Earth's environment is deteriorating at a record rate, but the decline could be reversed by sensible programs, says the fifth annual STATE OF THE WORLD report from the Worldwatch Institute released last month. It would cost perhaps $150 billion per year to reverse the trend of environmental destruction worldwide and put the developed and developing nations onto a path of sustainable economic growth, the report estimates.
The money is needed for reforestation, halting and reversing the loss of topsoil and the growth of deserts, family planning and other measures to curb population growth, development of energy sources that do not damage the environment, and dealing with the heavy burden of third world debt. The debt is an environmental issue because it leads poorer countries to waste their resources to obtain immediate capital.
"Putting the world on a sustainable footing will not be easy, given the environmental degradation and the economic confusion that now prevail," says Lester Brown, director of the institute. To do so would take "a wholesale reordering of priorities, a basic restructuring of the global economy, and a quantum leap in international cooperation.
"To continue with a more or less business-as-usual attitude--to accept the loss of tree cover, erosion of soils, expansion of deserts, the disappearance of plant and animal species, the depletion of the ozone layer, and the buildup of greenhouse gases--implies the acceptance of economic decline and social disintegration," Mr. Brown says.
The report points to a ready source of funds for the needed programs: the $900 billion currently spent on military buildup each year by the world's nations. Mr. Brown points out that during the past decade China "walked away from the arms race" and in the process doubled per capita income and increased food production by 50%. This is the institute's fifth annual report on the state of the world. Among the issues examined this year are ways to use energy more efficiently, reforestation, action to stem the accelerating extinction of plant and animal species, family planning, and control of toxic chemicals.
In assessing the earth's "vital signs," the report says "the readings are not reassuring." The earth's forests are shrinking, its deserts are expanding and its soils eroding--all at record rates.
Underground water tables are falling in North Africa, China and India, and groundwater in the United States and other areas is increasingly contaminated by pesticides and other toxic substances. Lakes are dying from acid rain in the industrial North of the globe, and the entire world faces the prospect of imminent warming because of the 'greenhouse effect,' the buildup of carbon dioxide and other gases in the atmosphere which prevents the sun's heat from escaping back out into space, thus heating the earth unnaturally.
"The health of the earth's inhabitants cannot be separated from that of the planet itself," the report warns.
SO FAR AS WE CAN SEE, THE BEST ADVICE IS STILL "THINK GLOBALLY, ACT LOCALLY."
Copies of the STATE OF THE WORLD report are available for $9.95
from: Worldwatch Institute, 1776 Massachusetts Ave., NW,
Washington, DC 20036; phone 202/452-1999.
--Peter Montague, Ph.D.
Descriptor terms: worldwatch institute; studies; findings; environmentalists; earth; reforestation; population control; erosion; ozone; greenhouse effect; military; groundwater; acid rain;