A WORLD ON THE BRINK
I would like to thank all the following who have given me the inspiration to write this book:
All those who work for the World Wildlife Fund For Nature (WWF), The World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA), Friends of the Earth (FOE) and Greenpeace
Sir David Attenborough
Deborah and Neil
My mother, father, brother, sister and grandma Bertha Most of all, my daughter Madeleine and my son Jacob
Foreword Chapter I Chapter II Chapter III Chapter IV Chapter V Chapter VI Chapter VII
Oil Wars – Democracy or the New Imperialism?
Planet Earth – The Multinational Corporation
A Climate of Injustice
The Future – What Does it Hold?
Why is it that we largely ignore the destruction of the environment of which we are a part, and on which our future depends? Food, clean water, medicines and protection from hazards, both natural and those related to human conflict are important ingredients in maintaining our security and quality of life – yet their continued availability is increasingly under threat as a result of the unsustainable lifestyle of those people who predominantly live in the developed world. In some ways we are a loving and caring society, exemplified by how we nurture our children. If we look beyond our own doorstep though, this is not the case – the way in which we in the developed world choose to live is having a devastating impact on the rest of the world, with mass suffering of both humans and wildlife. At the extreme our behaviour can be likened to that of the Schistocerca Gregaria, commonly known as the Desert Locust. During quiet periods called recessions, Desert Locusts live in harmony with their surrounding environment and take only what they need. But under optimal ecological and climatic conditions they enter the gregarious phase during which time locusts congregate into thick, mobile, ravenous swarms devastating crops and cause major agricultural damage and attendant human misery ‐ famine and starvation. Is my statement that likens human behaviour to that of locust unfair? That is for you to decide but parallels can easy be drawn with our financial markets, which move us between periods of recession and gregarious phases, which we call economic growth. During recessions the consumers, you and me, become more self‐sufficient and spend less money, which is good for the environment. But during periods of economic growth we become gregarious, taking far more than we need and causing untold damage to the environment. The statement is also easy to quantify. The Living Planet Index (LPI) uses population trends in species from around the world to assess the state of global diversity and tracks nearly 4000 populations. Between 1970 and 2005 the LPI declined by 27%, and thirty‐five species become extinct
every day in the tropical rainforests, extinct meaning forever. In terms of forest coverage, the equivalent area of thirty seven‐football pitches is lost every minute. Another measure of human activity is the Ecological Footprint, which measures human demands on the biosphere to produce resources and absorb carbon dioxide. In 2003, the most recent year for which there are data, humanity’s total footprint exceeded the productive capacity of the biosphere by 25%. In other words we are using up earth’s natural resources a lot quicker than they can be replaced. Unfortunately once harvested many of the resources cannot be replaced, it is not possible to simply cut down rainforests and replace them like for like. Unchecked, our behaviour is going to have an adverse impact on all of us. Food supplies will be affected, even in the developed world ‐ more than 50 % of global fish stocks are already fully exploited and 25 % overexploited, depleted or recovering from depletion. According to some scientists, commercial fishing will be no longer viable by 2048. As many as 50 % of our prescription drugs are based on a molecule that occurs naturally in a plant – our search for new medical cures continues to diminish as we destroy increasing amounts of our rainforests. Travel will become more expensive and less enjoyable as the natural world continues to disappear. Of course the impact of deforestation and climate change is going to be felt more so in the developing world. Presently a child dies every twenty seconds in the developing world as a result of water‐related disease, by 2050 it is expected that 2.8 billion people will live in water‐stressed areas. Perhaps most disturbing those is our reliance on oil and the western governments’ attempts to cover up the reasons as to why we have chosen to go to war in Asia as opposed to in Zimbabwe or Rwanda, where in 1994 657,000 civilians were murdered in the space of 4 months. The reasons certainly are not to make our ‘homelands’ safer or to reduce opium on the streets of the UK – the main threat to our own security is from the radicalization of young Muslims that has resulted from our invasion of their mother countries, as for opium, its production in Afghanistan has increased
150% between 2001‐2007. Instead, the reason for choosing our wars is energy, this is definitely no conspiracy theory – the Caspian states in central Asia contain the biggest untapped reserves of oil and natural gas in the world. With oil starting to dry out in many other parts of the world any nation wishing to remain a serious player needs to have a foothold in this region. Russia already has a strong foothold as does Iran – Afghanistan in the South and East of the region occupies a pivotal position and stability in this area, requiring removal of the Taliban, would enable the U.S. to access this vast energy reserve. As a doctor of medicine I like to think I am doing good for others, but when I step outside of my own world I know I am as much to blame as the other 700 million ‘middle class’ citizens of the developed world who are responsible for more than half the worlds CO2 emissions and depletion of much of the natural world. Even in the field of medicine the National Health Service (NHS) is responsible for more than 25% of the UK’s industrial CO2 production, and we welcome medical staff from developing countries, hence, further taking away from their capacity to deliver healthcare. The behaviour of the human species has changed. We used to cherish family from young to old age, be content with what we needed to live on and go to war only to protect our country. Now we live beyond our means, expect society to look after the elderly and go to war to protect our energy supplies so we can go on living an unsustainable way of living. Unless we change our ways the human race will fail itself and all the other species in the one and only world we have. I love life and have no intention to give up those things that I have a passion for, such as skiing and travel, but I am prepared to give enough back to the environment to afford me life’s luxuries, the question is ‐ are you? Dr Tim Cunliffe, 1st January 2011