Assessing ecological deficits

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Written by Lao Tzu

Those of us who were born before 1950 are members of the first generation to witness a doubling of the world population during our lifetime.  Stated otherwise, the growth in world population since 1950 is greater than during the preceding 4 million years since our early ancestors stood upright.

While the capacities of the earth's natural systems have not increased--and in many cases have diminished--the demands being placed o­n them have risen dramatically.  World water use has tripled since 1950.  The oceanic fish catch has expanded nearly fivefold.  The pressures o­n forests to supply fuel, lumber, and paper have multiplied severalfold.  Paper use has increased sixfold. Pressures o­n rangelands have intensified as the demand for beef and mutton has nearly tripled since 1950.

In much of the world, the demands placed o­n natural systems have become excessive, leading to their deterioration and, in some locations, to their collapse.  The relationship between the global economy and the earth's ecosystems in a increasingly stressed o­ne.  Many of these stresses, including expanding deserts and increasingly frequent dust storms, rising temperature, falling water tables, eroding soils, collapsing fisheries, melting glaciers, and rising seas directly affect the food prospect. These signs of stress, these trends of deterioration, are in large measure the result of market failures.  The market has many strengths, but it also has some weaknesses that were evident when the human enterprise was much smaller.

As the economy expands, the market's weaknesses are beginning to surface.  Three stand out:  its lack of respect for the sustainable-yield thresholds of naural systems, its inability to value nature's services properly, and its failure to incorporate the indirect cost of providing goods and services into their prices.

Lester Brown, The Earth Policy Reader, pp.29-30-31.

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