Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Ecological emergency (2)

"This is the ecological perspective of the industrial age; we cannot hold onto it indefinitely, in fact, industrialism itself may not last for even one more human lifetime. At present, to compensate for the limitations placed on production by the carrying capacity of the environment, we are speeding up the rate at which we fish, farm, deforest, and extract. In other words, rather than facing the creative challenges posed by ecosystem limits, we are temporarily bypassing the problem by harvesting resources more rapidly, by driftnetting, mechanical deforestation, and factory farming. Science and common sense both dictate that such extravagance must eventually lead to disaster. It not only borrows from the future, thus threatening human societies in the long term, but it also puts intense pressure on other species in these ecological niches which depend on the same resources. As a consequence, habitats are destroyed, species become extinct, and in the process, the productive health of the environment is compromised and decreased.
Human populations are already being severely affected by damage to the environment due to depletion and degradation of resources. For decades, scientists and experts such as Robert Heilbroner, Paul Ehrlich, and Jessica Tuchman Matthews have predicted that resource shortages would engender widespread social discord, but there were no studies to support or refute those views. Recently, however, a team of thirty researchers, assembled under the auspices of the University of Toronto and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, formed the Project on Environmental Change and Acute Conflict. This group examined a number of societies and countries where resource shortages were already occurring, and their findings were disturbing: «Scarcities of renewable resources are already contributing to violent conflicts in many parts of the developing world. These conflicts may foreshadow a surge of similar violence in coming decades, particularly in poor countries where shortages of water, forests and, especially, fertile land, coupled with rapidly expanding populations, already cause great hardship.» Land shortages in Bangladesh, for example, have led to mass migrations to India involving as many as 15 million people. These migrations have in turn led to fierce ethnic clashes. To those who discount such theories by arguing that resource conflicts have been an enduring element of human history, the authors warn: «We maintain ... that renewable-resource scarcities of the next 50 years will probably occur with a speed, complexity and magnitude unprecedented in history. Entire countries can now be deforested in a few decades, most of a region's topsoil can disappear in a generation, and acute ozone depletion may take place in as few as 20 years.»"

Paul Hawken, The Ecology of Commerce. A Declaration of Sustainability.
(Chapter "The death of birth").

It is worth noting that the Project on Environmental Change and Acute Conflict was taking place in 1990-1993, just after the Montreal Protocol, which regulated the emissions of ozone-depleting substances worldwide, entered into force (on January 1, 1989). Since then, the atmospheric concentrations of the most important ozone-depleting substances have either leveled off or decreased, resulting in a stabilization of the global average amount of ozone depletion, and the ozone layer is expected to begin to recover in coming decades, assuming full compliance with the Montreal Protocol (according to the wikipedia article on ozone depletion).
This is a good example when proper international coordination and regulation can solve a problem generated by human activities but detected and warned-against by science, and finally taken care of by public and political will.
Why would we not be able to do the same for the green-house gases and the environmental degradation our economy is inflicting to our world ?
Are the above-mentioned threats perceived as more benign than the skin cancers associated with the ozone hole ? That would be a very short-term perception !

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