Wednesday, March 30, 2005

A four year study of the earth's ecosystems, the "Millennium Ecosystem Assessment" conducted by 1,300 scientists from 95 countries was released today. The study concluded that sixty percent of the world's resources are being degraded or used up, with "substantial and largely irreversible" loss of biodiversity set to worsen over the next 50 years.

The study found that poor people, especially those in "dryland" regions -- mostly Africa and Asia, but also in parts of Mexico and northern Brazil -- suffer disproportionately, largely through desertification, lack of access to clean water and increase in disease.

Other major findings by the UN-backed report include:

-- The evolution to the ecosystem has led to more "nonlinear changes", like the radical, seemingly sudden collapse of some ocean fisheries; jumps in climate change and the rapid emergence of certain diseases.

-- Future biodiversity loss is likely to be caused primarily by climate change and by "nutrient-loading", the overuse of nitrogen fertilizers that pollute waters and create oxygen-void "deadzones" in rivers and coastal waters.

--Over the past 50 years, humans have changed ecosystems faster and more extensively than in any period in human history. This has been due largely to rapidly growing demands for food, freshwater, timber, fiber, and fuel. The result has been a substantial and largely irreversible loss in the diversity of life on Earth.

--The changes made to ecosystems have contributed to substantial gains in human well-being and economic development, but these gains have been achieved at growing costs. These costs include the degradation of many ecosystem services, increased risks of abrupt changes, and increased poverty for some groups of people. These problems, unless addressed, will substantially reduce the benefits that future
generations get from ecosystems.

--This degradation of ecosystem services could get significantly worse during the next 50 years. It is a barrier to the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals.

--Reversing the degradation of ecosystems while meeting increasing demands for their services is a challenge. This challenge can be partially met in the future under scenarios involving significant changes to policies, institutions, and practices. However, these required actions will have to be substantial when compared to the
actions currently taken.

The full report can be found here.

A summary can be found here.

The leader of the report's core authors, Walt Reid commented that;
"The bottom line of this assessment is that we are spending earth's
natural capital, putting such 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."

Ominous words. Unfortunately, they won't make the headlines until real people start to die, in accordance with the media's "if it bleeds, it leads" mentlity. By then it will be too late.


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