State of the Planet: The Brink of Environmental Collapse
29 March 2006
by Giles Hewitt
In a keynote speech opening the fourth biennial State of the Planet conference at New York's Columbia University, Jeffrey Sachs, director of the UN Millennium Project, said ignorance, misplaced priorities and indifference were keeping the world firmly on a path to disaster.
"Everything we think is at the core of our geopolitics -- the war on terror, Islamic fundamentalism -- have almost nothing to do with the real challenges we face on this planet," Sachs said.
"They are a distraction and a misunderstanding," he added.
Addressing the two-day forum's main topic -- the feasibility of sustainable development for billions of people worldwide -- Sachs painted a grim picture of systemic environmental collapse, coupled with war, famine and pandemic disease.
The astonishing pace of economic growth in Asia and the increasing demands of development in the industrialised world will in a matter of decades, Sachs argued, impose a burden far beyond that which the world is already woefully failing to carry.
"It is the central challenge we face on the planet," he said. "Every single major ecological system we have is already under profound stress."
While highlighting climate change, deforestation, oceanic degradation and population growth, Sachs, who is also director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, warned against viewing the problems associated with unsustainable development as an esoteric issue for scientists.
"Politics is central," he said, condemning what he called the "scientifically antagonistic" policies of the current US administration under President George W. Bush. "We're fighting all the wrong wars in this country," Sachs said, adding that what the White House really needed was a subscription to Scientific American magazine.
"Our political leaders do not have the training to understand these issues," he said, citing the crisis in Sudan's western region of Darfur which Sachs argued was primarily the result of water shortages that had prompted conflict.
"We view these crises first as political crises when we should view them as ecological crises," he said.
"And they will abound. They will get worse." Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, warned of a dangerous disconnect between the makers of macro development policy and the people their policies were meant to benefit.
"We need to listen to local voices and seek local solutions," Pachauri said.
"We need to think of a new form of democracy," he added, arguing that freedom from tyranny was incomplete without freedom from poverty and want.
"Democracy is not merely holding elections," he said.
More on the 2-6 State of the Planet Conference can be accessed at:
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The Global Strategy for Plant Conservation
The GSPC is a plan to save the world's plant species. Botanic gardens are making a major contribution worldwide. Click the image to find out more.