Millennium Ecosystem Assessment

by Richard on March 30, 2005

The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment Synthesis Report was published today, and it makes grim (though not hopeless) reading. It concludes that 60% of the world’s vital “ecosystem services” — air, water, fisheries, climate control etc — are being degraded or used unsustainably.

The report, which has taken 1300 scientists from 95 countries four years to produce, concludes that it is still possible for human beings to make changes which will ease the strain on the earth’s resources, but radical changes are becoming a matter of increasing urgency.

The main findings are:

  • Human activities have effected more change to the world’s ecosystem during the last 50 years than in any other period of history. (This should not be surprising). What is shocking is that the rate of change continues to increase leading, for example, to a significan threat to biodiversity. Between 10 and 30 % of the world’s mammal, bird and amphibian species are threatened with extinction.
  • Gains to human well-being have been bought at the cost of the degradation of vital ecosystem services. Fresh water and “capture fisheries” are stretched well beyond sustainable limits, leaving a potentially huge threat to future generations.
  • The report predicts that damage to ecosystems will continue to worsen during the first half of this century, harming our ability to meet the Millenium Goal of halving world hunger by 2015.

I’m glad to see that the report makes specific reference to the world’s poorest, noting that it is they who will bear the brunt of these changes. I said this a while ago– so it must be true! That’s why all this stuff about global warming and environmental degradation is so important to me. It isn’t primarily a matter of economics, still less about tree-hugging. It’s that care for the poor is built into the gospel so deeply that to ignore these threats, or to dismiss them as hippy nonsense, amounts to a dereliction of Christian duty.

The BBC has more.

{ 1 trackback }

In the Agora
03.31.05 at 1:41 pm

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }


Rob 03.31.05 at 1:34 pm

We think alike


Mike 03.31.05 at 2:58 pm

The concern I have is not that the facts may be wrong. After all, if you’re gonna disagree with 1300 scientists, the UN and pretty much everyone else, you’d better have some credentials. The problem that is becoming widespread is the over-reaction that is causing ridiculous, radical solutions, where in fact sensible, rational ones, based upon the facts that we have should be.

Simple things, for instance, like widespread recycling of paper to encourage sustainable use of resources. This would be great, except the recycling process uses up a lot of energy from scarce energy-producing resources, when in reality, the entire amount of paper used across the world amounts to less than 2.5% of all our forests. Most of this paper comes from the Canadian and Soviet woodlands, which are not reeling with biodiversity, and in fact, are re-planted for the purpose of sustianable paper production. So, we’re wasting precious fossil fuels recycling a resource that doesn’t need recycling, so that we can feel all warm inside.

The problem that does need addressing in this context is the large-scale deforestation in the tropics for the purpose of paper production. That is having an adverse effect upon bio-diversity. It is an economic problem that requires economic solutions. Not recycling in Europe and North America.

That’s one example; there are many more. In such instance as this, i’m actually prone to side with some of the mis-understood, mis-labelled ‘right-wing’ critics, who in fact are pointing out the rational responses to recognised facts of environmental degradation. I’d rather go with their pragmatic solution than with the radical hippies who think that as a race we can live prosperously on something less than industrial growth.


Sarah 03.31.05 at 9:10 pm

Mike, while a lot of what you say is true, that the problems of the world will not be solved if we all recycle our newpapers, and we can’t remove every bit of industrial development, there are other reasons for recycling (taking your example). One of the main motivations behind it is reducing our waste output, and putting less of our rubbish in landfill. The impact that burying our waste has on the environment is frequently ignored, and is reduced by recycling some of it. You can see this from the difference in the amount of black bags you produce each week!!!

It is true that the issue of global environmental change is an important one, which needs to be tackled. And while our responses to it need to be carefully considered so that they are effective and worthwhile, I have to say that something’s better than nothing. Ok, so it may not be the best solution. But these things raise awareness, and give people something practical which they can do, and which produces a result. There’s a lot to be said for that.

The bottom line is that things need to change, and that people need to realise this and do something about it.


Mike 04.01.05 at 4:43 pm

In this case, I don’t think it’s logical to do something about it. the case of recycling paper I used in an illustrative sense, and you’re right about the landfill consideration. Although I understand your point about raising awareness, I wouldn’t follow your logic that this justifies taking a perhaps largely inefficient approach. this was my entire point. I am in no way saying that the correct response is to ignore everything because the hippies are wrong, and not to raise awareness. If you read again what I said is that if awareness is to be raised, it needs to be handled at a high level, in a rational manner. My point was a reaction to the often radical responses that tend to make it into our frontrooms; not to Richard. In fact, everything I wrote was in large agreement with Richard.

In many cases, while I appreciate your intentions, something is often not better than nothing, particularly when the rational arguments should be easily discernible, as in this case.

Leave a Comment

You can use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>