Never Mind The Facts Just Act On Sustainability
It's a question many people have probably asked themselves, seeing the ever-increasing environmental degradation around the world: why aren't we doing more to protect our planet?
Achim Steiner has an answer of sorts. He thinks things are so bad that people can't quite grasp it.
He is worth listening to, because there are not many individuals who could be said to have a truly comprehensive overview of the state of the planet. This 50-year-old Brazilian-German is the executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme (Unep), the part of the UN family that deals with planetary ills, and he has spent a long career trying to help communities across the world...
He can see the trends, quite clearly, because it is his job to, and he talks about them vividly: agriculture which is no longer "a management of that one metre of arable land on which we depend for virtually everything that grows" but a process which "very often has become a mining operation"; oceans which have been overexploited to the point where "two-thirds or more of the fish stocks are either at maximum offtake or actually depleting"; carbon dioxide pumped into the atmosphere "to the point where we are actually fundamentally changing the climate prospects of our planet"....
"A classic illustration is the ... luxury of this continued debate about scientific uncertainty with climate change. If even 10 per cent of what the IPCC [the UN's Intergovernment Panel on Climate Change] said were to come true, it should actually make us sit up and say immediately, 'change course!'."
But we don't say that, Mr Steiner believes, because "there is an accelerating set of trends, from the atmosphere to the biosphere, to our ability to feed ourselves in a world which will soon have nine billion people, that gives us a sense of what will happen in the next 20, 30, 50 years, that we have simply not yet begun to appreciate".
Yes the trends - better able to feed the growing population, cleaning up the biosphere where prosperity is allowed to flourish, the trends actually look pretty good. Not what the Rio summit wants to hear of course. So the increasing level of CO2 will be used as a a proxy for general gloom and doom for future sustainability, without allowing the "luxury of this continued debate about scientific uncertainty with climate change".