Earth: How long will it sustain accelerating populations?

A landmark study released today reveals that “…approximately 60 percent of the ecosystem services that support life on Earth – such as fresh water, capture fisheries, air and water regulation, and the regulation of regional climate, natural hazards and pests – are being degraded or used unsustainably. Scientists warn that the harmful consequences of this degradation could grow significantly worse in the next 50 years.

The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA) Synthesis Report was a huge initiative undertaken by 1,300 experts in 95 countries. Before you get too excited that hundreds of experts globally might compel the United States government to act, you should know that the study was sponsored by United Nations General-Secretary Kofi Annan who is undoubtedly not on President Bush’s Christmas card list (for being a barrier to “spreading freedom and democracy” to Iraq by not supporting the Weapons of Mass Destruction justification — WMD’s which his own UN inspectors believed to not be there).For more, there is a good CNN article here about my own Minnesota Senator’s efforts against Annan.

The study’s findings are somewhat muted but alarming nonetheless:

    • Humans have changed ecosystems more rapidly and extensively in the last 50 years than in any other period. More land was converted to agriculture since 1945 than in the 18th and 19th centuries combined
    • Capture fisheries (with nets on boats vs. farm fisheries) and fresh water are now well beyond levels that can sustain current, much less future, demands
  • In all the four plausible futures explored by the scientists, they project progress in eliminating hunger, but at far slower rates than needed to materially cut the number of people suffering from hunger by 2015. Experts warn that changes in ecosystems such as deforestation influence the abundance of human pathogens such as malaria and cholera, as well as the risk of emergence of new diseases.

I included the picture above of the Earth in the black void for a reason: I remember when the first picture like that was taken in space in the late 1960’s and it sparked a renaissance in awareness of the importance in protecting the environment As a kid, my school was a participant in “Earth Day” in 1970. We wore gas masks in a smoke filled room (simulating a polluted planet), went in to our gym filled with trash, learned about recycling, and drank dirty water with cigarette butts floating in the glass (all fake of course).

Yeah…it was a bit melodramatic but it worked. I grew up being more sensitive to the environment but was waiting for the crisis which never came. To me, that is the reason why any alarmist behavior fails and why it’s so easy for those in power to turn our back on the rest of the planet who is actually driving toward a goal (the Kyoto Treaty) in an attempt to get to agreement so we can slow or halt the inevitable march toward destruction of the environment.

If we screw up our environment and ecosystem on this blue marble, where we gonna go? So whether the Bush Administration minimizes drilling in the Arctic Wildlife Refuge or disbelieves global warming is occuring or that the Kyoto Treaty would hurt the US economy, just stand in the middle of any major city in the world and take a deep breath at rush hour or do a Google search and invest even a few minutes reading the hundreds of scientists opinions to the contrary.

Articles about the report here, here, here and here.

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  1. Pamela Shao on May 20, 2005 at 5:24 am


    I have just read the report and found it very interesting. I think we must work hard at meeting the Millenium Goals. Check out what we are doing at WFP, we are having an exciting global event to end child hunger.

  2. Pamela Shao on May 20, 2005 at 7:18 am

    I totally agree now more than ever people should be more aware of the state of the world environment. A lot of resources are being depleted at alarming rates with serious consequences.

    The World Food Programme is now organizing an international day of action to end child hunger.

    Come and visit the website and click feed a child a day at

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About Steve Borsch

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Podcasting hit the mainstream in July of 2005 when Apple added podcast show support within iTunes. I'd seen this coming so started podcasting in May of 2005 and kept going until August of 2007. Unfortunately was never 'discovered' by national broadcasters, but made a delightfully large number of connections with people all over the world because of these shows. Click here to view the archive of my podcast posts.