Below the depressed polar bear you'll find the eight most sobering reports from the year just closed. It has been a watershed year as far as growth of environmental awareness, and some of these reports have been instrumental in this realisation process. It seems appropriate to consolidate these reports into one post, as a kind of reality check as we enter 2008.
As the old Chinese proverb goes, "If we do not change our direction, we are likely to end up where we are headed.” On the first day of 2008, I think it's expedient to just calibrate our minds about our position in history, to look at where we have been heading, in the hope we will seriously consider an alternative destination and get more involved in finding tangible solutions to aid in getting there.
1) The IPCC 'Synthesis Report': Already a couple of years out of date at time of release, due to the rigors of the peer-review process that all its data must endure, even as it stands - generally regarded as a very conservative but wholly dependable snapshot of our position - it forecasts environmental and social upheaval over the next few decades as current problems (such as water and food shortages, sea level rises, etc.) are intensified by climate change. This report is the work of thousands of scientists and is the only report to be universally endorsed by all the major scientific bodies around the world. Because all data is heavily scrutinised, some aspects that are more mysterious in scientific circles (like trying to predict the outcome of complicated climate change feedback loops) are left out of the picture almost entirely. Some thus believe that even the worst-case scenarios projected in this report are still a somewhat rose-tinted view of our global future.
2) Global Environmental Outlook 4 (GEO-4): Produced by the United Nations, the GEO-4 is an attempt to give a snapshot of our planet's ecological position. It documents and charts data on population growth, energy consumption, resource use, forestry, desertification and much more. It concludes that we are currently in the dangerous position of being in major ecological overshoot in almost all areas, and that on our present course of consumption this trend looks set to intensify greatly over the next couple of decades as the population expands combined with increased per capita energy and resource demands. This report is a kind of global inventory - an environmental stock-take, as it were - and should be regarded as a significant wake-up call to politicians, industry and citizens worldwide.
3) The Big Melt: Lessons from the Arctic Summer of 2007 (900kb PDF): Recognising that this past summer's dramatic rate of Arctic ice melt was well above and beyond any predictions from the above-mentioned IPCC report, essentially taking the whole scientific community by surprise, The Big Melt endeavours to quantify and draw lessons from these events. The main point to take from this report is that if such rapid melting can occur at our present level of warming (+0.74'C over pre-industrial levels), then we must think hard whether the +2'C target most governments have agreed we need to stay under may be consigning billions of people and millions of species to misery and death.
4) Target Practice: Where We Should Aim to Prevent Dangerous Climate Change (880kb PDF): This is essentially the follow-up to The Big Melt. It seeks to determine a level of temperature rise that would keep the Arctic ice sheet from melting. The report recognises that climate change is already dangerous ("This year (2007) the United Nation's emergency relief coordinator, Sir John Holmes warned that 12 of the 13 major relief operations were climate related and said this amounted to a climate change “mega disaster”") and shares that some scientists are increasingly concerned that none of the currently proposed political counter-measures, if they ever get enforced, will be even close to sufficient to prevent further catastrophe ("Both publicly and privately, cryosphere climate scientists are alarmed at these developments, with one correspondent acknowledging in a recent private communication “that we are in a lot more climate trouble than we thought”. Similar sentiments have been expressed by Australian climate scientists, who privately acknowledge that the whole question of dangerous climate change, caps and mitigation strategies now needs urgent review and that much of the orthodoxy is now out the window. What constitutes dangerous climate change needs to be and is being urgently reinterrogated."). The report concludes we need to be aiming at no more than a +0.5'C temperature rise if we are to restore Arctic ice and retain its reflective properties.
5) World Energy Outlook 2007: If you think we're using a lot of energy now, read this report. Produced by the International Energy Agency, this document plots three main growth scenarios for energy demands and consumption until 2030, breaking them down into their individual components (coal, oil, etc.), and for individual nations. For good reason, it particularly highlights the impact of an economic boom in China and India. At a time when energy consumption needs to decrease, this report predicts a major increase in energy consumption and demand. It ventures to state that renewable energy will continue to be a minority player in the energy market, with coal not only retaining but growing its market share. It also, significantly, hints at a peak in oil supplies prior to 2015.
6) United Nations Human Development Report 2007/2008 (12mb PDF): A very comprehensive look at present impacts and future consequences of climate change as well as potential mitigation strategies and solutions. It is broken down to four main sections: 1) The 21st Century Climate Challenge, 2) Climate shocks: risk and vulnerability in an unequal world, 3) Avoiding dangerous climate change: strategies for mitigation, and 4) Adapting to the inevitable: national action and international cooperation. Reports like this one, and the UN GEO-4 above, paint a very detailed view of current understanding, and document examples and case studies that bring the statistics to life. They also make me wonder why we never see such objective and critically important reports coming out of the United States.
7) The Rise & Predictable Fall of Globalized Industrial Agriculture: Agriculture has played a central role in population growth, demographic trends, energy consumption, environmental destruction and climate change. This document sheds a strong stark light on the industrial and political forces that are controlling centralised contemporary agriculture, talks about the impacts of the system we're using in the North and trying to impose on the South, and the inevitable demise of the same. A worthy and timely read - especially if you like to eat on occasion.
8 ) Who Benefits from GM Crops?: After over a decade of utilisation of genetically modified food crops around the world, this document reports on its impacts and endeavours to quantify who, if any, are benefitting from the unnatural creations of the ever-powerful bio-tech industry. 'Who Benefits from GM Crops?' is a pertinent question to ask in light of the international movements outlined in report #7 above. GM crops are the inevitable result of an unsustainable agricultural system struggling but trying to persevere in working out of harmony with unchangeable natural systems. Read the report to find out exactly who are the 'winners' in the battle against nature.