Our Beautiful Earth—How Much of It Will We Leave Our Children?
ACCORDING to published reports, 1.7 billion children have been born into the world since the year 1970. If they constituted a nation, it would be the world’s largest. Is it not fair to ask, What kind of world are we leaving them?
Over 25 years ago a prominent doctor of the U.S. Public Health Service observed: “We all live under the haunting fear that something may corrupt the environment to the point where man joins the dinosaurs as an obsolete form of life.”
In the intervening years, that fear has intensified. Last year a national forum, addressed by nearly a hundred biologists, warned that coming was a wave of mass extinctions such as wiped out the dinosaurs, only this time it would not be by a natural development but “by human activities.”
This year Worldwatch Institute released its report State of the World 1987. It said: “A sustainable society satisfies its needs without diminishing the prospects of the next generation. By many measures, contemporary society fails to meet this criterion. Questions of ecological sustainability are arising on every continent. The scale of human activities has begun to threaten the habitability of the earth itself.”
The Institute’s report said that the demands of over 5 billion people—and their numbers are increasing by 83 million a year—are overwhelming the regenerative capacities of earth’s biological systems.
Chemical pollution is thinning the atmospheric ozone and may lead to “causing more skin cancers, impairing human immune systems, and retarding crop growth.”
If acid rain continues, not only will more lakes and forests die but soils will acidify further and “may take decades, if not centuries, to recover.”
Intensified farming practices “have pushed the rate of topsoil loss beyond that of new soil formation.”
Deforestation reduces the amount of carbon dioxide used from the atmosphere, and the burning of fossil fuels releases more carbon dioxide than the remaining plants and the oceans can take in. The result is an increase in the warming greenhouse effect that may ultimately melt glaciers and flood coastal cities.
The loss of tropical forests means less recycling of water for rainfall and may lead to the creation of deserts.
Toxic chemicals, raw sewage, crude oil, nuclear accidents, radon, microwaves, asbestos—on and on could go the listing of man’s sins against the environment.
State of the World 1987 warns: “Never have so many systems vital to the earth’s habitability been out of equilibrium simultaneously. New environmental problems also span time periods and geographic areas that stretch beyond the authority of existing political and social institutions. No single nation can stabilize the earth’s climate, protect the ozone layer, preserve the planet’s mantle of forests and soils, or reverse the acidification of lakes and streams. Only a sustained international commitment will suffice.”
This commitment is dragging its feet, and time is running out. Hundreds of billions are spent in the arms race; a mere pittance is spent on preserving the environment that sustains us and the neglect of which can kill us. Since 1983 the United States alone has committed $9 billion to the Strategic Defense Initiative research and wants $33 billion more for it from 1986 to 1991—but turns stingy on the environment. The other industrialized nations do likewise. The State of the World 1987 puts the crisis in a nutshell: “The time has come to make peace with each other so that we can make peace with the earth.”
“A sustainable future,” this report states, “calls upon us simultaneously to arrest the carbon dioxide buildup, protect the ozone layer, restore forests and soils, stop population growth, boost energy efficiency, and develop renewable energy sources. No generation has ever faced such a complex set of issues requiring immediate attention. Preceding generations have always been concerned about the future, but we are the first to be faced with decisions that will determine whether the earth our children inherit will be habitable.”
The following article shows the crisis developing over toxic chemicals.