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Smoke billows from burned trees. A collective of scientists and development thinkers have warned that civilisation faces an 'unprecedented emergency'. (Photograph: CRISTINA QUICKLER/AFP/Getty Images)

'Perpetual Growth Myth' Leading World to Meltdown: Experts

UN-Sponsored Papers Predict Sustained Ecological and Social Meltdown

Common Dreams staff

"The current system is broken," says Bob Watson, the UK’s chief scientific advisor on environmental issues and a winner of the prestigious Blue Planet prize in 2010. "It is driving humanity to a future that is 3-5°C warmer than our species has ever known, and is eliminating the ecology that we depend on for our health, wealth and senses of self."

"We cannot assume that technological fixes will come fast enough. Instead we need human solutions. The good news is that they exist but decision makers must be bold and forward thinking to seize them."

Watson's comments accompanied a new paper released today by 20 past winners of the Blue Planet Prize - often called the Nobel Prize for the environment, and comes ahead of the 20th anniversary of the Rio+20 conference – which takes place in June this year – where world leaders will (it is hoped) seize the opportunity to set human development on a new, more sustainable path.

Civilization Faces 'Perfect Storm of Ecological and Social Problems'

The Guardian's John Vidal reports:

In the face of an "absolutely unprecedented emergency", say the [...] past winners of the Blue Planet prize – the unofficial Nobel for the environment – society has "no choice but to take dramatic action to avert a collapse of civilization. Either we will change our ways and build an entirely new kind of global society, or they will be changed for us".

The stark assessment of the current global outlook by the group, who include [Watson]... US climate scientist James Hansen, Prof José Goldemberg, Brazil's secretary of environment during the Rio Earth summit in 1992, and Stanford University Prof Paul Ehrlich. [...]

"The perpetual growth myth ... promotes the impossible idea that indiscriminate economic growth is the cure for all the world's problems, while it is actually the disease that is at the root cause of our unsustainable global practices"

Apart from dire warnings about biodiversity loss and climate change, the group challenges governments to think differently about economic "progress".

"The rapidly deteriorating biophysical situation is more than bad enough, but it is barely recognized by a global society infected by the irrational belief that physical economies can grow forever and disregarding the facts that the rich in developed and developing countries get richer and the poor are left behind.

"The perpetual growth myth ... promotes the impossible idea that indiscriminate economic growth is the cure for all the world's problems, while it is actually the disease that is at the root cause of our unsustainable global practices", they say.

The group warns against over-reliance on markets but instead urges politicians to listen and learn from how poor communities all over the world see the problems of energy, water, food and livelihoods as interdependent and integrated as part of a living ecosystem.

The paper urges governments to:

  • Replace GDP as a measure of wealth with metrics for natural, built, human and social capital - and how they intersect.
  • Eliminate subsidies in sectors such as energy, transport and agriculture that create environmental and social costs, which currently go unpaid.
  • Tackle over-consumption, and address population pressure by empowering women, improving education and making contraception accessible to all.
  • Transform decision making processes to empower marginalized groups, and integrate economic, social and environmental policies instead of having them compete.
  • Conserve and value biodiversity and ecosystem services, and create markets for them that can form the basis of green economies.
  • Invest in knowledge - both in creating and in sharing it - through research and training that will enable governments, business, and society at large to understand and move towards a sustainable future.

“Sustainable development is not a pipe dream,” says Dr Camilla Toulmin, director of the International Institute for Environment and Development. “It is the destination the world’s accumulated knowledge points us towards, the fair future that will enable us to live with security, peace and opportunities for all. To get there we must transform the ways we manage, share and interact with the environment, and acknowledge that humanity is part of nature not apart from it.”

Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director, said: “The paper by the Blue Planet laureates will challenge governments and society as a whole to act to limit human-induced climate change, the loss of biodiversity and the degradation of ecosystem services in order to ensure food, water energy and human security. I would like to thank Professor Watson and colleagues for eloquently articulating their vision on how key development challenges can be addressed, emphasizing solutions; the policies, technologies and behavior changes required to grow green economies, generate jobs and lift people out of poverty without pushing the world through planetary boundaries.”

***

A second UNEP report was also released today in Kenya. Though separate from the assessment of the Planet Blue laureates, it echoes many of their themes and concerns.

Capital FM News in Kenya reports:

A new report by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has warned of a continued deterioration in the state of the global environment due to failure by governments to implement internationally agreed goals.

The summary report released at the sidelines of a UNEP Governing Council meeting in Nairobi stated that out of the 90 internationally agreed goals, only 40 were in progress, 32 had insufficient progress while 13 were not in development at all.

“We have failed to meet agreed goals,” Peter Gilruth Director Division of Early Warning Assessment (DEWA) UNEP said.

“The internationally agreed goal of avoiding the adverse effects of climate change is presenting the global community with one of its most serious challenges that is threatening overall development goals,” he noted.

He added that the rate at which forest loss, particularly in the tropics was taking place remained alarmingly high.

“Today, 80 percent of the world’s population live in areas with high levels of threat to water security, affecting 3.4 billion people mostly in developing countries,” he stated.

The Fifth Global Environment Outlook (GEO 5) assessed progress and gaps in the implementation of internationally agreed goals on environment and the full report would be released in June ahead of the Rio+20 Summit on sustainable development.

The report recommended that policy makers focus on the underlying drivers of environmental change such as the negative aspects of population growth, consumption and production, urbanisation rather than just concentrating on reducing environmental pressures or symptoms.

“The solutions put on the table are not intended to be prescriptive in nature but rather a menu of options that you (governments) might want to look at for your own use. It is just a potential source of information to assist in decision making,” Gilruth said.

###


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