Humanity Will Pay for Abuse of the Environment, Warns WWF

generations can expect to see a severe fall in living standards as humanity begins
to pay for its huge environmental “overdraft” with planet Earth, a leading conservation
group has claimed.

generations can expect to see a severe fall in living standards as humanity begins
to pay for its huge environmental “overdraft” with planet Earth, a leading conservation
group has claimed.

Human development will begin to plummet within 30 years because we are fast
running out of space and resources to sustain the turbo-charged lifestyle of the
developed world, says WWF International.

Unless governments take urgent action to encourage a more sustainable way of
life, human welfare will go into drastic decline by 2030 with falls in average
life expectancies, lower educational levels and a shrinking economy, the WWF’s
Living Planet Report 2002 says. Exploitation of the Earth’s renewable resources
has grown by 80 per cent in the past 40 years and is now 20 per cent higher than
the natural capacity of the planet to replenish itself, the report, published
yesterday, says.

Since the 1980s the use of natural resources has consistently outstripped supply
and yet the rate at which resources are being depleted is increasing because more
people are chasing a higher standard of living at the expense of environmental

Within 50 years we will be exploiting the renewable resources equivalent to
two planet Earths – which is clearly impossible to maintain.

Jonathan Loh, the author of the report, said the current rate at which the
human population was growing and using natural resources was fundamentally unsustainable
and, without further change, a point would come when development would go into

“We do not know exactly what the result will be of running this massive overdraft
with the Earth. What is clear, though, is that it would be better to control our
own destiny, rather than leave it up to chance,” Mr Loh said.

According to the report, the Earth has about 11.4 billion hectares of productive
space on land and sea, which means about 1.9 hectares for each of the 6 billion
people on the planet. Yet the average consumption per head of population is equivalent
to about 2.3 hectares per person.

This “ecological footprint” varies enormously when differences in lifestyle
are taken into account. The typical African, for instance, consumes resources
equivalent to 1.4 hectares of land, whereas for the average European it is 5 hectares,
rising to 9.6 hectares for the typical American.

Claude Martin, the director general of WWF International, says in the report’s
foreword that improvements in the quality of life for many people in the world
since the Rio Earth Summit of 1992 have exacted an “unacceptable price” from the
global ecosystem.

“The past decade has witnessed fires on an unprecedented scale in the tropical
forests of Brazil and Indonesia, coral bleaching that has left vast areas of reef
in the Caribbean, Indian and Pacific oceans as ghosts of their former selves,
the collapse of commercially viable fish stocks in the Atlantic, the ecological
devastation of the Black Sea, Aral Sea and Lake Chad, and the continual loss of
precious wetland and freshwater ecosystems around the world,” Mr Martin said.
“By continuing to abuse the biosphere, and through the inequitable sharing of
the Earth’s resources, we undermine the chances of eradicating poverty, and put
the whole of humanity under the threat of global climate change.”

A spokesman for the WWF said that where once each generation could expect to
be financially better off and have a higher standard of living than their parents
and grandparents, scientists were now predicting a reversal of fortunes.

The report was published 50 days before the start of the World Summit on Sustainable
Development, which begins in Johannesburg on 26 August.

Author: Steve Connor

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