Drifting towards chaos

Exceeding the Limit

Farooque Chowdhury

Painting a gloomy picture of the state of the world environment the UNEP report released in the run-up to the Rio+20 conference, said: The earth's environmental systems are being pushed towards their biophysical limits. Several critical global, regional and local thresholds are close or have been exceeded. "Abrupt and possibly irreversible changes to the life-support functions of the planet are likely to occur." The changes include rising oceans, increased frequency and severity of floods and droughts, and the collapse of fisheries.

It said: Little or no progress has been made over the past five years on nearly a third of the main environmental goals including global warming. Significant progress has been made on just four of the 90 most important goals.

The report said: 90 percent of water and fish samples are contaminated with pesticides; about 20 percent of vertebrate species are under threat of extinction; coral reefs have declined by 38 percent since 1980.

Green Economy in a Blue World, the 2012 UNEP, FAO, IMO, UNDP, IUCN, World Fish Center, GRID-Arendal report, added more to the facts cited in above mentioned report:

More than 90 percent of those species formerly important to humans have been lost in coastal seas and estuaries, 35 percent of mangroves and 20 percent of all coral reefs have been destroyed. More than 30 percent of the world's fish stocks are overexploited, depleted or recovering from depletion. Over 400 oxygen-poor 'dead zones' are in the world that include the Black Sea, Gulf of Mexico, Baltic Sea. These have significant negative impact on fisheries, food security and livelihoods. The world's fishing fleets are double the size these should be and the potential economic gain from reducing fishing capacity to a sustainable, economically optimal level and restoring over-exploited and depleted fish stocks is of the order of US$50 billion per annum. The undernourishment of about 20 million people could have been averted without over-fishing. Invasive species threaten biodiversity, marine industries and human health. The global economic impact of invasive aquatic species is US$100 billion per year. The rate of marine bio-invasions is one every nine weeks and over 80 percent of the world's 232 marine ecoregions found invasive species.
The Green added:

Now, the manufactured fertilizer industry annually produces about 100 million tones of nitrogen in fertilizer. Today, 40-60 percent of global crop yields are attributable to commercial fertilizer use. The link between industrial agriculture and reactive nitrogen pollution is well established with impacts on drinking water. The impact of excess nitrogen in the EU alone is €70-320 billion per year. The energy consumption and associated environmental costs for fertilizer production are significant: 1-2 percent of all consumed global energy.

Tourism, according to the report, is taking its toll: conversion of land for construction, declined biodiversity, destructed coastal wetlands, dune complexes and mangroves. Many coastal destinations have become heavily urbanized. For example, out of 8000 kilometers of Italian coastline, 43 percent is completely urbanized, 28 percent is partly urbanized. Only 29 percent of coastline could be considered 'pristine'. Tourism accounts for about 5 percent of global emissions. Approximately 75 percent of this is caused by transports, and in particular aviation.

Some states, the report said, have shown interest in deep sea mining, a new industry with many unknowns, beyond national jurisdiction. There is a legitimate concern regarding deep-sea mining and its economic and social consequences.

The report reminds: "There are still large knowledge gaps in our understanding of the ecosystems associated with these deposits, and the resilience of the ecosystems. Destruction of ecosystems associated with deep-sea minerals might involve the loss of 'existence values' , or 'bequest values', or there may be future-use values of which we are currently unaware ('option values'). Passive and option values (existence and bequest values) have the potential to affect local water and air quality, and will result in carbon emissions. The potential economic cost of these environmental damages has not been estimated. A reduction in local environmental quality may also pose a public health risk to local communities. Deep-sea mining may impinge on customary rights and connections to the ocean, including economic, cultural, social, political and religious rights."

It should not be forgotten that too often mining appears to increase a country's poverty (Sachs, J & A Warner, "Natural resource abundance and economic growth" in Meier G & J Rauch, Leading Issues in Economic Development, 1997). "The economic benefits of mining activity tend to be concentrated in the hands of a "lucky few".

The dangerous environment degrading journey has been mentioned many times. Four years ago, based on "Ecological Footprint" calculations, the Living Planet Report said: The world was using around 30 percent more biocapacity than the global ecosystems can provide in a sustainable manner. (WWF, Zoological Society of London, Global Footprint Network, 2008)

Has the situation improved? The system that generates the crisis—crossing the earth's capacity—has not changed its course and character, which is impossible for the world system, an ingrained incapacity of the system. Rather, the world finds a more deteriorated environmental reality as deepening crises—financial, economic and political—in the dominating world system, manifested in increment competition among capitals, and in invasions and aggressions, audaciously trample down peoples' interests in countries. And, environment is one of the areas of peoples' interests.

Failure in a number of international negotiations on environmental issues is one of the images of competition among capitals engaged with environment demolishing activity. A forceful imposition of the environment-defacing regime is the order of the day. New areas are falling victim to it. Almost everyday news/facts of environmental erosion egress from corners of the world. It's a bellum internecinum, a war of extermination, against all forms of life being waged by interests connecting Economy—Society—Politics—Environment (Ec-S-P-En) grid.

Hunger, poverty and deprivation of millions of people in countries have been intensified by the financial/debt/banking/economic crises, and the so-called austerity measures, essentially measures to intensify appropriation of surplus labor and, even, necessary labor. Countries considered rich are now residences of millions of poor, unemployed, debt-ridden, homeless, hungry souls. Greece is not only a single example. Today's capitalist world, the advanced capitalist countries reeling under the Great Financial Crisis, the countries in Asia-Africa-Latin America, is the example. Should the human crisis being authored by the financial, etc. crises be considered a non-environmental issue?

Poverty, inequality, inequity are few of the biggest environmental problems in the present world. Reports on poverty, hunger, food, water, health, labor, employment, living condition pronounce this fact unequivocally.

Agriculture is the livelihood of about 1.3 billion small farmers and landless workers, of which about half—close to 560 million—are women. (IPS, "Rural Women Are Leading the Way -Will the World Follow?", part 1, Feb. 25, 2012) Farmers in the poor countries are thrown out of local market by artificially cheaper exports from the richer part of the world that dumps highly subsidized commodities in poor countries' markets. A few years ago, India's National Sample Survey Organization found more than 40 percent of farmers were keen to quit agriculture as a result of market pressures. Does the European Union's Common Agriculture Policy, the regime mainly consisting of subsidies, stop the Union from threatening the poor farmers and food security in the poor countries? A new CAP is expected to come into effect in the beginning of 2014.

International Land Coalition stated that the demand for biofuels is driving more than 50 percent of large-scale land acquisitions worldwide. "Shell and BP invested heavily in Brazilian sugar cane last year. They want to remain leaders in the fuel sector. They are lobbying in Brussels." (Daan Bauwens, "Biofuels and Hunger, Two Sides of the Same Coin") A large percentage of Guatemala's indigenous population is facing a new hunger crisis because of land grabbing, forced evictions and water diversion to create large-scale monoculture plantations for biofuel. ActionAid calculated that Europe's target of producing biofuel would require converting up to 69,000 square kilometers of natural ecosystems into cropland, an area larger than Belgium and the Netherlands combined. The conversion would annually emit 56 million tonnes of extra CO2 the equivalent of an extra 12 to 26 million cars on Europe's roads by 2020. Has this reality changed significantly?

Vol. 45, No. 51, June 30 -Jul 6, 2013

Your Comment if any