The world is sick with multiple and worsening environmental ills killing millions of people yearly, a new UN report says. Add to it the effects of environmental vandalism which causes further destruction and death. Mind you, these are committed by people for the mere fun of it, without realizing the amount of harm that such actions that often border environmental terrorism can cause on the society.
Early last December, two days after Syed Farook and Tashfeen Malik murdered 14 people at a holiday party in San Bernardino, California, the married couple’s landlord invited the media to tour their home. Inside the sparsely furnished town house, news crews trained their cameras on the dirty dishes that filled the kitchen sink and the Arabic-language books that were stacked in a closet. But each journalist inevitably gravitated to the blue-carpeted room that belonged to the killers’ 6-month-old daughter, now an orphan since her parents had elected to die in a shoot-out with police. The image of the baby’s crib, piled high with stuffed animals and fuzzy blankets, became an instant symbol of the unfathomability of Farook and Malik’s crime.
Climate change, a global major extinction of animals and plants, a human population soaring toward 10 billion, degraded land, polluted air, and plastics, pesticides and hormone-changing chemicals in the water are making the planet an increasing unhealthy place for people, says the scientific report issued once every few years.
But it may not be too late!
"There is every reason to be hopeful," report co-editors Joyeeta Gupta and Paul Ekins told The Associated Press in an email. "There is still time but the window is closing fast."
The sixth Global Environment Outlook, released solme time ago at a UN conference in Nairobi, Kenya, painted a dire picture of a planet where environmental problems interact with each other to make things even more dangerous for people. It uses the word "risk" 561 times in a 740-page report.
The report ended with "unsustainable human activities globally have degraded the Earth's ecosystems, endangering the ecological foundations of society".
But surprising enough, the same document says changes in the way the world eats, buys things, gets its energy and handles its waste could help fix the problems.
The report "is both a dramatic warning and a high-level road map for what must be done to prevent widespread disruption and even irreversible destruction of planetary life-support systems," said University of Michigan environment dean Jonathan Overpeck, who had nothing to do with the report.
Several other scientists also paid tribute to the report, which draws on existing science, data and maps.
"This report clearly shows the connections between the environment and human health and well-being," said Stuart Pimm, a Duke University ecologist.
Gupta and Ekins, environmental scientists in Amsterdam and London, said air pollution annually kills 7 million people worldwide and costs society about $5 trillion. Water pollution, with associated diseases, kills another 1.4 million.
The scientists said the most important and pressing problems facing humankind are global warming and loss of biodiversity because they are permanent and affect so many people in so many different ways.
"Time is running out to prevent the irreversible and dangerous impacts of climate change," the report says, noting that unless something changes, global temperatures will exceed the threshold of warming — another 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit (1 degree Celsius) above current temperatures — that foretells oncoming disaster.
The report details climate change impacts on human health, air, water, land and biodiversity. Almost all coastal cities and small island nations are increasingly vulnerable to flooding from rising seas and extreme weather.