GEO YEAR BOOK - An Overview of Our Changing EnvironmentUnder this heading the UNEP's Division of Early Warning and Assessment has produced a mixture of frightening facts and unwarranted optimistic conclusions. The immediate past Executive Dirctor's Preface says it all. Mr Klaus Töpfer writes:
However, the indicators also show that there is hope. Where action has been taken, there are positive results." (p.iv)
Whilst this may be true, it is old news, representing only a minuscule part of the alarming picture of increasing environmental degradation and depletion in virtually all areas. In the GEO Indicatiors section the Year Book presents a biased choice of development graphs that show some positive direction. "Together, they present a snapshot of humanity's progress in sustainably managing our planitary habitat" (p.72).
Sorry, but there's no progress. We are further away from sustainable management as ever. And some of the most important resource factors are not presented. No graphs about the depletion of aquafers, about soil erosion, wild life habitat loss, reduction of the arctic polar ice cap, increasing overpopulation, reducing crop yields, increasing air pollution, or increasing carbondioxide emmissions, increasing .
But Mr Töpfer and his Year Book team are politically correct in painting an optimistic picture. Such is the nature of political brinkmanship. Stir a bit but not too much to endanger the benevolence of those who provide the money. Maybe Mr. Töpfer and his homologues have to work that way, as long as the power in this world is held by the discipline of economists, environmentally largely ignorant politicians and irresponsible business.
Would Mr Töpfer have another choice? Probably. But then he should have a different personality, one of an independent scientist. Yet the challenge is huge. How to describe the real developments in all their bleak and somber perspectives without becoming isolated and ignored. We have no answer but we believe that ultimately honesty is better than hiding the hard environmental facts.
"ENERGY CRISIS" "Climate change, development and energy issues are closely connected", writes UNEP (p.4) But where's the crisis, i.e. the most serious point, after which the patient either dies or recovers? UNEP's crisis seem to lie in the oil prices. We would say that, if at all, a crisis will accur at Peak Oil, that is when fossil fuel extractions begins to fall. Just watch what will happen then. Economic collapse, hunger, wars - the whole lot.
Correctly, UNEP's Division of Early Warning and Assessment write:
Economic growth and development, however, are always increasing depletion and pollution, since each Dollar of growth represents an equivalent amount of materials that are irretrievably consumed. Dematerialised growth is a economist's pipe dream. And we cannot recreate lost resources by money, nor with technology, for that matter.
WE have to balance our socio-economic impact upon this world with resource availabilities. In the course of our industrial era, since 1800, our pressure has become way too high. We must not balance the social with the economy and with the environment, as is the commomly held opinion. Human society is an intertwined socio-economic system and this system is embedded in and supported by the Earth environment. We must balance the impact of human society with the rest of nature. Presently we are balancing on the edge of total depletion and collapse.
IF we want to save this world for our children after the year 2031 we will have to become very courageous and tell people honestly that we must not grow but reduce our impact, our production and consumption, our speeds, our luxuries, our population sizes. It requires the courage to question the ideologies of trade and neo-liberal freedom for the few that have been endowed with money and power.
THEN - Mr Töpfer, and Mr Achim Steiner, new UNEP Executive Director - then we could have a chance to avoid war and the demise of human society.
A sustainable society, i.e. one that can continue unchanged for many generations after 2031, will be a low materials throughput world. Its citizens will be happier, less stressed, have more democratic structures in localised economies with a minimum of transportation. People will be less worried because they have a future.
Helmut Lubbers, at the age of 64, with two children and three grandchildren.
UNEP - United Nations Environment Programm - www.unep.org/geo/yearbook