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    047690

    The earth's vital signs.

    Brown LR; Flavin C

    In: State of the world 1988. A Worldwatch Institute report on progress toward a sustainable society. New York, New York, W.W. Norton, 1988. 3-21.

    Most of the recognized threats to the world environment, such as the destruction of forests by acid rain, the ozone hole, population growth, energy use, and the greenhouse effect, have moved from hypothetical projections to present-day realities which can be solved only by international efforts. The Montreal accords of 1987 to limit the production of chlorofluorocarbons and the UN call for a cease-fire in the Iran-Iraq war were steps in this direction. But a look at the "vital signs" of the earth as expressed by environmental crises will show how much more is needed. Deforestation for agriculture and logging causes as estimated loss of 11 million hectares of forest each year. Deforestation means erosion. The topsoil layer, once 6-10 inches deep over the globe is being blown or washed away at the rate of 26 billion tons a year. The soil is not only being depleted, it is being contaminated by agricultural pesticides and toxic wastes. In Poland, for example, 1/4 of the soil is unfit for food production, and only 1% of the water is safe for drinking due to chemical contamination. The depletion of the ozone layer is no longer observed only in Antarctica; it has dropped up to 9% in North Dakota, Maine, and Switzerland. The loss of forests and the acidification of lakes and soil are causing whole species to become extinct. World population continues to grow, as each year 80 million more people are born than die. But the real problem is not population growth per se; it is the relationship between population size and the sustainable yield of local forests, grasslands, and croplands. In 1982 India's forests could sustain an annual harvest of 30 million tons of wood; the estimated demand was 133 million tons. In 9 Southern African countries the number of cattle exceed the carrying capacity of the grasslands by 50% to 100%. In India enough fodder is raised to supply only 50% to 80% of the needs of cattle. The results of deforestation, overgrazing and overplowing is desertification, which compounded by drought, brings famine. The relationship between population growth and land degradation is reflected in per capita food production. In China it has risen by 1/3 since 1970, but in Africa it has fallen by 1/5; and India, despite the Green Revolution, will have to import grain if there is another failure of the monsoons. Another indicator of environmental ill-health is energy consumption, which is again on the rise. Industrial use of oil and coal, especially in the US, the USSR, and China, has resulted in air pollution and acid rain, which by September 1987 had damaged 30.7 million hectares of forests in Europe. But by far the most serious result of the burning of fossil fuels and wood is the 7 billion tons of carbon discharged annually into the atmosphere, causing the greenhouse effect, which will raise the global temperature between 1.5 and 4.5 degrees Celsius by year 2050. Patterns of World settlement and agriculture will change drastically; irrigation and drainage systems will have to be adjusted; and a rise in sea levels between 1.4 and 2.2 meters by year 2100 could inundate coastal cities. In view of these deteriorating "vital signs" of the planet, nations must work together to turn one earth into one world. The Montreal accord on ozone protection and the 1987 US-Soviet arms limitation were a good beginning. The greenhouse effect and the changing climate are logical candidates for the next round of world environmental deliberations.
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