We have failed to reverse the trends that gave rise to Earth Day 30 years ago. While we receive high marks for our ability to turn the Earth’s resources to our immediate use, we are failing to protect the Earth from ecological decline, according to the 30 year ecological report card issued in the March/April 2000 issue of World Watch magazine.
The report charts a disconnect between the current growth in the world’s economy and the health of the Earth’s failing ecology. The number of cars, people, and fishing boats has boomed, but at the same time forest cover, farmland per person, and rates of fish catch have plummeted. The destructive trends that sparked the first Earth Day in 1970 continue to cause massive ecological decline, finds the report.
* Large-scale forest clearing and urban sprawl, among other pressures, continue to destroy fragile habitat. One in four vertebrate species (birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and fish) is on the verge of extinction or is now extinct.
* An out-of-control population boom has nearly doubled the number of people on the planet since 1970, placing unprecedented pressure on land and water resources. In that same time the share of cropland per person has been almost cut in half, and one out of six people are now chronically hungry.
* Rapid use of fossil fuels has released 160 billion tons of carbon into the atmosphere since 1970 (by comparison, 110 billion tons were released between 1751 and 1970). This rapid buildup of greenhouse gases has contributed to record temperatures worldwide, which may be a factor in recent weather disruptions. In 1998 damages from storms cost a record $93 billion.
The report examines seven key moments that have helped define the current state of the environment, including the invention of the automobile, the agricultural embrace of monoculture crops by companies like McDonalds, and India’s backlash against family planning in the face of enforced birth control.
In looking to the future, the report offers an outline of events—past and future—that could turn the negative trends around in the next 30 years. These shifts include the worldwide rise of citizen groups in response to corporate and government shortcomings, the potential for the Precautionary Principle to play a major role in the outcome of climate negotiations, and the worldwide spread of micropower—small-scale renewable energy that is increasingly providing off-the-grid energy in countries from the Dominican Republic to Zimbabwe.
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