Degeneration of forests/water/soil; Consumption
Problems caused by waste.
Degeneration of forests:
The destruction of forests causes an increase in CO2 in the atmosphere due to
the decomposition and burning of the forest and the fact that there are fewer
trees to remove carbon dioxide from the air. In fact, deforestation is second
only to fossil fuels as a human source of atmospheric carbon dioxide. According
to the World Resources Institute we are currently losing about 12 million
hectares of natural forest annually. To save the natural forest ecosystem we
would have to reduce the culture of consumption in the key developed countries,
1 But it may already be too late. According to Edward Goldsmith, the process is now completely out of control.
"does not see anything in place that can conceivably stop the continued
destruction of the world's forests until there are no accessible forests left,
or rather until it has become uneconomic to cut down any more. The demand of the
First World countries for hardwood is insatiable. It has increased fifteen-fold
since World-War II, 2 and
can be reduced only by prices becoming exorbitant. There is no law anywhere to
prevent corporations from clear cutting forests."
The rain forests are extremely rich. They are among the oldest living systems on
earth, having evolved during the past millions of years in an environment that
was especially favorable. 3
It is unbelievable that they are in the process of being extinguished, and that
at the rate of more than an acre a second. 4
For example, deforestation causes the habitat destruction of over 10,000 square
miles per year in the Amazon Basin!
The rate of tropical deforestation in 1989 was almost the double of that in
1979, with roughly 1.8% of the remaining forests disappearing each year. The
biologist Norman Myers estimates that worldwide this amounts to 20 million
hectares being yearly destroyed or seriously depleted. 3 Once the fragile and
irreplaceable life system is extinguished it will never be the same. It could
come back if the damage is limited, but on the scale in which the rain forests
are presently being damaged they would never recover.
The conversion of tropical rain forests to cattle ranches to supply the
fast-food hamburger stands of the First World countries is the most wasteful and
destructive use of these forests. In 1988 in Brazil, 40,000 square miles of
tropical forest (i.e., an area the size of England, Scotland, and Wales) were
burned down - US researchers estimate that by 2020 less than 5% of it will
remain in pristine conditions. The beef produced as a result of this plunder was
and still is exported to the U.S.
A 1980 study of West African countries showed that the demand for wood for
fuel exceeded the estimated sustainable yield of forests in eleven of the
thirteen countries surveyed. In both Mauritania and the mountainous areas of
Rwanda, the demand for firewood is ten times the yield of the remaining forests.
5 As to the forests of
Central Africa, it is estimated that about one fifth of them will be gone within
15 years. The amount of firewood burnt by a single family in Africa (or in
India) is quite small, but it is to be multiplied by an enormous population to
assess the rate with which the forests are disappearing.
The rate of destruction of the rainforests in the Philippines is alarming -
they have dwindled from the original 17.5 million hectares to less than 1
million today. Similarly, in 1920 the extent of mangroves in the Philippines
was estimated at around 500,000 hectares. Today, the figure is less than 150,000
Figures from the Borealnet.org tell us that trees logged from Canada's Boreal
Forests in a single year (1994-95) would fill up more than 4,300,000 logging
trucks, which lined up bumper to bumper would encircle the world 2.5 times. The
situation is similar in Siberia - as fast as timber flows out of the Russian Far
East, consumer goods are pouring in from Japan, China, and Korea, wrapped in
packaging produced from Russian pulp. 1
And yet the forests of the north and the taigas are essential to the health of
the world and humanity.
Degeneration of water supplies:
The amount of water in the world is finite. Humanity is growing quickly and its
water use is growing even more quickly. Global water consumption rose six-fold
between 1900 and 1995, which is more than double the rate of population growth.
Without considering cooking, washing, and sanitation, for most people the
absolute minimum needed to stay healthy is around 0.8 US gallons (3 liters) per
day. In a hot climate people exerting themselves could consume more than 5.4
gallons (20 liters) per day. Direct sanitation needs require additional 6
gallons (25 liters) per day, and so does bathing and cooking. 6 This brings the reasonable
minimum of water to 13 gallons (50 liters) per person per day, plus water needed
to grow food, produce energy, and so on. In the US the average person uses about
99 gallons (380 liters) per day for indoor residential use. in the Netherlands
the average is just over 26 gallons (100 liters) per day. 6 However, the latter is exceptional.
Nearly half a billion people around the world faced water shortages in 2000. By
2025, the number is expected to grow to 2.8 billion people. Of these, at least 1
billion people live in countries facing absolute scarcity of water. The most
over-populated countries of Asia, Latin America, and Africa, with a third of the
world's population, have to survive on largely polluted and overused rivers and
wells - as many as 2.3 billion people in the world in 2000 suffered from
diseases linked to water (such as dysentery, cholera, and typhoid). By 2025,
their number is expected to rise to two-thirds. Of course, humans are not the
only ones who suffer - wildlife suffers as well: The level of the Aral Sea has
fallen some 40 feet (12 m) as a result of excessive withdrawal of water from the Syr-Darya and the Amu-Darya rivers. The sea has shrunk to half its size, its
port is now 30 miles (50 km) off the shoreline. The bottom is becoming a desert.
Out of fourteen species of fish originally in the lake, only one survives. 5
Current estimates by WHO find that roughly 1.1 billion people do not have
access to clean water to meet their basic daily needs, and that 2.4 billion
people don't have adequate sanitation. These conditions lead to at least 5
million deaths every year from water-related diseases. 6
Problems for the ecologist are also caused by the pollution of the sea. Not
only is waste and poison dumped into the sea by all the polluted rivers; noxious
fumes from industries, homes, and automobiles end up there as well. In the US
alone, 142 million tonnes of air-borne pollution end up every year in the
oceans. 2 Another source of
pollution are the supertankers (Torrey Canyon discharged 100,000 tonnes of crude
oil into the English Channel) and oil intentionally discharged each year from
the world's navies and merchant fleets.
It would cost $170 billion to provide clean water and healthy sewage
treatment for all.
That should not be beyond the resources of our present global economy.
Degeneration of water supplies:
There is not enough land for farming, and no hope of finding more. The
deterioration of soil on agricultural land is worldwide. 35% of the world's
arable land is in danger of being turned into desert, and the process is already
going on: Globally, each year eleven million hectares of productive land is
turned into wasteland. 2 For
example, the Bureau of Soil in the Philippines estimates that over 500
million tones of soil are eroded annually. 2
As a result of human activity dictated by greed, the amount of topsoil
disappearing each year is equivalent to the total topsoil of the entire wheat
belt of Australia (113,000 square kilometers)
The deserts are expanding in sub-Saharan Africa, south-central Asia,
Australia, the western United States, and southern South America. Farmers are
having to turn to increasingly marginal land, and the good land is often taking
a battering. Soil degradation has already reduced global agricultural
productivity by 13% in the last half-century. This was aggravated by
waterlogging and high salinity. Our agricultural land is eroding faster than
soil can possibly form by natural processes 8
Neither the intensification of production nor the introduction of genetic
hybrids can solve the problem. 9
In the USA one third of the cropland is now seriously eroded. For every
bushel of corn that a US farmer in Iowa harvests, two bushels of soil are lost
through erosion. This adds up to a loss of 4,000 million tones of topsoil each
year. 3 If this continues,
then there will be no possibility of feeding people because there is not going
to be enough soil to grow the food. 9
On the other side of the globe, in 1972, British agriculture was losing 150,000
acres per year.
Land is a finite resource, so the present exploitative approach to it cannot
continue much longer. Even so we must always act in the full knowledge that the
soil that is lost so quickly took hundreds and thousands of years to build up.
The well-being of our society depends on the resources provided by the earth.
There are removable resources such as timber, food, and water, and non-renewable
re-sources such as fossil fuels and minerals; the earth also provides
maintenance of the life-support systems such as pollution absorption capacity.
Until the world population reached 3 billion the means the earth provided were
adequate. However, the present growth in population coupled with industrial
growth has caused all the resources, which are limited, to be outstripped by
human demands. And they are not just overexploited to a small degree: Both
society and the natural world are being destroyed at such a rate that the very
survival of our species on this planet is now seriously threatened. 10
It seems that humans have forgotten how long it took for the Earth to evolve
the current natural resources. The evolution process took billions of years to
achieve, with humans occupying this planet for only over a million
years. Before becoming industrialists, they consumed less than a third of the
available food resources. They did not clear forests for agricultural land, nor
did they hack down trees for building houses, nor were they shortsighted enough
to exterminate the wild animals on which they depended for their livelihood.
9 It has taken us just 150
years to do all the damage.
Not everybody has contributed to the depletion of natural resources to the same
extent. The demands made by the people in industrialized countries and the Third
World elite are often 10 to 20 times higher than those made by the poor. 11 Six percent of the world's
population in the United States is consuming 40% of the world's nonrenewable
resources, 12 The total
figures for the world's major industrial nations are no better: 20% of the
world's population consume as much as 80% of the world's resources. The
developed nations consume such disproportionate amounts of protein, raw
materials, and fuels that, unless they considerably reduce their consumption,
there is no hope for the undeveloped nations markedly improving their standard
of living. 9 The idea that
they will be able to eventually catch up with the West is not realistic. Should
everyone in the developing countries use the same amount of energy as the
average consumer in high income countries does, the developing countries' energy
use would increase more than eight-fold in the next 50 years. And where would
the energy come from?
The International Energy Agency says the world will need almost 60% more
energy in 2030 than it did in 2002. At the same time, oil industry experts
estimate that current reserves will only last for about 40 years, and the
accessible reserves of coal will also be consumed within the foreseeable future.
According to Walter Youngquist, 13
by March 1998 we have consumed more than 800 million barrels of oil. At the same
time, we knew that another 850 million barrels are in reserve, with just about
150 million extra barrels yet to be discovered. After not quite 140 years we
have consumed 44.5% of oil, this irreplaceable resource accumulated by
geological processes during more than 500 million years. Life will go on without
it, but in what form? Currently, oil consumption is being taken care of by some
600 million gasoline- and diesel-powered vehicles operating in the world, and we
have no idea what available alternative energy sources could individually or
collectively replace the required 72 million barrels of petroleum a day. We do
not even seem to think that far ahead: According to Paul and Anne Ehrlich,
"in the U.S. the Reagan administration relaxed the efficiency standards
of automobiles (standards that had already been met by Chrysler). If these
regulations had been kept in place, within a decade or so the amount of
gasoline saved would have been equivalent to the entire amount of oil
estimated to underlie the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. That single step
could have both removed a threat to one of the last really wild places on
Earth and would have reduce pollution in cities." 14
At present rates of consumption we also have to face the exhaustion of known
re-serves of silver, aluminum, gold, cobalt, chromium, iron, mercury,
manganese, molybdenum, nickel, lead, platinum, tin, tungsten, and zinc.
We can allow the present growth rate in ecological demand to persist only at the
cost of disrupting ecosystems and exhausting resources.
Apparently, many people are comforted by the fact that they can afford to
waste. However, all the waste is immoral, and so is the behavior of our
throw-away Western society. The more 'developed' we get, the more we throw away.
The misuse and squandering of natural and human means in the First World (mostly
Christian) countries not only shortens the resources, but is also directly
related to the poverty which affect more and more of the world's population. The
life-style and consumption patterns of many people in the First World countries
are beyond what the Earth can support. 15
In the mid 1990s, OECD countries were producing almost two tonnes of industrial
and household waste per person each year. 3
The United States is 'the world's number one producer of garbage' consuming 30%
of all the planet's resources and producing 30% of all its waste, despite the
fact that it has less than 5% of the world's population. According to Heather
Rogers every American discards over 200 pounds (90 kg) of rubbish a year. 16 This means that each year
Americans generate several millions of tonnes of trash in the form of wrappings,
bottles, boxes, cans, grass clippings, furniture, clothing, phone books, and
much more. Consumer durables all too often end up prematurely in landfill, but
it appears that the largest contributor to waste is uneaten food, which is a
matter of serious concern. The waste output of an average American has nearly
doubled in the last 40 years.
According to an American research 17,
foods that are regularly thrown away include bread, fruit, milk, cheese, meat
and fish, and even unfinished bottles of wine. At least a third of the people
surveyed suggested that they throw food away on a regular basis, many of them
every week. Thrown away is frozen food that was too old to eat, over-ordered
take-away meals, unused bagged salad or fruit, and similar items. On average,
US households waste 14% of their food purchases. 15% of that includes products
still within their expiration date but never opened. Timothy Jones of the
University of Arizona Bureau of Applied Research in Anthropology estimates
an average family of four currently tosses out $ 590 per year, just in meat,
fruits, vegetables, and grain products. Nationwide, he says, household waste
alone adds up to $43 billion.
According to a study by the University of Arizona Garbage Project,
Americans throw away 1.3 pounds of food every day, or 474.5 pounds per year. A
recent (2005) study revealed that almost half of the food in US goes to waste;
40 to 50% of all food ready for harvest never gets eaten. Not only is edible
food discarded that could feed people who need it, but the rate of loss, even
only partially corrected, could save US consumers and manufacturers tens of
billions dollars each year. Californians throw away more than 5 billion tonnes
of food scraps each year.
In the UK, demands for 'pristine looking' produce means a lot of food does not
make the grade and never leaves the farm gate. Around one third of food grown
for human consumption ends up in the garbage can. Statistics from the government
and food industry show each adult wastes food to the value of £420 (US $777)
each year. The waste increases by 15% every decade.
Cutting food waste would go a long way toward reducing serious environmental
problems. It was estimated that reducing food waste by half could reduce adverse
environmental impacts by 25% through reduced landfill use, soil depletion, and
application of fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides.
Generally, we are also losing valuable raw material to the scrap heap - our
hunger for the latest consumer items leads to graveyards of computers,
televisions, and other highly technical items. In addition, we are squandering
energy on making new products.
Another serious problem in Western Europe and in the United States is junk mail.
Through the mail come catalogues, charity cards, Christmas cards, irresistible
and unignorable credit and goods offers, computer updates, and such - most of
which go immediately into the bin. Every year 5.56 million tonnes of junk mail
is shipped in the US, and much of it is disposed of unopened - even so,
Americans spend 8 months of their life just opening junk mail. Recycling the
1.23 million tones of it saves landfill space, conserves natural resources, and
may reduce the thrash bill, but there are still enormous environmental costs in
terms of ink, energy to produce, deliver, and recycle the paper, as well as loss
of virgin forest to create the high quality glossy paper much junk mail uses.
This still leaves nearly 32 pounds of paper and plastic going into the garbage
for every woman, man, and child in America, totaling 4.33 tonnes of garbage.
Hauling this away requires 340,000 garbage trucks.
It takes on average 17 trees to make a ton of paper. This means that
approximately 327,000 trees get used for junk mail every year in the US.
In addition to junk mail paper resources are wasted on unnecessary packaging
that ac-counts for a large volume of paper (and plastics) in the thrash. For
example, Californians generate 66 million tons of solid waste, of which
approximately one third is packaging.
There are other kinds of waste, some of which it is difficult to categorize and
||Figures from an Internet mail filtering company, MessageLabs, show that
73% of the 12.6 billion e-mails they checked during 2004 were identified as
||Materially affluent society offers a variety of different fashions in
apparel, footwear, and home textiles, as well as accessories to choose from.
Fashion is a multi-billion dollar business that exists to create interest in
and desire demand for various products, prevalently 'not-needed' ones. This
requires that there has to exist a substantial range of goods currently
'out-of-fashion'. The aim is high demand maximizing profits. There is no
doubt that by creating demand for goods we can live without, fashion
increases unnecessary demands on natural resources.
According to a research conducted by the Prudential, the average Briton
wastes 7% of his/her annual salary on things he/she does not need. An
average US $3,190 (£1,725) per person is wasted on uneaten food, unused
luxury goods and gadgets, and neglected hobbies.
Although food was the largest contributor, an astonishing US $690 (£378) per
year is wasted on hobbies we do not keep up. These include buying sports
equipment, unfinished courses, and unused DIY products. To this we have to
add US $444 (£240) for unwanted videos, unread books, unused clothing,
shoes, and toiletries, and various fashionable gadgets.
The combined United State Forces generate 1 billion pounds of hazardous
material each year. 43 To
what reasonable purpose is it used before it has to be destroyed?
Our generation of waste products should be a constant reminder that the
planet has limits on its capacity to support people; that we face a serious
The Ecological Science Research Institute is a facility dedicated solely to the study and research of ecological sustainability goals and commitments of products and services in the area of Climate Protection; Preservation of Biodiversity; Preservation of Air and Water as well as; Prevention and Management of Waste. See: http://ecological.science.mma.edu.ph/
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
Lebedev Anatoly, "Recycling our Forests?" at:
McDonagh Sean, "To Care for the Earth," Geoffrey Chapman, (1989).
McDonagh Sean, "The Greening of the Church," Geoffrey Chapman,
Mazza Patrick, "Transportation and Global Warming Solutions,"
Birch Charles, "Regaining Compassion," New South Wales University
Cain Nicholas, "Challenges to Clean Water Worldwide," Geotimes,
McDonagh Sean, "Johannesburg 2002," at:
Goldsmith Edward, "The Way," Themis Books, (1996).
Ecologist Staff, "A Blueprint for Survival," Penguin, (1973).
Goldsmith Edward, "Re-embedding religion in society, the natural
world and the cosmos," at:
McDonagh Sean, "The Death of Life: The Horror of Extinction,"
Birch Charles, "Purpose in the Universe: A Search for Wholeness,"
Zygon, 6, No.1, Pages 4-27 1971-MAR.
Youngquist Walter, "Spending Our Great Inheritance - Then What?"
Ehrlich Paul R. & Anne H. Ehrlich, "The Popular Explosion," Simon
and Schuster, (1990).
Ardrey, Robert, "African Genesis," Collins, (1963).
Rogers Heather, "Gone Tomorrow. The Hidden Life of Garbage," The
New Press, (2005).
Worthing Borough Council, "A Wasteful Society," at:
Gold Mark, "The Global Benefits of Eating Less Meat," Compassion
Farming Trust, (2004). Online at:
Copyright 2006 by Vladimir Tomek
Originally posted: 2006-JUN-25
Latest update: 2011-AUG-24
Author: Vladimir Tomek