What the future holds

From August 24 to September 5 2002 , Johannesburg will host the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD). Just why should we be getting excited about the environment and sustainable development? The document below appeared in the Mail and Guardian, June 7 to 13 2002.

It was taken from a recent report by 1 100 scientists called Global Environment Outlook. Its aim is to shock world leaders in to taking the WSSD seriously. Perhaps it will shock you too! Watch out for political discussion forums about the WSSD in your local in August and get a copy of the WSSD pack from your local. Also read the Socialist Theory section on the environment.

The bad news

In 30 years 70% of the Earth's surface will be suffering severe impacts from man's activities, destroying the natural world with roads, mining and cities. About 1 183 species of birds, about 12% of the world's total, and 1 130 species of mammals, about a quarter, are threatened with extinction.

One-third of the world's fish stocks are depleted or overexploited. Concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere could double by 2050. The number of people affected by weather-related disasters has risen from 147-million a year to 211-million in 10 years. There are 2,2-million more mouths to feed than in 1972 and there will be another two billion in 30 years. Already 40% of the world is short of fresh water, in 30 years this will rise to 50%.

In West Asia this rises to 90%. At least 15% of the Earth's surface is already degraded by human activities. Overgrazing causes 35% of soil degradation, deforestation 30%, agriculture 27%. More than a billion urbanites, mostly in Africa, Asia and Latin America , live in slums. Another billion people will live in cities by 2010. Half the world's rivers are seriously depleted and polluted. About 60% of the 227 biggest are disrupted by dams and other engineering works.

There are four billion cases of diarrhoea causing 2,2-million deaths a year. Two billion people are at risk from malaria and two million die a year. Contaminated shellfish causes an estimated 2,5-million cases of infectious hepatitis annually, resulting in 25 000 deaths.

A fifth of the world's population is responsible for 90% of consumption. Two-thirds of the population, about four billion people, live on less than $2 a day.

And the good

The hole in the ozone layer is being repaired because of an 85% reduction in use of harmful gasses and chemicals in 114 countries.

The number of people with improved water supplies increased from 4,1-billion to 4,9-billion in the past 10 years. About 10% of the Earth, 12,18-million hectares, is in protected areas like national parks, five times as much as 30 years ago.

A moratorium on commercial whaling since 1986 is allowing the species to recover. The amount of water extracted for public supply in Western Europe fell by 10% in 10 years because of efficient use. Emissions of most air pollutants in Europe have declined since the early 1980s.


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