The first major global assessment of the state of the world’s ecosystems offers an optimistic outlook for humanity amid stark warnings about how humans are abusing the ecological systems that enable life on Earth. "Despite what looks like steady global decline, this is a story of hope," said Dr. Steve Carpenter, professor of limnology at the University of Wisconsin and a lead author of the research effort.
Commissioned by the United Nations and supported by 22 of the world's leading scientific bodies, the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment is the product of more than four years of work by some 1,360 scientists and experts from 19 countries.
Summary reports of the findings were released last year - the final report includes the technical analysis that underpins those findings. "There is an unbreakable link between human well-being and the health of the planet," said Dr. Walter Reid, director of the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment.
The massive study finds that more than 60 percent of the ecological systems that sustain life on Earth are being degraded or used unsustainably. Some 10 to 30 percent of the mammal, bird and amphibian species are currently threatened with extinction.
More land was converted to agriculture since 1945 than in the 18th and 19th centuries combined and nearly a quarter of the Earth is now cultivated. The accelerated and sustained resource exploitation of the past 50 years has opened the door to new diseases, widespread water pollution, coastal dead zones and the likely collapse of some global fisheries.
The increased exploitation of ecosystems has also dramatically improved human health in the past century, but these gains are being achieved at a growing cost," and are not sustainable, Reid told reporters at a Washington, DC press conference on Thursday.
The report details how the ability of the Earth's ecosystems to support human life is seldom considered in economic policies. This failure makes it extremely difficult for governments to enact sustainable growth strategies and ultimately threatens humanity’s future, Reid said. "It is now time for us to measure the economic value of these services so that we can make better decisions about our future," Reid said. "As long as we consider ecosystem services free and limitless we will continue to use them in a way that does not make economic sense."
The report predicts that life on Earth in 2050 will see a continued struggle with food, water and energy security as the world’s population grows to some nine billion people. The full report can be found at www.millenniumeccosystem.org.