From coal to cars to coffee, consumption levels are breaking records, and the acceleration of resource depletion, pollution and climate change may come with underappreciated social and environmental costs, according to the Worldwatch Institute.
Although gas prices are temporarily low at the pump, long-term energy costs are on the rise. According to State of the World 2015 contributing author Nathan John Hagens, a former hedge fund manager who teaches human macro-ecology at the University of Minnesota, nations are papering over those costs with debt. Higher energy costs are leading to continued recessions, excess claims on future natural resources, and more-severe social inequality and poverty.
For more than 50 years, global production of plastic has continued to rise. Some 299 million tons of plastics were produced in 2013, representing a 4 percent increase over 2012. Recovery and recycling, however, remain insufficient, and millions of tons of plastics end up in landfills and oceans each year, according to Gaelle Gourmelon, communications and marketing manager at the Worldwatch Institute.
The year 2013 saw record-breaking growth for solar electricity generation as the photovoltaic and concentrated solar thermal power markets continued to grow. With over 39 gigawatts installed worldwide, the PV solar market represented one third of all newly-added renewable energy capacity, according to Max Lander and Xiangyu Wu writing in the latest number of the Worldwatch Institute's Vital Signs Online publication.
There may now be as many as 6.5 million direct and indirect jobs in renewable energy, according to updated data from the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA). Earlier assessments had put the global estimate at 2.3 million jobs in 2008 (United Nations Environment Programme) and at 5 million jobs in 2012 (International Labour Organization).
Despite a slight decline between 2009 and 2010, since 1999 the global land area farmed organically has expanded more than threefold to 37 million hectares, according to new research conducted by the Worldwatch Institute for its Vital Signs Online service.