Human race is killing planet, says Meacher
Paul Brown, environment correspondent
Friday February 14, 2003
Michael Meacher, the environment minister, believes there is a real question mark over the survival of the human race, and in a lecture today compares the species to a virus which is in danger of destroying the planet.
In his lecture, to be delivered at Newcastle University, Mr Meacher says: "The sheer scale of what is now required [to save the planet] has never been attempted and the shortfall between scientific theory and political action remains huge. There is a lot wrong with our world. But it is not as bad as many people think. It is actually worse."
He details the major problems - lack of fresh water, destruction of forest and crop land, global warming with its storms and flooding, overuse of natural resources and continuing population rise.
He says the traditional view of humans as the dominant species and the pinnacle of the process of evolution seems flawed by an inability to recognise and respect the conditions that underpin our existence.
"Five times in the history of the last 540 million years on Earth there have been mass extinctions, in one case involving the destruction of 96% of species then living.
"But whilst that was previously the result of asteroid strikes or intense glaciation, this is the first time in the history of the Earth that species themselves by their own activities are at risk of generating their own demise. What we now face is a transformation of our world and its ecosystems at an exponential rate, and unprecedentedly brought about not by natural forces, but by the activities of the dominant species across the planet."
In his lecture, he says the relentless increase in economic exploitation, energy utilisation and population growth is at risk of driving the elasticities of the world's ecosystems beyond their tolerance limits.
Mr Meacher says there are three possible ways out of the looming disaster.
One is to seek international agreement about "safe" levels of exploitation of natural resources. A second is to develop alternative technologies or processes. And a third is to find the political means to allocate rights and opportunities globally in an equitable manner within environmental safety limits.
He says the magnitude of this challenge is immense but the difficulty needs to be set against the even greater magnitude of the consequences of failure - a real question mark over the survival of species.
"The dinosaurs dominated the Earth for 160 million years. We are in real danger of putting our future at risk within a mere quarter of a million years.
"The lesson is that if we continue with activities which destroy our environment and undermine the conditions for our own survival, we are the virus. Making the change needed to avoid that fate is perhaps the greatest challenge we have ever faced."
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