In it, 1,700 esteemed scientists called out what they saw as a broad pattern of rising environmental damage that would, if unchecked, lead to “vast human misery.” This month a follow-up warning was published by 15,364 scientists in the journal BioScience. Its message is that we’re failing.
I’m not so sure.
Storm Before the Calm
In the heat of U.S. politics, feelings about sustainability seem dangerously divisive. Mega-storms, rising sea levels and a hotter planet are tangible realities, and yet concerted action feels unattainable. Meanwhile, concern over water supplies, biodiversity and social justice add to anxiety and anger. The working atmosphere feels toxic, and it is tempting to anticipate an apocalypse.
I believe the problem is real, and I believe we can solve it. I also believe, however, that we are making more progress than public opinion seems ready to accept.
First of all, it is important to break down the question of sustainability. Population, which was among the hot buttons flagged back in 1992, has grown by 35 percent in just 25 years. This factor alone explains much of our increased human footprint on the planet. But is it necessarily bad?
Massive economic growth has elevated Asian and African consumption enormously, and our annual CO2 emissions (up by 62 percent since 1992) reflect it. UNDP projections, however, say we’ll flatten off at around 10 to 11 billion people worldwide, in which case we’re not facing a population explosion so much as seeking a new plane of existence. Can the world handle it?
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