"World on Edge details the vice closing around us: a quadruple squeeze of global warming and shortages in food, water and energy. Then it explains the path out—and how little time we have left to take that path. Got anything more important to read than that?" —Peter Goldmark, former head of the Port authority of New York and New Jersey, President of the Rockefeller Foundation, and CEO of the International Herald Tribune
Chapter 8. Restoring the Earth: Introduction
We are dependent on the earth’s natural systems for goods, ranging from building materials to seafood, as well as services, ranging from flood control to crop pollination. If croplands are eroding and harvests are shrinking, if water tables are falling and wells are going dry, if grasslands are turning to desert and livestock are dying, we are in trouble. If civilization’s environmental support systems continue to decline, eventually civilization itself will follow.
In Chapter 5 we discussed the deforestation, soil erosion, and devastation of Haiti’s countryside. After looking at the desperate situation in Haiti, Craig Cox, Executive Director of the U.S.-based Soil and Water Conservation Society, wrote, “I was reminded recently that the benefits of resource conservation—at the most basic level—are still out of reach for many. Ecological and social collapses have reinforced each other in a downward spiral into poverty, environmental degradation, social injustice, disease, and violence.” Unfortunately, the situation Cox describes is what lies ahead for more and more countries if we do not restore the earth’s health. 1
Restoring the earth will take an enormous international effort, one far larger and more demanding than the often-cited Marshall Plan that helped rebuild war-torn Europe and Japan. And such an initiative must be undertaken at wartime speed lest environmental deterioration translate into economic decline and state failure, just as it did for earlier civilizations that violated nature’s thresholds and ignored its deadlines.
1. Craig A. Cox, “Conservation Can Mean Life or Death,” Journal of Soil and Water Conservation, November/December 2004.
Copyright © 2008 Earth Policy Institute