Confronting Hidden Threats to Sustainability (Part 2): Pushing Limits

What questions are being overlooked or underappreciated when we talk about the world of tomorrow? This is the second of three exclusive sneak peeks into our newest State of the World publication, scheduled for official release April 13, 2015. Join us for the launch symposium in Washington, DC or livestream online.

Could poor harvests and political tensions disrupt our fragile food supply?

Loss or degradation of key agricultural resources—especially land, water, and a stable climate—is leading to a global agricultural system in which more countries depend on international markets for basic food supplies. As a result, “land grabbing”—the purchase or lease of agricultural land by foreign interests—is surging, threatening food security.

A food import strategy reduces pressure on agricultural resources in many countries, but also renders importing countries vulnerable to supply disruptions caused by poor harvests, political manipulation, or other factors beyond their control.

“Conserving the very base of food production—the land, water, and climate that make crop growth possible—is essential to ensure that the world’s farmers continue to produce enough food for everyone.”

– Gary Gardner in Mounting Losses of Agricultural Resources (Chapter 5)

Are we pushing beyond the limits of the oceans’ capacities?

Most humans spend little time in or on the oceans, but our lives are profoundly shaped by their condition. That condition is increasingly dire.

Overfishing is compromising the oceans’ ability to supply the protein on which roughly 3 billion people depend. Ocean waters also function as a major sink for human-caused carbon emissions and the heat they trap in the atmosphere, but the rate of absorption of both heat and emissions may be slowing. And carbon absorption is changing the acidity of ocean waters, which in turn imperils vital marine organisms and even the marine food web itself.

“Taking urgent and concerted action to improve ocean health is an imperative, not because saving whales and coral reefs are not worthy pursuits in and of themselves (they are)… but because our livelihoods and our lives depend on the sea.”

Katie Auth in The Oceans: Resilience at Risk (Chapter 6)


Is human disruption of natural systems putting our own health and well-being at risk?

Human activities disrupt ecological systems worldwide, increasing the likelihood that infectious disease will spread from animals to humans, as has already occurred with the Ebola virus and HIV/AIDS. Scientists estimate that more than 60 percent of the 400 new infectious diseases in humans that emerged in the past 70 years were of animal origin.  And this threat is increasing as land-use changes bring animals and humans together, as livestock raising becomes intensified, and as the use of antibiotics in animals increases.

The authors contend that, despite rising attention to high-profile pandemics like Ebola, neither governments nor publics appreciate that such outbreaks are emblematic of a systemic, global problem.

“New strategies for dealing with [emerging animal-borne diseases] offer the possibility that … humans once again can learn to live in balance with the natural ecology that supports us.”

Catherine C. MachalabaElizabeth H. Loh, Peter Daszak, and William B. Karesh in Emerging Diseases from Animals (Chapter 8)

These questions feature chapters by contributing authors in State of the World 2015. Want to hear from the authors? Join us on April 13, 2015 for the launch symposium in Washington, DC or livestream online.

About State of the World 2015: Confronting Hidden Threats to Sustainability:

State of the World 2015 coverWe think we understand environmental damage: pollution, water scarcity, a warming world. But these problems are just the tip of the iceberg. Deeper issues include food insecurity, financial assets drained of value by environmental damage, and a rapid rise in diseases of animal origin. These and other problems are among the underreported consequences of an unsustainable global system.

In State of the World 2015, experts  explore hidden threats to sustainability and how to address them. Eight key issues are addressed in depth, along with the central question of how we can develop resilience to these and other shocks. With the latest edition of State of the World, the authorities at Worldwatch bring to light challenges we can no longer afford to ignore. Get your copy today.

3 thoughts on “Confronting Hidden Threats to Sustainability (Part 2): Pushing Limits”

  1. Good to explore a wider range threats to sustainability but they’re not really hidden are they? They’re a subset of the full set of threats that the world has been alerted to since at least 1972. What’s actually hidden is policy solutions that match the global scale and systemic character of the threat-set.

    Unfortunately the highlighted policy solution, of no-growth, is a glaring decoy that serves only to soak up the effort that should have gone into systemic solutions over the decades. May I suggest now giving some thought to these hidden policy solutions?

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