The degraded state of the natural world hurts us all; urgent action needed

The UN has just released the fourth report by the Global Environment Outlook on the state of the earths environment. The results aren’t encouraging. The environment we all depend on is in peril, our actions have degraded virtually all ecosystems. This degradation of the natural world has real implications for our quality of life, and its effects are only going to increase over time unless many of the current trends are improved.

The environmental problems faced by the world are so extensive that they must be treated as a top priority if they are to be solved, scientists have told the United Nations…

They assessed a range of environmental factors and concluded that the condition of the land, sea, air and rivers have all deteriorated in the past 20 years.

Achim Steiner, executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), said that the international community’s response to environmental issues was at times “courageous and inspiring”, but all too often was inadequate.

“The systematic destruction of the Earth’s natural and nature-based resources has reached a point where the economic viability of economies is being challenged and where the bill we hand to our children may prove impossible to pay,” he said.

The problems are huge, the implications of inaction are incomprehensible, yet there is no real sense of urgency. There is no sense that action must be taken today; action can always be taken tomorrow by someone else. This frame of mind has lead to environmental inaction, even though alarm bells have been ringing for more than 20 years. This report, like the ones that came before it, will probably be quickly forgotten to everyones detriment and be left to gather dust on a bookshelf in the bowels of the UN. We should not let this happen again; not this time.

The causes of environmental damage are numerous but most of them have a common element; the failure to take into account the full costs of our actions. Typically environmental costs are undervalued or simply ignored and this has lead to poor decisions that don’t take into account all costs. The result of a lack of a proper analysis of environmental costs is the root cause to many of the worlds environmental problems. This means that perhaps the most effective solution to many of our environmental problems is to simply insure that all environmental costs are properly valued and passed down to the consumer; the market should then be able to take care of the rest. That is what our policy should aim for, and that is what politicians have refused to do for decades.

The time to act is now, the more we wait the more difficult it will be to implement effective policy.

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