Unless we mend our collective ways, the UN says, life on Planet Earth is in for a rough ride.
Let’s admit it: we’ve been a scourge on the planet. We’ve been devastating natural environments through wanton destruction. We’ve been driving a myriad of species into extinction. We’ve been polluting the oceans. And we’ve been changing the very climate of the planet itself by pumping vast amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
Nor does it seem we are going to stop, or even slow down, any time soon. Yet we’re running out of time and our hopes for averting a planetary catastrophe are receding.
So much alarmism? Not according to the United Nations.
Unless we mend our collective ways, the UN says in its Global Sustainable Development Report 2019, life on Planet Earth is in for a very rough ride. And mending our ways must entail making drastic changes to our economies, stresses the UN’s team of experts who come from various disciplines.
“[T]he economic models which inform political decision-making in rich countries almost completely disregard the energetic and material dimensions of the economy,” they observe. “Economies have used up the capacity of planetary ecosystems to handle the waste generated by energy and material use,” they warn.
In our drive for constant economic growth at ever larger scales, we’ve been exploiting the planet’s resources at a feverish pace. Those resources are finite, however, which means we can’t go on forever exploiting them as if there was no tomorrow. Worse: consumerist lifestyles have led to vast amounts of waste being discarded carelessly, whereby the planet has been turned into one giant rubbish dump.
The solution, UN experts say, lies in rolling back our excesses and scaling down our economies so as to make them correspond to the physical limits and realities of the planet’s resources. This does not mean abandoning the very idea of economic growth, however. Rather, it means ensuring that economic growth does not come at the expense of the environment.
All that is doable if we set our minds to it collectively, aided by well-thought-out policies and judicious practices. “[W]e humans are capable of organizing ourselves into all kinds of different social orders, including societies with much longer time horizons and far more respect for natural life-support systems,” Naomi Klein, a noted critic of capitalism who is the author of the bestseller This Changes Everything: Capitalism Vs the Climate, opines in an article. People, she goes on, “have lived that way for the vast majority of our history and many Indigenous cultures keep Earth-centered cosmologies alive to this day.”
To save the planet, we must all return to a far more sustainable way of living, in other words.