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zhao
30-10-2005, 11:03 PM
Two-thirds of world's resources 'used up'
Tim Radford, science editor
Wednesday March 30 2005

The human race is living beyond its means. A report
backed by 1,360 scientists from 95 countries - some
of them world leaders in their fields - today warns
that the almost two-thirds of the natural machinery
that supports life on Earth is being degraded by
human pressure.

The study contains what its authors call "a stark
warning" for the entire world. The wetlands,
forests, savannahs, estuaries, coastal fisheries and
other habitats that recycle air, water and nutrients
for all living creatures are being irretrievably
damaged. In effect, one species is now a hazard to
the other 10 million or so on the planet, and to
itself.

"Human activity is putting such a strain on the
natural functions of Earth that the ability of the
planet's ecosystems to sustain future generations
can no longer be taken for granted," it says.

The report, prepared in Washington under the
supervision of a board chaired by Robert Watson, the
British-born chief scientist at the World Bank and a
former scientific adviser to the White House, will
be launched today at the Royal Society in London. It
warns that:

Because of human demand for food, fresh
water, timber, fibre and fuel, more land has been
claimed for agriculture in the last 60 years than in
the 18th and 19th centuries combined.

An estimated 24% of the Earth's land surface
is now cultivated.

Water withdrawals from lakes and rivers has
doubled in the last 40 years. Humans now use between
40% and 50% of all available freshwater running off
the land.

At least a quarter of all fish stocks are
overharvested. In some areas, the catch is now less
than a hundredth of that before industrial fishing.

Since 1980, about 35% of mangroves have been
lost, 20% of the world's coral reefs have been
destroyed and another 20% badly degraded.

Deforestation and other changes could
increase the risks of malaria and cholera, and open
the way for new and so far unknown disease to
emerge.

In 1997, a team of biologists and economists tried
to put a value on the "business services" provided
by nature - the free pollination of crops, the air
conditioning provided by wild plants, the recycling of
nutrients by the oceans. They came up with an
estimate of $33 trillion, almost twice the global
gross national product for that year. But after what
today's report, Millennium Ecosystem Assessment,
calls "an unprecedented period of spending Earth's
natural bounty" it was time to check the accounts.

"That is what this assessment has done, and it is a
sobering statement with much more red than black on
the balance sheet," the scientists warn. "In many
cases, it is literally a matter of living on
borrowed time. By using up supplies of fresh
groundwater faster than they can be recharged, for
example, we are depleting assets at the expense of
our children."

Flow from rivers has been reduced dramatically. For
parts of the year, the Yellow River in China, the
Nile in Africa and the Colorado in North America dry
up before they reach the ocean. An estimated 90% of
the total weight of the ocean's large predators -
tuna, swordfish and sharks - has disappeared in
recent years. An estimated 12% of bird species, 25%
of mammals and more than 30% of all amphibians are
threatened with extinction within the next century.
Some of them are threatened by invaders.

The Baltic Sea is now home to 100 creatures from
other parts of the world, a third of them native to
the Great Lakes of America. Conversely, a third of
the 170 alien species in the Great Lakes are
originally from the Baltic.

Invaders can make dramatic changes: the arrival of
the American comb jellyfish in the Black Sea led to
the destruction of 26 commercially important stocks
of fish. Global warming and climate change, could
make it increasingly difficult for surviving species
to adapt.

A growing proportion of the world lives in cities,
exploiting advanced technology. But nature, the
scientists warn, is not something to be enjoyed at
the weekend. Conservation of natural spaces is not
just a luxury.

"These are dangerous illusions that ignore the vast
benefits of nature to the lives of 6 billion people
on the planet. We may have distanced ourselves from
nature, but we rely completely on the services it
delivers."

Copyright Guardian Newspapers Limited

sufi
02-11-2005, 11:58 PM
& i can't even read it cuz its squashed all up at side of da page :mad:
looks interesting, ish tho, care to precis, please, or at least comment? :)

zhao
04-11-2005, 02:16 PM
didn't know cut and paste was lame... thought it was an important article that people here might find interesting.

other fun facts about running out of not only oil, but food and water:

every 0.1 celsius degree of global temperature rise each year means hundreds of thousands or millions (don't know the precise number) of acres of farm land lost, which in turn means a decrease in agricultural production. since a few years ago (might be 30, again, not precise) China started importing grain, while historically the country has always been the biggest exporter.

and about water (sorry to paste again, but only 4 likkle paragraphs this time):

"The world's fresh water supply is dwindling every year, according to research in the United States.

Within 25 years, half the world's population could have trouble finding enough fresh water for drinking and irrigation.

The study was carried out at Colorado University, which surveyed river basins all over the planet to identify those under most pressure.

It found a third of the world's people already live in regions considered to be "water-stressed" - where there is not enough, or barely enough water to go around."

original article here:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/americas/566809.stm

more on imminent water depletion:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/2943946.stm

http://www.peopleandplanet.net/doc.php?id=2309

http://www.watchtower.org/library/g/2001/6/22/article_01.htm

sufi
06-11-2005, 12:16 AM
http://ceos.cnes.fr:8100/cdrom-00b2/ceos1/casestud/spot/alis/images/ronds.jpg

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/1/19/Bolivia-Deforestation-EO.JPG
i'm very wary of malthusian pessimism, i think the world can provide amply with proper configuration of resources.
and while applying statistics to mega-phenomena at the best of times is iffy & the commodification of nature's economic contribution seems a specially dodgy development, still some of the raw figures are breathtaking and thought provoking :(

zhao
06-11-2005, 07:25 AM
and while applying statistics to mega-phenomena at the best of times is iffy

& the commodification of nature's economic contribution seems a specially dodgy development,

yeah, I've just read from a very reliable source that 87% of all statistics are made up. :D

are those areal photos of farming patterns? first one looks like a pretty nice painting.

didn't some people calculate how much the Amazon rain forest are worth in terms of dollar amounts? and how much the earth is worth or something like that? is that what you're refering to?

Lichen
07-11-2005, 11:25 AM
[QUOTE=confucius

are those areal photos of farming patterns? first one looks like a pretty nice painting.

/QUOTE]

I saw circular patterns like the ones in the top picture when flying over North Africa and assumed they were farming patterns . They were very precise. I wondered whether they were mechanically achieved.

sufi
07-11-2005, 01:53 PM
they're irrigation in the Nile Delta (where the Nile spreads out to irrigate an enormous area after millennia of irrigation projects) the well is in the middle, down to the sunken water table bringing water up to the surface so the surrounding circle is irrigated,

the others are deforestation in bolivia, on a much larger scale i think...

DigitalDjigit
07-11-2005, 04:57 PM
i'm very wary of malthusian pessimism, i think the world can provide amply with proper configuration of resources.


provide amply for how many people? at what standard of living? There were more people alive in the 20th century than in all the previous recorded history. It's foolish to say that we can provide for this many people indefinitely just because we had no trouble doing it so far because we have only been doing it for a few decades. In the meantime as confucius pointed out we were consuming what resources there were.

If you have $5 million in the bank then you can live like a millionaire for a few years even if you income is $20,000 but after a few years you will find yourself in a lot of trouble. This is what we have been doing basically.

In fact did you know that between 2000 and 2003 there was less grain produced than consumed? That is already showing that we can barely provide for the current population. This was before the huge jump in oil prices this year.

sufi
08-11-2005, 07:42 PM
provide amply for how many people? at what standard of living? There were more people alive in the 20th century than in all the previous recorded history. It's foolish to say that we can provide for this many people indefinitely just because we had no trouble doing it so far because we have only been doing it for a few decades. how? technology delivers.
human technological progress has proved malthus' predictions of population outstripping food production wrong, however, global resources are not shared efficiently at the moment, er and i wouldnt agree that we've 'had no trouble doing it so far' given widespread poverty and starvation :(

owen
08-11-2005, 09:49 PM
how? technology delivers.
human technological progress has proved malthus' predictions of population outstripping food production wrong(

quite, and all those 70s 'population bomb' horror stories. it's pretty undisputed by economists that it's been possible to distribute resources evenly around the globe since around the 1960s...the problem as ever is that they aren't.
always something rather dodgy about these neo-malthusian arguments- all those third-worlders and their pesky breeding...

DigitalDjigit
08-11-2005, 10:14 PM
It wasn't just technology. Technology doesn't create food out of thin air. Technology allows us to exploit more energy and land. The reason we have been able to feed an ever growing population was because there was always available land to put into production. Now there is almost no more arable land left unused (except in Brazil), the water tables are rapidly dwindling all over the world (especially India and China) and cheap oil seems to be running out as well. True, technology also increases yields but we have reached that limit as well. Surely you cannot insist that technology will provide for an ever increasing amount of people. You cannot grow food on rock, in an unsuitable climate or produce 10 times as much grain per acre as now.

Like I said, past performance is no guarantee of future results and what we have been doing is drawing down on our inheritance.

I really doubt economists undisputably accept that it has been possible to evenly distribute resources. This would imply that wealth is also evenly distributed, which it isn't. How are poor third worlders going to pay for their food? You know why a lot of them starve? A big part of it is because they live in marginal lands. Sure, we could feed them by shipping food from America (at least when we had a surplus) but how are they going to pay for it?

owen
10-11-2005, 03:13 PM
I really doubt economists undisputably accept that it has been possible to evenly distribute resources. This would imply that wealth is also evenly distributed, which it isn't. How are poor third worlders going to pay for their food? You know why a lot of them starve? A big part of it is because they live in marginal lands. Sure, we could feed them by shipping food from America (at least when we had a surplus) but how are they going to pay for it?

erm, the point was that food and resources are unfairly distributed ('natural resources' here is a huuuge red herring, otherwise Congo would be massively wealthier than Australia) for the same reason that wealth is unfairly distributed, i.e a massively irrational and unfair economic system. one doesn't have to be a Marxist to hold this enormously commonplace view, viz-

http://www.cjfearnley.com/fuller-faq-3.html#ss3.2

zhao
11-11-2005, 08:51 PM
just read in Newsweek: 90% of the big fish in the ocean are gone from over fishing.

nick
11-11-2005, 10:45 PM
Why bother trying to quantify the economic value of the environment?

Partha Dasupta in the LRB, reviewing a book about civilisations that didn't make it (Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Survive by Jared Diamond):

http://www.lrb.co.uk/v27/n10/dasg01_.html

"Are our dealings with nature sustainable? Can we expect world economic growth to continue for the foreseeable future? Should we be confident that our knowledge and skills will increase in ways that will lessen our reliance on nature despite our growing numbers and rising economic activity?"

His answers shed some light on the kind of mass endeavour that gave rise to this thread and seem to me to have been dismissed a bit lightly ("scientists, eh?" - "statistics - huh!").

In this light, it's interesting to read this: Jonathan Porritt (ex Green) interviewed in the Guardian.

http://politics.guardian.co.uk/green/story/0,,1636950,00.html

The pertinent quote on his new line is this:
"His argument is pragmatic and goes briefly like this: it is impossible to deny the need for profound change in the face of today's ecological crises; the pace of change is not sufficient, and conventional environmentalism has failed to win over hearts and minds; change has to be desirable and will not come by threatening people with ecological doom; therefore, we must embrace capitalism as the only overarching system capable of both reconciling ecological sustainability, and reforming it. More to the point, he says, "we don't have time to wait for any big-picture ideological successor"."

DigitalDjigit
14-11-2005, 03:38 PM
Sorry, nick, I will read the articles you link to a little later but I just wanted to jot down a quick comment provoked by the "Should we be confident that our knowledge and skills will increase in ways that will lessen our reliance on nature" quote.

Even assuming (big assumption there, this is bigger than going to Alpha Centauri) that we can somehow not rely on natural systems for the "services" they provide us by replacing them with machines, we will still have to change our thinking. Those machines will require maintainance and care. You think it's bad when a pipe raptures and the road is closed down for a couple days and you lose water. Now think if that pipe provides you with breathable air. Think how much resources go into maintaining the highway system, this is much much harder. It will be very difficult to keep up the services operating without overloading them.

Nature is already a beatiful, self-maintaining machine that provides us with all our necessities. Why do we want to mess with that?

nick
14-11-2005, 08:33 PM
Ha ha - no need for apologies, DD, I thought I was coming in more or less from your side of the argument.

Not that anyone on either of the side of the argument (such as it is, I don't think there's all that much disagreement hereabouts) needs to apologise btw.

Neither Partha Dasgputa's nor J. Porrit's angle seems totally convincing to me, either, it just strikes me that there's much more to the attempt to analyse environmental degradation and resource depletion than scare-mongering or "neo-Malthusian pessimism".

DigitalDjigit
15-11-2005, 04:33 PM
Nick, I was apologizing for commenting without actually reading it first.