Green Group Gives Earth Failing Report Card

Hillary Mayell
for National Geographic News
January 10, 2002

Worldwatch Institute has issued its annual State of the World report and the news is not good. Nearly every global environmental indicator has worsened over the last decade, the authors say, and the gap between rich and poor has widened.

"We're trying to remind the world that we can't afford to overlook some of these issues," said Gary Gardner, director of research for Worldwatch and a co-author of the report. "The terrorism of September 11 is more dramatic, but the slow-motion terror happening to the planet and the people in the world" is just as threatening over the long term.

The report by the Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit public policy research organization takes a hard look at world accomplishments in the decade following the Rio Earth Summit. Two landmark treaties—one on climate change and the other on biodiversity—and an extensive plan for achieving sustainable development known as Agenda 21, emerged from the global meeting that took place in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. To many, the United Nations-sponsored conference signaled a fundamental reordering of world priorities.

But ten years later, environmental degradation, Third World indebtedness, poverty, pollution, global warming, and a lack of enforcement of international treaties all continue to be issues.

"There's been a lot of progress in raising awareness of these issues since Rio," said Gardner. "But progress on the ground has been spotty at best."

The report cites advances made in organic agriculture, wind power, and zero-waste technology, and improvements in education and the fight against some infectious diseases, but in relation to the overall problem, the gains are all very small.

The September 11 terrorist attack is mentioned throughout the report as an example of what can be done quickly when governments focus on an issue. Within two days of the September 11 attack, the U.S. Congress approved U.S. $40 billion to combat terrorism; added relief and economic stimulus spending brought the total to well over $100 billion—none of which had been budgeted before the attack.

The world needs a similar concentrated global war on poverty and environmental degradation, concludes the report.

Statistics and Other Gloomy Facts

State of the World 2002 is laced with gloomy facts; more than one billion people are living on one dollar (U.S.) a day, at the same time that developed nations are enjoying an epidemic of obesity.

Deforestation proceeds apace, desertification continues to edge outward, and 27 percent of the world's coral reefs are now severely damaged, up from 9 percent in 1992. The resulting loss and degradation of habitat has meant that we are also undergoing a huge loss in biodiversity. The authors note that the Earth is currently experiencing a mass extinction event that has been equaled only four times in the last four billion years.

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