Environmental advocates have a compelling story to tell, but it has been hard to get people to listen. The advocates argue that the ever increasing burden of human activities— reflected in rising world population, coupled with rising per capita GDP— is taking an increasingly heavy toll on the global environment. The impacts encompass climate change, ocean acidification, destruction of terrestrial ecosystems, the appropriation of most of the world’s great river systems for hydroelectric power projects, the depletion of fossil aquifers, the loss of topsoil, water and air pollution, and the squandering of irreplaceable resources. On a global scale, environmental capital is being liquidated at a much faster rate than it is being renewed.
Some of the consequences of our abuse of the environment are imminent. With world agricultural production leveling off, grain prices are rising. Water tables in parts of India, China, and the Middle East are dropping precipitously in response to the unsustainable use of ground water for irrigation. Without ground water as a backup, even a quite ordinary drought could trigger acute water shortages that would threaten food security. Irreversible species extinctions are occurring parts of the tropics due to the combined effects of habitat destruction and global warming. Human health is threatened by the buildup of toxic wastes in water and soils and by declining air quality.
In today’s globalized economy, environmental disruptions in populous countries anywhere in the world could profoundly affect us all.
In their efforts to warn the public that a global environmental crisis is at hand, some environmental advocates are increasingly exploiting the shock value of extreme weather events. For example, columnist Thomas Friedman has been talking about the “global weirding” of the weather. Activist/author Bill McKibben stated recently in a Youtube video: “Pretty much every day, somewhere on this planet we are breaking records that have stood for centuries…”