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Environment - May 16

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WWF Report: Consumption of Earth's resources unsustainable

David Morgan, CBS News
The Earth's population is depleting our planet's natural resources at a rate faster than what is needed for those resources to be replenished, putting increased pressure on biodiversity and the health of ecosystems, according to a new report by the World Wildlife Fund.

The Living Planet Report 2012, a biennial report on the state of the planet, measures the planet's biocapacity - the rate at which natural resources are generated vs. human consumption, and the land area available to produce renewable resources and absorb CO2 emissions - and finds that humans are overextending their footprint on the planet.

Under the report's measurement unit of global hectares, or gha (one gha represents an average biologically productive hectare of land area needed to sustain human life), in 2008 the Earth's total biocapacity was 12.0 billion gha, or 1.8 gha per person. However, Mankind's Ecological Footprint - what was actually consumed - was 18.2 billion gha, or 2.7 gha per person.

More than half of the Ecological Footprint represents Man's carbon footprint. The remainder is comprised of cropland and grazing land, forests, fishing grounds, and developed land.

The Ecological Footprint of high-income countries is five times that of low-income countries. According to the report the 10 nations with the highest Ecological Footprint are the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Denmark, Belgium, United States, Estonia, Canada, Australia, Kuwait and Ireland.

Download the 2012 report from WWF.
(15 May 2012)
Suggested by Asher Miller of Post Carbon Institute. More coverage at Daily Kos. -BA


Marx’s ecology and the understanding of land cover change

Ricardo Dobrovolski, Monthly Review

The spread of humans worldwide, especially in the last two hundred years, has been associated with the growing human domination of the earth.1 This domination has not only entailed an increasing world population, but also rising and unequal wealth—all of which has been accelerated by the regime of capital. Such domination of the environment is expressed by among other things: (1) the change in the flux of elements and substances on Earth, i.e., the global biogeochemical cycles (of which the most famous manifestation is the rising level of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases responsible for climate change); (2) the growing threat of species extinction; and (3) the huge land cover change (LCC)—the substitution of natural habitats such as forests, swamps, and grasslands by cropland, pasture, roads, and urban areas.2

Modern natural sciences have made enormous inroads in understanding both ecological problems and the social drivers of LCC. However, they have been unable to generate a systematic understanding of how the regime of capital has governed LCC. Karl Marx developed more than 150 years ago, in the context of a social-science critique, an unparalleled theoretical approach to environmental crisis based on two concepts: differential land rent and the metabolic rift. Here, these concepts will be applied to the understanding of LCC.

Land Cover Change: A General Understanding

To obtain necessary resources, such as food, fibers, and minerals, and for transportation and habitation, humans have transformed the land surface, replacing natural habitats with human-altered environments. About 75 percent of Earth’s ice-free land shows evidence of human alteration.3 Agriculture alone represents about 38 percent of the world’s terrestrial surface.4

LCC causes many environmental problems. It is the principal cause of species extinction and is expected to be so until 2100.5 Nowadays, 25 percent of the mammal species, 13 percent of birds, and 41 percent of amphibians—the best known groups of animal life—are threatened with extinction.6 Retention of biodiversity is crucial for ecosystem processes like productivity, stability, nutrient retention, beneficial water regimes, and invasion resistance.7 In turn these processes are very important for humankind, since natural ecosystems provide many life-sustaining resources like the pollination of food crops, soil formation, nutrient cycling, water supply, residues treatment, medical resources, and even food itself.

The worldwide destruction of forests and other natural habitats has stimulated research into the causes of LCC.

... In brief, the concepts developed by Marx in the nineteenth century are very useful to a contemporary understanding of LCC. The acknowledgement of the importance of Marx’s ecology is a crucial step in comprehending how human social organization produces changes in the earth. This recovery of Marx’s ideas could help improve ecological science itself, since there is a lack of understanding of the dialectical character of the social metabolism between humanity and nature. Marx’s work also helps us to recognize that the negative dynamics of resource use under capitalism must be replaced by the rational-scientific planning of production with the object of satisfying people’s needs and promoting the conservation of natural processes—if we are to overcome the current structural crisis of the economy and the environment.

Ricardo Dobrovolski is a biologist and post doctoral researcher in the Ecology Department of Universidade Federal de Goiás, Brazil.
(15 May 2012)
Traditional socialism has not been an ally of environmentalism. The respected socialist journal, Monthly Review. has sought to recover the ecological strands of Marxist thought with writers such as John Bellamy Foster and soil scientist Fred Magdoff.

About Monthly Review

In May 1949 Monthly Review began publication in New York City, as cold war hysteria gathered force in the United States. The first issue featured the lead article Why Socialism? by Albert Einstein. From the first Monthly Review spoke for socialism and against U.S. imperialism, and is still doing so today. From the first Monthly Review was independent of any political organization, and is still so today.



New Report issues a warning about humanity’s ability to survive without a major change in direction

Club of Rome
The book, 2052: A Global Forecast for the Next Forty Years, by Jorgen Randers, launched by the Club of Rome on May 7, raises the possibility that humankind might not survive on the planet if it continues on its path of over-consumption and short-termism.

In the Report author Jorgen Randers raises essential questions: How many people will the planet be able to support? Will the belief in endless growth crumble? Will runaway climate change take hold? Where will quality of life improve, and where will it decline? Using painstaking research, and drawing on contributions from more than 30 thinkers in the field, he concludes that:

  • While the process of adapting humanity to the planet’s limitations has started, the human response could be too slow.
  • The current dominant global economies, particularly the United States, will stagnate. Brazil, Russia, India, South Africa and ten leading emerging economies (referred to as ‘BRISE’ in the Report) will progress.
  • But there will still be 3 billion poor in 2052.
  • China will be a success story, because of its ability to act.
  • Global population will peak in 2042, because of falling fertility in urban areas
  • Global GDP will grow much slower than expected, because of slower productivity growth in mature economies.
  • CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere will continue to grow and cause +2°C in 2052; temperatures will reach +2.8°C in 2080, which may well trigger self-reinforcing climate change.

The Report says the main cause of future problems is the excessively short-term predominant political and economic model.

... Published in the run-up to the Rio Summit, this Report to the Club of Rome: 2052: A Global Forecast for the Next Forty Years (published by US publishers Chelsea Green) looks at issues first raised in The Limits to Growth, 40 years ago. This earlier Report, also to the Club of Rome, of which Randers was a co-author, created shock waves by questioning the ideal of permanent growth.

The Report is published by US publishers: Chelsea Green.
E-Publication date: 1 June 2012, eBook ISBN 9781603584227 • 304 pages | Print publication date: 15 June 2012: Hardcover ISBN 9781603584678 • $34.95 • 304 pages | Paperback ISBN 9781603584210 • $24.95 • 304 pages | The book can be pre-ordered at www.chelseagreen.com.
European distribution by Green Books (UK)

(7 May 2012)



The Big Fix: documentary exposes BP, U.S. Gov't on Gulf disaster/Interview: the Tickells, filmmakers

Jan Lundberg, Culture Change
One of the world's biggest environmental crimes has been more or less forgotten. This is part of our collective guilt as the world's ecosystem continues its accelerated collapse. But the new documentary film The Big Fix takes a detailed, daring look at what happened in the Gulf of Mexico with BP's Macondo offshore oil drilling rig. The story and facts that emerge are more than disturbing.

The movie is soon getting its major national release in theaters and on Netflix. Viewers will be made to recall the unsettling images of oil slicks, fouled fowl, suddenly unemployed fisher folk, and empty assurances by BP and the Feds.

The partially U.S.-owned British oil company has its origins in geopolitical skullduggery in Iran, explained in the film's narration and images. The history makes more convincing the subsequent telling of of the corporation's and the U.S. government's going to great pains to lie that all was being done that could be done to minimize the blowout's damage and to clean up the mess.
(8 May 2012)



Game Over for the Climate

James Hansen, New York Times (op ed)
GLOBAL warming isn’t a prediction. It is happening. That is why I was so troubled to read a recent interview with President Obama in Rolling Stone in which he said that Canada would exploit the oil in its vast tar sands reserves “regardless of what we do.”

If Canada proceeds, and we do nothing, it will be game over for the climate.

Canada’s tar sands, deposits of sand saturated with bitumen, contain twice the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by global oil use in our entire history. If we were to fully exploit this new oil source, and continue to burn our conventional oil, gas and coal supplies, concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere eventually would reach levels higher than in the Pliocene era, more than 2.5 million years ago, when sea level was at least 50 feet higher than it is now.
(9 May 2012)

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