Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Doomed: Study highlights global decline

The most comprehensive survey ever into the state of the planet concludes that human activities threaten the Earth's ability to sustain future generations.

The report says the way society obtains its resources has caused irreversible changes that are degrading the natural processes that support life on Earth.

This will compromise efforts to address hunger, poverty and improve healthcare.

The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment was drawn up by 1,300 researchers from 95 nations over a period of four years.

It reports that humans have changed most ecosystems beyond recognition in a dramatically short space of time.

The way society has sourced its food, fresh water, timber, fibre and fuel over the past 50 years has seriously degraded the environment, the assessment (MA) concludes.

And the current state of affairs is likely to be a road block to the Millennium Development Goals agreed to by world leaders at the United Nations in 2000, it says.

"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," the report states.

"This report is essentially an audit of nature's economy, and the audit shows we've driven most of the accounts into the red," commented Jonathan Lash, the president of the World Resources Institute.

"If you drive the economy into the red, ultimately there are significant consequences for our capacity to achieve our dreams in terms of poverty reduction and prosperity."

The MA is slightly different to all previous environmental reports in that it defines ecosystems in terms of the "services", or benefits, that people get from them - timber for building; clean air to breathe; fish for food; fibres to make clothes.

The study finds the requirements of a burgeoning world population after WW II drove an unsustainable rush for these natural resources.

Although humanity has made considerable gains in the process - economies and food production have continued to grow - the way these successes have been achieved puts at risk global prosperity in the future.

"When we look at the drivers of change affecting ecosystems, we see that, across the board, the drivers are either staying steady or increasing in severity - habitat change, climate change, invasive species, overexploitation of resources; and pollution, such as nitrogen and phosphorus," said Dr William Reid, the director of the MA.

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