World approaches threshold of change in response to environmental threats

The world may be approaching the threshold of a sweeping change in the way we respond to environmental threats - a social threshold that, once crossed, could profoundly change our outlook, according to an article released yesterday by the Worldwatch Institute.

In his article, Worldwatch President, R. Lester Brown, identifies a series of patterns of change that give cause for optimism over our potential to reverse environmental declines. Further, he gives comprehensive and compelling illustrations or why our existing models must change in order to survive.

Much can be learnt, says Brown, from the example of China:

If changes in physical conditions are often the driving forces in perceptual shifts, one of the most powerful forces driving the current shift in our understanding of the ecological/economic relationship is the flow of startling information coming from China. Not only the world’s most populous country, China since 1980 has been the world’s fastest growing economy, raising incomes nearly fourfold. As such, China is in effect telescoping history, showing us what happens when large numbers of people become more affluent.

As incomes have climbed, so has consumption. If the Chinese should reach the point where they eat as much beef as Americans, the production of just that added beef will take an estimated 340 million tons of grain per year, an amount equal to the entire U.S. grain harvest. Similarly, if the Chinese were to consume oil at the American rate, the country would need 80 million barrels of oil a day-more than the entire world’s current production of 67million barrels a day.

What China is dramatizing-to its own scientists and government and to an increasingly worried international community-is that the Western industrial development model will not work for China. And if the fossil-fuel-based, automobile-centered, throwaway economy will not work for it, then it will not work for India, with its billion people, nor for the other two billion in the developing world. And, in an increasingly integrated global economy, it will not work in the long run for the industrial economies either.

In addition to a shift in the positions of Governments and large corporates, and changing attitudes towards, population, energy, transportation, and materials use, Brown maintains that the public are becoming more aware of environmental issues as they increasingly experience their direct effects. For example, last year saw “a dramatic rise in the number of people driven from their homes, for days or even months, as a result of more destructive storms and floods. Almost incomprehensibly, 300 million people-a number that exceeds the entire population of North America-were forced out of their homes in 1998”.

edie highly recommends that you read this clear and informed article that sets the tone for the environmental and economic challenges facing society as we prepare to enter the next century.

The full article can be downloaded as a .pdf document from the Worldwatch website, or edie users can read it free of charge by following the link below to the reference section of edie’s library, where the text has been reproduced with permission from the Worldwatch Institute.

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