As the century began, natural resources are under increasing pressure, threatening public health and development. Water shortages, soil exhaustion, loss of forests, air and water pollution, and degradation of coastlines afflict many areas. As the world's population grows, improving living standards without destroying the environment is a global challenge. Most developed economies currently consume resources much faster than they can regenerate. Most developing countries with rapid population growth face the urgent need to improve living standards. As we humans exploit nature to meet present needs, are we destroying resources needed for the future? In the past decade in every environmental sector, conditions have either failed to improve, or they are worsening: Public health: Unclean water, along with poor sanitation, kills over 12 million people each year, most in developing countries. Air pollution kills nearly 3 million more. Heavy metals and other contaminants also cause widespread health problems. Food supply: Will there be enough food to go around? In 64 of 105 developing countries studied by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, the population has been growing faster than food supplies. Population pressures have degraded some 2 billion hectares of arable land -- an area the size of Canada and the U.S. Freshwater: The supply of freshwater is finite, but demand is soaring as populations grow and use per capita rises. By 2025, when world population is projected to be 8 billion, 48 countries containing 3 billion people will face shortages. Coastlines and oceans: Half of all coastal ecosystems are pressured by high population densities and urban development. A tide of pollution is rising in the world's seas. Ocean fisheries are being overexploited, and fish catches are down.
Forests: Nearly half of the world's original forest cover has been lost, and each year another 16 million hectares are cut, bulldozed, or burned. Forests provide over US$400 billion to the world economy annually and are vital to maintaining healthy ecosystems. Yet, current demand for forest products may exceed the limit of sustainable consumption by 25%. Biodiversity: The earth's biological diversity is crucial to the continued vitality of agriculture and medicine -- and perhaps even to life on earth itself. Yet human activities are pushing many thousands of plant and animal species into extinction. Two of every three species is estimated to be in decline. Global climate change: The earth's surface is warming due to greenhouse gas emissions, largely from burning fossil fuels. If the global temperature rises as projected, sea levels would rise by several meters, causing widespread flooding. Global warming also could cause droughts and disrupt agriculture.
Scenario 2 Hopeful
As the world's population continues to grow, improving living standards without destroying the environment is becoming less and less of a global challenge. As those less developed countries economies continue to grow, people are consuming fewer resources and they are now regenerating those resources faster than ever. The developing countries are continuing to improve living standards in their respective countries at faster paces than ever before. In the coming decades, conditions are improving in greater ways and means: Public health: Cleaner water and improved sanitation are becoming more common place. Air pollution has greatly improved due to improvements in technology. Food supply: Once again, due to improving technology, there will be a greater supply of food for the entire global community. And with those lesser developed countries becoming more developed, they are more able to produce more of their own food for surplus. Freshwater: The demand for freshwater will become less and less of an issue. Improvements of filtration of groundwater and other water sources will lead to less interest in that of freshwater...