Global Change: An Ecological Wake-up Call…

In the past thirty years the scale of environmental problems has shifted upward, from local and temporary to global and chronic. Atmospheric change, wobbly climate, and ozone depletion – the stuff of daily headlines – affect people everywhere. Land degradation, falling water tables, acid rain, and accelerating species losses are occurring on virtually every continent. Humankind is now the major force changing the face of the earth and few serious observers feel we have the capacity to control the direction of change. More than any other factor, humanity’s capacity unwittingly to disable global life-support mechanisms is beginning to forge a novel consensus. Increasing numbers of technical analysts and informed citizens alike are coming to believe that the current global development path is fundamentally unsustainable. Despite the growing unease, human pressure on the planet is increasing relentlessly. The world population is nearing six billion and growing by 80 million per year; by the end of the decade (and millennium), it will have almost doubled twice in this century. All these people, rich and poor alike, have rising material expectations sustained by an economic system that assumes the latter are insatiable. Little wonder that the global economy has expanded five-fold in half a century. …And Yet We Slumber Any effort to address the environmental crisis is complicated by the fact that the benefits of this economic explosion have not been unevenly distributed. While twenty percent of the world’s population enjoy unprecedented material well-being, another twenty percent remain in abject poverty. However, rather than contemplate mechanisms to redistribute the world’s wealth, the global community has determined to abolish material poverty through sheer economic growth. In theory, if the economic pie is big enough, even the relatively poor will enjoy adequate material well-being (thus easing political pressure for re-distributive policies). Despite the warnings of its top scientists, mainstream industrial society does not yet see “the environment” as a serious constraint on the required five- to ten-fold expansion in industrial activity. According to conventional wisdom the only limits are our stinted imaginations, inefficient institutions, and inadequate technologies (see WCED 1997). Unfortunately, there is no indication that the growth approach will bridge the income gap any time soon. In 1960, the richest twenty percent of income earners took home “only” thirty times more than the poorest twenty percent; by 1990 this ratio had increased to 60 to one (UNDP 1992). In short, the income gap actually doubled in 30 years of continuous global growth! Meanwhile it is precisely the continuous growth in the “throughput” of energy and material required to feed aggregate human demand that drives the so-called “environmental crisis” (Goodland 1991). Empirical evidence suggests that resource consumption already exceeds the productive capacity of certain critical biophysical systems on every continent. Waste production already breaches the assimilative capacity of many ecosystems at every scale.
source: The Built Environment See also XlnkS43D

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