Reports

Worldwatch Paper #148: Nature's Cornucopia: Our Stake in Plant Diversity

Earth's natural systems increasingly display signs of the ecological costs imposed by our globalizing society, from large-scale declines in thousands of species, to growing infestations of non-native organisms, and to the widespread simplification of natural communities. By examining the benefits we obtain from one group of organisms--green plants--author John Tuxill shows just how much we stand to lose if the erosion of nature's diversity continues unabated.

Worldwatch Paper #147: Reinventing Cities for People and the Planet

In this paper, author Molly O'Meara shows that changes in six areas -- water, waste, food, energy, transportation, and land use -- are needed to make cities and the vast areas they affect better for both people and the planet. Cities can align their consumption with realistic needs, produce more of their own food and energy, and put much more of their waste to use. Citizens and local leaders from Curitiba, Brazil, to Chattanooga, Tennessee, are already showing the way as they overcome financial and political obstacles to put these ideas into action.

Worldwatch Paper #146: Ending Violent Conflict

The Cold War is over, little has changed fundamentally as far as reliance on the military is concerned. Thus, at the threshold of the twenty-first century, the international community faces a fundamental challenge: either build the foundations for a lasting peace or be overwhelmed by an endless string of internal wars capable of devastating entire countries, even of re-igniting big-power confrontations. And as events in the Balkans have demonstrated, current peace and security policies are woefully inadequate.

In this paper, author Michael Renner argues that the international community is more likely to avoid crises like Kosovo's by devoting as much energy and enthusiasm to fortifying the nascent infrastructure of peace as it has to building military muscle. He lays out a program for transforming the process of international policy-making by infusing it with human rights, humanitarian, and human development concerns to a far greater extent than has been the case to date-by moving toward human security.

Worldwatch Paper #145: Safeguarding the Health of Oceans

For much of human history, humanity has treated oceans as inexhaustible both in terms of what they could produce and in terms of what they could absorb. But humanity has pushed the world's oceans close to--and in some cases past--their natural limits. In this thorough review of the challenges facing us in managing oceans, author Anne Platt McGinn examines the threats to our oceans and prescribes the steps we must take quickly to protect ocean health.

The problems afflicting oceans are growing, from relentless overfishing by government-subsidized fleets to the insidious accumulation of thousands of chemicals in marine food chains. And too many international institutions working on oceanic issues were created to promote economic growth and development.

In the light of these threats, McGinn argues that we are poised at the edge of an explosion of information about oceans because of recent scientific and technological advances. The key question at this critical juncture is whether this new knowledge will be bent to the service of the old, increasingly destructive view of oceans as limitless, or to the new awareness of their fragility and importance to all life on the planet.

Worldwatch Paper #144: Mind Over Matter: Recasting the Role of Materials in Our Lives

Nations and businesses are discovering ways to use materials more intelligently--to provide the goods and services people want using much less wood, metal, stone, plastic, and other materials. By reducing wasteful use, and by steering production toward du rable goods that are easy to reuse, remanufacture, or recycle, a few pioneering firms are recasting the role of materials in our lives. Some businesses have even shifted out of manufacturing and become purveyors of services--dramatically lowering levels of materials use.

Worldwatch Paper #143: Beyond Malthus: Sixteen Dimensions of the Population Problem

In our demographically divided world, fertility has dropped and population has stabilized or is declining in some countries; but in others where fertility is still high, population is projected to double or even triple before stabilizing. As recent experi ence with AIDS in Africa shows, some of these high-fertility countries are simply overwhelmed when a new threat appears. While industrial countries have held HIV infection rates among their adult populations to 1 percent or less, infection rates are as hi gh as 26 percent of the adult population in some African countries. With their rising mortality trends, more reminiscent of the Dark Ages than the bright millennium so many had hoped for, these countries are falling back to an earlier demographic stage wi th high death rates and high birth rates, and no growth in population.

In examining the stakes involved in potentially adding another 3.3 billion people over the next 50 years, the study calls for immediate expansion of international family planning assistance to the millions of couples who still lack access, and new investm ent in educating young people, especially women, in the Third World, to promote a shift to smaller families.

Worldwatch Paper #142: Rocking the Boat: Conserving Fisheries and Protecting Jobs

Fisheries and the economic and social benefits they offer society are under siege around the globe. Most of the world's marine fish stocks and primary fishing grounds are in decline. Nearly one third of all fish are thrown back to sea dead or dying each y ear because of wasteful fishing practices. The food security of more than 1 billion people who rely on fish for much of their animal protein is also at risk because one of every three fish captured goes to feed animals and other uses.

The roots of the crisis run deep. They include the open access nature of fishing-which draws people into the industry well after profits and catches begin falling; widespread technological change and fleet growth; and national development policies that pr omote expansion at the expense of the resource. The industry barely stays afloat, even as billions of dollars in subsidies are poured into it.

Worldwatch Paper #141: Losing Strands in the Web of Life: Vertebrate Declines and the Conservation of Biological Diversity

One of the clearest ways to judge how we are affecting the Earth's biological life-support systems is to examine the status of those organisms closest to ourselves-the 50,000 species of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and fish. Currently, about one in every four of these vertebrate animals is in serious trouble-either declining strongly, or restricted to small populations, or already threatened with extinction.

Most vertebrates are in trouble because the ecological communities to which they belong are being dismantled by habitat loss, overhunting, and invasions of non-native species-problems that stem from humankind's mistreatment of the natural world. In this Paper, John Tuxill examines the challenges to survival that vertebrate species face, and what their fate foretells for our planet's biological diversity.

Worldwatch Paper #140: Taking a Stand: Cultivating a New Relationship with the World's Forests

April 1998
Janet N. Abromovitz
ISBN: 1-878071-42-4
84 pages

The accelerating destruction of the world's forests threatens the planet's ecological and economic health. Already almost half of the forests that once covered the planet are gone. Between 1980 and 1995 alone, at least 2 million square kilometers of forests were destroyed-an area larger than Mexico.

In this paper, Janet...

Worldwatch Paper #139: Investing in the Future: Harnessing Private Capital Flows for Environmentally Sustainable Development

As investors search the world for the highest return, they are often drawn to countries endowed with bountiful natural resources but handicapped by weak environmental laws, causing natural resource destruction and industrial pollution. But private investment can also bring environmental benefits, such as access to cutting-edge technologies that minimize energy use and waste generation.

In this paper, Hilary French shows how private capital is shaping environmental trends in developing countries. She recommends strategies for shifting money out of ecologically damaging activities and into the technologies and enterprises of tomorrow. Asia's economic and environmental crises of 1997 offer timely warnings of the current system's fragility, as well as an opportunity to put in place the reforms needed to channel international investment capital into sustainable development.