The challenges facing our planet are increasingly hard to ignore – population is rising rapidly, resources are being used lavishly, and the environment is feeling the impact of it all.
With all this going on, it can be hard to get our heads around the facts of the situation. But in order to make informed decisions about how to better our world, it’s exactly facts that we need! Here are six startling but important truths about the state of our planet now.
Human demand is now far larger than what the Earth can indefinitely sustain. Many large economies use more resources than can be provided within their own borders. For example, Japan needs five times its own area to sustain current consumption. China and the UK are also among countries demanding more than can be provided from their own territory.
World population increase and economic growth have led to an explosion in demand for resources. As the overall level of consumption has risen, there has been a dramatic increase in the amount of waste generated. That waste includes food, wood, metals, construction materials, and plastics, as well as complex high-technology products such as cars and computers. The production of all of these items results in greenhouse gas emissions, and even more are added during the process of disposing of them: for example, rotting food waste in landfill sites releases methane, a very powerful climate-changing gas.
In 1900, the world produced about half a million tonnes (0.55 million tons) of solid waste per day. By 2000, that quantity was six times higher, and by 2100, based on projected population, social and economic trends, it is expected to quadruple again to about 12 million tonnes. Adopting more ecologically sound consumption patterns and increasing recycling could, however, lead to a much lower daily peak of approximately 9.5 million tonnes by the middle of the 21st century.
Sea levels are rising because of land-based ice melt and because ocean water expands as it gets warmer. The rate of sea level rise since the mid-19th century has been larger than the average rate during the previous two millennia. From 1880 to 2013, global mean sea level rose by about 23 cm (9 in). It will rise further as the ocean continues to warm and the melting of glaciers and polar ice sheets increases. The consequences of sea level rise are particularly severe in low-lying countries such as Bangladesh.
In many rich and more developed countries, growing numbers of people are becoming overweight or obese, while in many developing countries a large proportion of people are undernourished. These outcomes are linked to various factors, including political and climatic conditions, and the proportion of their income people must spend on food. Despite an increase in food production during recent decades, poverty and hunger remain closely related. Inclusive economic growth is needed to improve the incomes and livelihood of the poor, which would help to reduce hunger and malnutrition.
Many parts of the world have marked seasons that are important for farming, water supply, energy demand, and for sustaining the complex relationships between different wildlife species. Although many seasonal changes have been fairly predictable, longer-term shifts in climate are causing some patterns and relationships to fall out of balance – for example because of the earlier arrival of spring warmth and earlier flowering of plants.
Records reaching back decades, and in some cases centuries, allow scientists to document long-term trends. These records include date on the first and last leaves on gingko trees in Japan, and dates of first butterfly appearances in the UK, bird migrations in Australia, and of course temperature records that reveal increasingly short winters and the earlier arrival of spring. More important than these individual changes, however, is the impact that they may have on the many different and complex relationships between the elements of the natural world.
Water resources are more vital to world trade than oil and financial capital. Similar to a carbon footprint, a “water footprint” shows the extent and location of water used by individuals, businesses, and countries. This allows us to calculate the amount of “virtual” water. This is the water used to make traded goods and helps to reveal which countries rely on freshwater imports to meet their needs – for example, those with limited water resources of their own.
Each person in the United Kingdom uses an average of 145 litres (32 gallons) of water each day for cooking, cleaning and washing. When including virtual water, however, this figure rises to a colossal 3,400 litres (748 gallons) per day. Cotton and leather goods have a significant water footprint. The longer these products can be made to last, the lower their overall impact will be.
The good news? Change is achievable! The unmissable guide What's Really Happening To Our Planet? is the only book to fully review the current state of the planet and the way in which our unchecked human activity could change the world forever, with a perspective on what we can do to reverse the damage. Wide ranging, heart-stopping research is distilled into one reliable and eye-opening book.