WASHINGTON -- March 30 -- A new report released today on the threatened status of the world's ecosystems should prompt the United States to take concrete action, NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) said. The four-year, $20 million study -- the most comprehensive look at the health of the world's ocean, land, forests and species -- concluded that many of the world's ecosystems are headed for collapse unless radical measures are implemented to revive them.
"The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment is an extraordinary warning from more than a thousand scientists around the world that our natural resources are in deep trouble, and we cannot afford to continue business as usual," Jacob Scherr, director of the International Program at the Natural Resources Defense Council. "The report should be a wake-up call for the United States. If we don't provide world leadership, the well-being of our children and grandchildren will be threatened."
The group specifically called on the U.S. Congress to create an independent national commission to review recent scientific studies, determine the potential impact of global change, and make recommendations for U.S. actions to ensure a sustainable future. (For more information on NRDC's Earth Legacy campaign, click here.)
"Americans have the most to lose from global environmental decline, and the most to contribute to finding solutions to the challenges we face," said Scherr.
The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, which involved more than 1,300 scientists from 95 countries, was released today by the United Nations Environment Program and several public and private organizations, including the World Resources Institute. The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment is available online at www.millenniumassessment.org. A review of its major findings is available on greenfacts.org.
The report found that over the last 50 years, human actions have depleted the Earth's natural resources at an unprecedented scale and rate to satisfy growing demands for food, fresh water, timber, fiber and fuel. For example, more land has been converted to crop land since World War II than in the previous two centuries. The result has been a tremendous increase in wealth and well-being, but a billion people still live in grinding poverty.
The scientists found that human actions have significantly reduced the diversity of life around the world. More than 20 percent of the world's coral reefs and 35 percent of the mangroves have been lost in the last several decades. As much 30 percent of all bird, mammal and amphibian species now are threatened with extinction.
Today, more than half of the critical services provided by ecosystems are being degraded or used unsustainably, including fresh water, fisheries, air and water purification and erosion control. We now face the potential for the rapid emergence of new diseases, "dead zones" in coastal waters, more frequent and damaging floods and fires and regional climate changes. The continued decline of ecosystems will make it all the more difficult to lift people out of poverty and could result in greater social conflict.
The study warns that the depletion of natural ecosystem services will continue as the world's population continues to grow and economic activity expands as much as six-fold. The scientists warn that climate change and the increased loading of nutrients into the environment -- principally nitrogen used in fertilizers -- will worsen over the next 50 years and could further undercut essential ecosystem services.
The Natural Resources Defense Council is a national, nonprofit organization of scientists, lawyers and environmental specialists dedicated to protecting public health and the environment. Founded in 1970, NRDC has more than 1 million members and online activists nationwide, served from offices in New York, Washington, Los Angeles and San Francisco.