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Humans Stretch Earth’s Capacity To Limit

JOHANNESBURG (dpa) – The environment is already on the agenda, two weeks before the Earth Summit begins in South Africa. Catastrophic weather patterns in central Europe and a huge smog zone in Asia underscore the need for greater efforts in halting human- induced climate change and environmental degradation.

“The recent weather catastrophes are clearly caused largely by man. This can no longer be disputed. We must take massive steps and this is mainly an obligation of the industrialised nations,” the head of the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP), Klaus Toepfer said last week.

Most of the worlds scientists no longer dispute the fact that the burning of fossil fuels is causing a steady rise in greenhouse gases, particularly carbon dioxide, which are responsible for warming the earths atmosphere.

Among the dramatic changes already visible are the worst floods in some parts of central Europe within living memory.

At the same time we are exhausting the Earth’s natural resources at a faster pace than any other generation before us and leading scientists say current human activity is bound to change the course of evolution in destroying most of the world`s most beautiful and vulnerable habitats by the end of this century.

A paper published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) in the U.S. said humans were using 70 per cent of the capacity of the global biosphere in 1961, increasing to 120 per cent in 1999. Regenerating what humans used in 1999 would take 1.2 Earth’s, or one Earth for 1.2 years.

The authors of the PNAS study said the “overshoot” in using the Earth’s resources can be solved by using new technology and avoiding waste. These include the use of renewable energy resources, more efficient use of freshwater and replanting trees in forests felled by man.

Most of the technologies for sustainable development of the earths resources already exist.

Solar technology is at an advanced stage for use in private homes. Cars can be converted to use hydrogen instead of fossil fuel, reducing carbon dioxide emissions to zero levels.

Only the political will is needed to provide the necessary infrastructure and tax incentives to encourage the mass use of such technology.

An international team of environmental scientists said environmental protection has undisputed positive long term effects, in a recent report published in Science magazine in the U.S.

The team examined the economic value of pristine nature reserves including climate, soil and biodiversity. They compared such ecosystems with the short-term use of land through agriculture or logging, concluding that the natural areas had an advantage of 100:1

The reason why man is still destroying these valuable ecosystems, according to the team, can be attributed to three main factors.

Mans greed and striving for quick profit is to blame, as is a lack of knowledge on the real value of natural ecosystems and tax incentives in some countries to convert natural areas into “agricultural land”.

The team concludes that a global network of natural ecosystems could provide the world population with 4,400 billion dollars more in “goods and services” than the same land built to suit purely human needs.

On the eve of the World Summit on Sustainable Development, also known as the Earth Summit, the United Nations released a report highlighting the disturbing toll of current patterns on future living standards.

“The choice we face is between two futures. If we do nothing to change our current indiscriminate patterns of development, we will compromise the long-term security of the Earth and its people,” said Nitin Desai, secretary general of the latest Earth Summit in Johannesburg.

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