Planet under pressure - Haiti at the breaking point

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Planet under pressure - Haiti at the breaking point

Post by admin » Mon Oct 04, 2004 8:19 am

What follows is the introduction to a series on the world's greatest environmental problems. But as we look at each of them (food, water, energy, climate change, biodiversity, pollution), it is plain that each one of those factors has already reached the breaking point in Haiti or large parts of its territory. Haiti then appears to be a microcosm of all the world's ills. If solutions could be found there, they might find worldwide applicability. So this is perhaps our new mission in the world. Two hundred years ago, we have demonstrated that a race of people cannot be held in bondage forever, that sooner or later and in spite of all odds, that it would break free. The cost of freedom has been mortgaged over two centuries and seemingly with no end in sight. Yet, here comes an even bigger test: to rescue our land from its accelerating pace towards oblivion and t
ransform it into what our ancestors fought and died for. This is an even greater challenge. If we take it, the Haitian Revolution is truly not over.

So, as we explore these problems on a global scale, let's think of how they affect Haiti in particular and instead of feeling downbeat about our situation, let us begin to think creatively about some solutions. Who will be the Louverture, Dessalines, Christophe, Pétion (et al) in our struggle to survive? Who will be "Les marrons de notre nouvelle Liberté" ? Not just the freedom from slavery, but the freedom to be self-determining and to create a national self-sustaining ecosystem?

The stakes are high, but think of the alternative. We are seemingly in free fall and will be crashing into oblivion if we do nothing (Two thousand people died in Gonaives, and that tragedy has not registered a blip on the radar screen of American politics, as an example. The so-called leader of the free world has not said a single word of sympathy to us. Other promin
ent politicians and heads of state appear not to have noticed either.) Obviously, we are not part of their "free world". We have to forge our own. We have to lead the way and inspire others, once again. The cost is always high, but the alternative...

When do we start?

[quote]Introduction: Planet under pressure
Planet under pressure is a six-part BBC News Online series looking at some of the most pressing environmental issues facing the human race today.

By Alex Kirby
BBC News Online environment correspondent

We are a successful breed. Our advance from our hominid origins has brought us near-dominance of the world, and a rapidly accelerating understanding of it.

Scientists now say we are in a new stage of the Earth's history, the Anthropocene Epoch, when we ourselves have become the globe's principal force.

But several eminent scientists are concerned that we h
ave become too successful - that the unprecedented human pressure on the Earth's ecosystems threatens our future as a species.

We confront problems more intractable than any previous generation, some of them at the moment apparently insoluble.

BBC News Online's Planet under Pressure series takes a detailed look at six areas where most experts agree that a crisis is brewing:
  • Food: An estimated 1 in 6 people suffer from hunger and malnutrition while attempts to grow food are damaging swathes of productive land.
  • Water: By 2025, two thirds of the world's people are likely to be living in areas of acute water stress.
  • Energy: Oil production could peak and supplies start to decline by 2010
  • Climate change: The world's greatest environmental challenge, according to the UK prime ministe
    r Tony Blair, with increased storms, floods, drought and species losses predicted.
  • Biodiversity: Many scientists think the Earth is now entering its sixth great extinction phase.
  • Pollution: Hazardous chemicals are now found in the bodies of all new-born babies, and an estimated one in four people worldwide are exposed to unhealthy concentrations of air pollutants.[/*:m]

All six problems are linked and urgent, so a list of priorities is little help.

It is pointless to preserve species and habitats, for example, if climate change will destroy them anyway, or to develop novel crops if the water they need is not there.

And underlying all these pressures is a seventh - human population.
There are already more than six billion of us, and on present trends the UN says we shall probably number about 8.9bn by 2050.

Population growth means something else too: although t
he proportion of people living in poverty is continuing to fall, the absolute number goes on rising, because fecundity outstrips our efforts to improve their lives.

Poverty matters because it leaves many people no choice but to exploit the environment, and it fuels frustration.

Above all, it condemns them to stunted lives and early deaths - both avoidable.

Difficult dilemmas

Planet under pressure is more about questions than answers. What sort of lifestyle can the Earth sustain?

How many of us can live at northern consumption levels, and what level should everyone else be expected to settle for?
How can we expect poor people to respect the environment when they need to use it to survive?

Are eco-friendly lives a luxury for the rich or a necessity for everyone?

And how can we act when sizeable and sincere parts of society say we are already overcoming the problems, not being overwhelmed by them?


As many see it, we are not doing too badly.

More people are living healthier and longer lives. For increasing numbers, the future offers living standards undreamt of even a generation ago.

But we do have to think through the implications of our success and to realise its weaknesses.

Living within the planet's means need not condemn us to giving up what we now assume we need for a full life, just to sharing it.

The challenge we face is not about feeling guilty for our consumption or virtuous for being "green" - it is about the growing recognition that, as the human race, we stand or fall together.

Ingenuity and technology continue to offer hope of a better world. But they can promise only so much.

You do not need ingenuity and technology to save the roughly 30,000 under-fives who die daily from hunger or easily preventable diseases.

And facing up to the planet's pressure points is about their survival, and ours.

Story from BBC NEWS: ... 686106.stm

Published: 2004/10/01 14:00:33 GMT

© BBC MMIV[/quote]

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Biodiversity: The sixth great wave

Post by admin » Mon Oct 04, 2004 11:09 pm

Biodiversity: The sixth great wave
By Alex Kirby
BBC News Online environment correspondent
[quote]All the creatures we share the Earth with are important in some way, however unprepossessing or insignificant they may appear. They and we are all part of the web of life. From the dawn of time, extinction has usually progressed at what scientists call a natural or background rate. Today the tempo is far faster. Many scientists believe this is the sixth great wave - the sixth mass extinction to affect life on Earth. We were not here for any of the previous mass extinctions, but this time our sheer preponderance is driving the slide to oblivion.

We have more than doubled our numbers in half a century, and that is the most obvious reason why there is less room for any other species. We are taking their living room to grow our food,
their food to feed ourselves. We are exploiting them, trading in them, squeezing them to the margins of existence - and beyond. Often the choice is hard: conserve a species or feed a community, tourists' dollars or turtles' nests.

In 2003 the World Conservation Union's Red List said more than 12,000 species (out of 40,000 assessed) faced some extinction risk, including:
- one bird in eight
- 13% of the world's flowering plants
- a quarter of all mammals.

That gives you a ballpark figure. Science has described 1.75m species, some experts estimate that there may be 13 or 14 million in the world in total - but until they are catalogued, nobody knows.

Our pillage of the natural world has been likened to burning down the medieval libraries of Europe, before we had even bothered to catalogue their contents. Many species keep us alive, purifying water, fixing nitrogen, recycling nutrients and waste, and pollinating crops. Plants and bacteria carry out photosynthesis, which pr
oduces the oxygen we breathe. Trees absorb carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas given off by human activities.

Some years ago, when the global annual gross product was about $18 trillion, US researchers calculated the value of the goods and services provided by the Earth to the world economy: $33 trillion. Tropical cone snails contain toxins which show promise for treating some forms of cancer and heart irregularities. One toxin may be a thousand times more potent than morphine for pain relief. But millions of cone snails are now killed annually for their shells, and their habitats are under pressure. That is the argument for utility. But the creatures we can see, and those we can use directly, are just the start of the story.

Lord May, president of the Royal Society (the UK's national academy of sciences), has said: "Most conservation effort goes into birds and mammals - creatures like the panda, a dim, dead-end animal that was probably on the way out anyway. "Yet arguably it's the littl
e things that run the world, things like soil microbes. They're the least-known species of all."

And we continue to tug at the loose threads of the web of life, thinking we can split it into its separate parts. Brazil nuts are a lucrative harvest in the Amazon. But an experiment to produce them in plantations failed, because the trees bear a good crop in the forest, but are barren in isolation. We are not removing individual species from the Amazon: we are destroying the entire forest. US researchers estimate that by 2020 less than 5% of it will remain in pristine condition.

Within 15 years, about a fifth of central Africa's forests will have gone, by one estimate. And the forests of Indonesia are in headlong retreat. Some species are bucking the trend towards extinction. In 1953 there were about 2.5bn people: today there are 6bn. Ensuring other species keep their living space is not sentimental. It is the only way we shall survive. Extinction, whatever Steven Spielberg says, really is for
ever. The web is unravelling. [/quote]

Story from BBC NEWS: ... 667300.stm

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