Volume 4, No. 22 January - February 2000
In This Issue
The Endangered Planet
By Najib Saab
The world has never witnessed an era like ours in which hope and despair are in equal measure. Modern science promises to unveil many hidden secrets of the universe, strengthen man's control over natural resources, promote health and revolutionize communications. The danger, however, is that such developments could lack spirit and commitment. In this case, technological expansion will be superficial and will come at the expense of the basics of life. Power over resources will lead to endless depletion, so that we lose the basis of life.
In the middle of the last century, American architect Frank Lloyd Wright warned against the reckless plunge into the consumer technological trend. He said that man's destruction of nature since the beginning of the 20th century exceeded all the destruction that took place since the beginning of life on Earth.
Despite all the tragedies and frustrations, many improvements have occurred during the last few years in the field of environment. Thanks to the implementation of the Montreal Protocol, the depleted ozone layer will be restored before the end of the 21st century. The issue of climate change is being taken seriously and budgets are being set to tackle it. Voluntary measures taken by many major industries around the world have decreased the consumption of resources and reduced waste generation. Air pollution was reduced and deforestation halted and reversed in many parts of Europe and North America.
However, it seems that time is passing rapidly with no major political initiatives taken towards a balanced production and consumption system. It is unlikely that water supplies will meet needs in the coming decades. Soil degradation has reduced crop production. Many plant and animal species have disappeared or are on the verge of extinction. Air pollution problems are increasing in many major cities, including all Arab cities with more than one million inhabitants.
Global environment today is characterized by two major trends: the threat to the global ecosystem as a result of imbalances in productivity and resource distribution, and the accelerating global change due to the priority that economic and social development has over environmental management. Population growth and economic development projects supersede environmental rewards achieved by modern technologies and policies.
Pessimists say that the third millennium will bring destruction to Earth, with people dying of thirst because of water mismanagement, of hunger as agricultural land continues to shrink and deforestation increases, and of illnesses due to chemical and radioactive pollution. They also say that sea levels will rise due to climate change and melting polar ice, which will drown nations and civilizations. All this will certainly happen if carelessness and madness continue to deplete natural resources and destroy the environment.
Personally, I believe in man's wisdom and will to live. I tend to believe that the 21st century will be marked by a drastic increase in environmental awareness and by serious actions taken to protect natural resources, using them prudently and inventing new and effective production techniques. Cheap and easy methods to desalinate seawater will be devised. Alternative energy sources, mainly solar energy, will replace conventional fossil fuels thereby reducing air pollution. Efficient and safe measures will be developed to produce crops without using pesticides and fertilizers, providing enough food for the world population. The ozone hole will be repaired with increasing transfer to alternative ozone-friendly materials and products. The climate will stabilize and seawater will not drown the world as stringent and effective measures will be taken to prevent gas emissions which are turning Earth into a heat-trapping greenhouse. Wastes will be reduced and pollution minimized, as all industries will use cleaner production techniques. Technology, the misuse of which has resulted in mass destruction of life components, will now provide the solution. Was it not technology that allowed a satellite weighing 200 kilograms to replace ground equipment and networks, that covered thousands of kilometers and weighed hundreds of tons, to provide communications to billions of people?
This endangered planet will be saved by man's wisdom and will to live.
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