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we're all doomed!
from SchNEWS Issue 229, Friday 24th September 1999

"The continued poverty of the majority of the planet's inhabitants and excessive consumption by the minority are the two major causes of environmental degradation. The present course is unsustainable and postponing action is no longer an option."

Land degradation, rainforest destruction, species extinction - are we going to find the planet dies of all this before depression at the thought of it drives us all to suicide? Not necessarily, says the UN Environment Program in a handy new report on the state of the Earth's natural environment, entitled Global Environment Outlook 2000. But the report identifies world water shortage, destruction of coral reefs and global warming as full-scale emergencies, as well as identifying a new threat - nitrogen pollution.

Hold on to your hats - we were so stirred by the urgency of this major new UN report, we cancelled our annual SchNEWS staff whaling trip. So, is it possible to encapsulate next millennium's prospects for the whole of humanity and the global environment into one media-friendly soundbite? Apparently not, the UN would have us believe. GEO 2000 amounts to perhaps the most thorough-going, wide-ranging and (it says) authoritative stocktake ever of the state of the Earth's natural environment - but don't drop it on your foot.


More dense than David Bellamy's beard, this weighty tome is based on contributions from UN agencies, 850 individuals and more than 30 environmental institutes institutes - all of whom, we trust, faithfully use re-cycled toilet roll. In terms sometimes as dry as Brazil's growing desert, it reads as a roll-call of the the world's top emergent ecological nightmares:
  • hose-pipe bans will be the least of our worries as the water cycle fails to cope with demand.
  • city-dwellers are choking as urban air pollution is reaching crisis dimensions, especially in the megacities of the southern hemisphereland degradation has reduced fertility and agricultural potential
  • more than half the world's coral reefs are threatened by human activities
  • with global warming upon us, things are hotting up - 1998 was the hottest year on record, and extreme weather events had left 3 million people dead in the last five years
  • many marine fisheries have been grossly over-exploited
  • the planet's species are still being wiped out; one quarter of the world's mammal species are now at significant risk of extinction


Cheer up! We're assured that the report was not sponsored by the makers of prozac. In fact, the report's author's are at great pains to take a balanced tone - stressing the successes to date of environmental policy, and that further change is achievable. So will it be enough to use a CFC-free fridge in which to store your giant panda steaks?

Not quite. As excessive consumption in rich countries is one of the main causes of environmental degradation, "A tenfold reduction in resource consumption in the industrialised countries is a necessary long-term target", the report says, cutting boldly to the chase. That's radical stuff; though the report takes a carefully non-combative tone, saying; 'Ideally, such measures must simultaneously maintain the living standards of the wealthy, [as well as] upgrade the living standards of the disadvantaged'. Hmn.


The UN - that idealists' graveyard - may have greater resources of optimism to draw on than political power. Still, Klaus Töpfer, the executive director of the UNEP holds it 'essential to force multinational companies to be accountable for their actions'. Yet while the US continues to punish French local industry, waging a trade war on behalf of the multinational corporate players it champions, it has been forgetting to keep up with its contributions to UN funding.

For the real power lies elsewhere: though sadly, corporate boardrooms and government trade departments are not so easy to catch a glimpse of as the GEO 2000 report, even if the latter lists some of their effects on the rest of us. Such is the nature of global power elites.

Fortunately, GEO 2000 finds further cause for optimism a bit closer to the ground, lauding a " much more concerned about environmental issues. Popular movements in many countries are forcing authorities to make changes." As those in France attacking McD's in opposition the US trade sanctions know well. So what if we can't all be so determined in our resistance?....Pass the Prozac.

SchNEWS fave mag: The Ecologist , 01403 786726

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