"Attention has focused on oil insecurity, and rightly so, but it is not the same as food insecurity. An empty gas tank is one thing, an empty stomach another. And while there are substitutes for oil, there are none for food." –Lester R. Brown, Plan B 4.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization.
Chapter 8. Restoring the Earth: Introduction
We depend on the earth’s natural systems for goods, ranging from building materials to water, as well as for services—everything from flood control to crop pollination. Thus 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.
The devastation caused by deforestation and the soil erosion that results is exemplified by Haiti, where more than 90 percent of the original tree cover is gone, logged for firewood and cleared for crops. When hurricanes whip through the island shared by Haiti and the Dominican Republic, the carnage is often more severe for Haiti simply because there are no trees there to stabilize the soil and prevent landslides and flooding. 1
Reflecting on this desperate situation, 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 quickly take steps to reverse the damage we have caused. 2
Restoring the earth will take an enormous international effort, one far larger and more demanding than the Marshall Plan that helped rebuild war-torn Europe and Japan. And such an initiative must be undertaken at wartime speed before environmental deterioration translates into economic decline, 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 © 2009 Earth Policy Institute