis” are all one. This crisis includes not just climate change, extinction rates and hunger, but other problems driven by growing human numbers, the rising consumption of the rich and the desperation of the poor.

Examples are:

– decline of fish stocks;

– loss of fertile land through degradation;

– unsustainable pressure on resources;

– dwindling amount of fresh water available for humans and other creatures to share; and

– risk that environmental damage could pass unknown points of no return.


-to meet the Millenium Development Goal on hunger, food production must double by 2050;

-fresh water is declining, but water usage will rise 50% in developing countries, and 18% in developed countries, by 2025;

-water quality is also declining, with increased water pollution;

Globally, contaminated water remains the greatest single cause of human disease and death.

-although fish consumption has more than tripled since 1961, fish stocks are being depleted at a rate 250% above sustainability;

-species are going extinct at a rate a hundred times faster than that shown in the fossil record;

-the sixth major extinction is under way, and this one is the fault of humans; 

-land degradation, desertification, urban growth, pollution, destruction of ecosystems, and waste are increasing problems.

The UNEP report includes four possible outcomes, by the year 2050. It makes clear that some environmental damage may be irreversible, but:

Our common future depends on our actions today, not tomorrow or some time in the future.

The report is available here. It’s conclusion is not without hope.

According to the press release:

The GEO-4 report concludes that “while governments are expected to take the lead, other stakeholders are just as important to ensure success in achieving sustainable development. The need couldn’t be more urgent and the time couldn’t be more opportune, with our enhanced understanding of the challenges we face, to act now to safeguard our own survival and that of future generations” ends.

It doesn’t get bigger. It doesn’t get more important. As we look to the 2008 election, there is no higher priority. We want to hear from our potential leaders on so many different issues, but this must be number one.


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  1. the trauma and destruction.  I don’t know if any leader is going to care enough about what we must do in time.  My son and I were watching the Discovery Channel a few days ago on volcanoes and a very large eruption has cooled the earth in the past, maybe that is all any of us can hope for in the end.

    • snud on October 26, 2007 at 17:11

    Where are your priorities? Today is the last day of Islamo-Facist Awareness Week, brought to you by everyone’s pal, “Mr. Laidback” Himself, David Horowitz!

    David lets us know in this video by Josh Marshall of TPM, that we don’t need to worry about no stinkin’ Global Warming! Nope, it’s those pesky Muslims that hate our freedom! That’s what we should be worrying about… even if the “evidence” was taken from a movie:

    Just happy to clear that up.

    • xaxado on October 26, 2007 at 17:43

    In the stock market ‘negative growth’ is sometimes called a ‘correction’.  In fact the pattern of exponential growth in resource extraction and consumption must come to an end, probably reversing.  In our hearts we all know that.

    But few will accept less.  The movement, some time ago now, called Voluntary Simplicity, was not popular.  Prudent remedies, such as planning new communities around pedestrian districts, have been systematically set aside in favor of wasteful alternatives that will be difficult to retrofit.

    Some likely trends:

    Growth of reduced-consumption intentional communities based around shared values, some sane and some not so much, with paramilitary self-defense systems — the kibbutz model. 

    Temporary housing in tents, trailers, and containers for large ad hoc communities, shifting across the landscape as migrant housing, like dust bowl settlements.  Migrating mobile settlements will erase suburbs, demolishing and recycling as they pass, wiping the land clean like locusts.

    Personal vehicles more like go carts with carbon frames and fabric shells, weighing a few hundred pounds, propelled by compressed air tanks.  Freight mostly by train.  Cargo trucks and passenger vehicles isolated from each other by alternating ‘curfews’.

    Resource wars, continuous, without the quaint niceties of political/ideological cover.  Wars over the right to bear children. Genocide by health deprivation.

    To do:  rainwater storage.  gardening. avoid isolation — strength will be in numbers.  telecommuting.  electric bicycles.

  2. to continue down this road? Technology and capitalism run amok don’t really equal a good life? No ism is worth it. The illusion that progress equals stuff, and that our life styles are so great is feeding and funding the problem. Idiocracy is alive and well. Such a strange illusion of progress, that we even need to kill to maintain the unsustainable, when we have feet to walk, and knowledge to grow. We deny the paradise outside our doors in favor of the artifical, chemical non reality we consume and toss. 

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