HAVE you noticed everyone is talking about the credit crunch and the global recession these days?
Not a day passes without hearing further news about job losses, banks going bust, well-known companies folding-up and attempts by global leaders to implement measures to stop the global financial meltdown.
This is all very well but no one seems to be interested in the elephant in the room – the global ecological credit crunch. An issue that will have catastrophic consequences for the future of humanity.
From the global to the local level we have stamped our footprint on the natural world. We have over-exploited natural resources, degraded ecosystems, and caused mass extinction of some species while endangering others. Our long-term survival is dependent on having access to food, water, air and energy yet we seem intent on irreversibly damaging our life support system.
A look at the current state of the planet provides a bleak picture. A United Nations assessment of the global situation shows that over the past fifty years we have caused more ecological damage than in any other period in human history. The extent of our willful destruction is becoming ever more evident. Global warming is resulting in changes to the climate system, which could have catastrophic consequences for humanity. The hole in the ozone layer over Antarctica is now larger than ever, allowing harmful ultraviolet radiation to reach the earth endangering human health, marine organisms and food production.
Fifteen out of 24 major ecosystems are being degraded or used unsustainably. Habitat destruction is threatening more than 16,000 species with extinction. Over-exploitation of aquatic ecosystems is putting the future use of marine and freshwater fisheries at risk. Unsustainable land use is causing soil erosion and desertification while the quantity and quality of freshwater is declining, increasing the likelihood of water scarcity in certain regions of world. Our exposure to environmental pollution is responsible for nearly one-quarter of all diseases contributing to respiratory illness, some types of cancers, vector-borne diseases and emerging animals to human disease transfer.
According to the Worldwide Fund for Nature´s (WWF) Living Planet Index we are degrading natural ecosystems at a rate unprecedented in human history. The Index measures trends in the Earth’s biological diversity and enables the health of ecosystems to be monitored. Since 1970 the biodiversity fell by about 30 per cent due to pressures of population growth, economic activities and consumption patterns.
Over the past 45 years, our demands on the planet have more than doubled. In 1961, nearly all countries in the world had more than enough capacity to meet their own demand. However, the situation had radically changed by 2005 with many countries able to meet their needs only by importing resources from other nations.
The demands of our increasingly globalised, industrialised, high consuming society have overloaded the planet’s natural ability to absorb, replenish and restore. We are now drawing on our ecological capital rather than living off nature’s interest. Habitat destruction and permanent loss of productivity are threatening both biodiversity and human wellbeing.
If we continue with the slow, steady growth of economies and populations then by the mid-2030s humanity’s demand on the planet will be twice its productive capacity. At this level of ecological deficit, exhaustion of ecological resources and large-scale ecosystem collapse will become increasingly likely. If we carry on regardless with our current level of consumption then by early 2030s we will need two planets to keep up with the demands we place on the planet.
If we have any hope of addressing the global ecological credit crunch then world leaders will need to start taking it seriously. They will need to give as much attention (if not more) to the elephant in the room as they are to the current financial crisis.
© Gary Haq 2009