The State of the Earth: Environmental Challenges on the Road to 2100

The State of the Earth: Environmental Challenges on the Road to 2100

The State of the Earth: Environmental Challenges on the Road to 2100

The State of the Earth: Environmental Challenges on the Road to 2100

Synopsis

The pace of human progress accelerated profoundly in the twentieth century, spawning revolutionary advances in medicine, agriculture, and industry. Between 1900 and 2000, the world's population quadrupled, and production and consumption of goods increased by a factor of twelve. In The State of the Earth, award-winning historian Paul K. Conkin offers a balanced, nuanced, and ultimately hopeful assessment of the major environmental challenges that must be met after a century of torrid growth and development. Unlike many recent polemics that reduce serious environmental debates to partisan political arguments,The State of the Earthprovides a thorough and scientifically informed introduction to current environmental concerns. Conkin demonstrates how the explosion in population, production, and consumption has begun to deplete critical resources such as soil nutrients and fresh water, leading to potentially widespread shortages in the world's poorest regions. Fossil fuel emissions have assured a rapid increase in greenhouse gases and contributed to rising surface and ocean temperatures, a warming that is almost certain to continue throughout the twenty-first century. Conkin explains how the complex interactions between pollution, warming, and resource depletion may threaten the planet's biodiversity and endanger innumerable species. The State of the Earth, however, is much more than a summary statement of potential catastrophes. Conkin details the long history of global conservation and environmental protection movements and places their efforts in accessible historical, theoretical, and scientific contexts. He anchors his analysis with the awareness that environmental concerns are simultaneously hotly debated political issues, variables in economic decision making, and matters of extraordinary social and cultural significance. Conkin's mission is neither to proclaim certain doom nor to suggest blithely that technological innovation and other free-market solutions will soon repair the damage already done. Rather,The State of the Earthexplains the realities and consequences of ecological disruption, unsustainable growth, and environmental degradation. Conkin provides a sober and comprehensive introduction to the science and history of the environmental challenges facing humans in the new century, highlighting the need to act now on a global scale to reverse these troubling trends.

Excerpt

I suspect few people regret the passing of the twentieth century. It is impossible to forget the troubled events from 1914 to 1945: international turmoil, two great wars, a worldwide depression, the rise of two totalitarian ideologies and regimes, the cruelty of the Holocaust, and total warfare encompassing civilian populations. Just as remarkable, and possibly even more momentous in long-term consequences, was the unprecedented, and almost incomprehensible, growth of human populations and human consumption during that century.

After growing from 1.7 billion to 3 billion from 1900 to 1960, the world population doubled, from 3 billion to just over 6 billion, from 1960 to 2000. The United Nations Population Division estimated a population of almost 6.5 billion in 2005. By most estimates, the world’s population will be around 9 billion by 2050. Of the necessary conditions for this population explosion, two are all but obvious. One was the development and worldwide dissemination of new knowledge and new technologies in the prevention and cure of diseases. This increased life expectancy in all parts of the world, but with the most dramatic consequences in much of Africa and Asia. The other necessary condition was the dramatic increase of human economic productivity, with the most critical improvement in agriculture. This resulted from a continued but accelerated use of new knowledge and more efficient tools. The energy for this productivity explosion came largely from the controlled burning of organic materials.

The economic growth exceeded that of population. Estimates here are not exact, but in rough terms the world domestic product and energy use rose by at least twelve times in the twentieth century. Most of this increase was in the twenty-five wealthiest countries, but some growth occurred in all areas of the world. Humans used more fossil fuels in this one century than in all past history. This accompanied a near tenfold increase in water use. As with population, most of this growth came . . .

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