A Rio Report Card

One of the world’s pre-eminent scientific publications, Nature, has just issued a scathing report card in advance of next week’s Rio+20 summit on sustainable development. With failing grades on fighting climate change, protecting biological diversity, and combating desertification, can humanity avoid getting itself expelled?

NEW YORK – One of the world’s pre-eminent scientific publications, Nature, has just issued a scathing report card in advance of next week’s Rio+20 summit on sustainable development. The grades for implementation of the three great treaties signed at the first Rio Earth Summit in 1992 were as follows: Climate Change – F; Biological Diversity – F; and Combating Desertification – F. Can humanity still avoid getting itself expelled?

We have known for at least a generation that the world needs a course correction. Instead of powering the world economy with fossil fuels, we need to mobilize much greater use of low-carbon alternatives such as wind, solar, and geothermal power. Instead of hunting, fishing, and clearing land without regard for the impact on other species, we need to pace our agricultural production, fishing, and logging in line with the environment’s carrying capacity. Instead of leaving the world’s most vulnerable people without access to family planning, education, and basic health care, we need to end extreme poverty and reduce the soaring fertility rates that persist in the poorest parts of the world.

In short, we need to recognize that with seven billion people today, and nine billion by mid-century, all inter-connected in a high-tech, energy-intensive global economy, our collective capacity to destroy the planet’s life-support systems is unprecedented. Yet the consequences of our individual actions are typically so far removed from our daily awareness that we can go right over the cliff without even knowing it.

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