The question seems so big, and yet scientists, and now all the nations in the United Nations, say the issue of our changing environment is urgent. Very urgent.
We might be forgiven for thinking that the environmental problem would more or less be solved if we used less fossil fuels or found a clean-energy alternative, and recycled more of our garbage. But the problem seems to be a little more complex than this.
It is not in dispute that the world’s human population has increased by more than a third in the last twenty years. We are running out of land to grow enough food to feed everyone, and enough of the clean water we need to meet our daily needs for cooking, washing, and brushing our teeth. If everyone lived to the standard of the developed world, at current rates we need one third more land than we have.
The good news is that the average farmer increased output by 40%, so we are getting a lot more food per acre than we used to. But the bad news is that much of our land use is causing erosion, degradation and contamination. Fertilizers and irrigation are reducing the quantity and quality of the water in our rivers. We have less usable water, and more deserts and droughts.
The destruction of hedges, forests, and wild land is destroying the diversity that supports a variety of different species on land, and overfishing and water pollution are destroying marine life on a dangerous scale. The pollution often destroys the smallest forms of marine life, which means that the food source for larger fish and mammals disappears. So the larger fish and mammals are under threat too, even if they are not fished out. On land, 25 species of primates are facing the threat of extinction. Gorillas, lemurs and orang-utans, those wonderful entertaining, ingenious, socializing companions, are at the top of the at-risk list.
Are these problems solvable? Yes.
Will we solve them? It depends. I think it does depend on us.