Washington, D.C.— The world’s economies and people face hidden dangers to sustainability that demand immediate action. According to State of the World 2015: Confronting Hidden Threats to Sustainability, the latest edition of the annual series from the Worldwatch Institute, these threats, driven directly or indirectly by growing stress on the planet’s resources, have the potential to upend social systems, environmental balance, and even entire economies (www.worldwatch.org).
“These threats are hidden in the sense that they are commonly overlooked or underappreciated,” notes Ed Groark, Acting President of Worldwatch. “But addressing them is critical to building sustainable societies.”
The report outlines a set of issues whose roots in resource overconsumption are typically not explored in news accounts. The threats identified are diverse, ranging from emerging diseases that originate in animals and growing dependence on imported food to the problems of energy availability and increasingly degraded oceans. The common link among these various challenges— humanity’s rising claim on the planet’s resources— suggests the urgent need to commit to sustainable economies in which resources are stewarded and the environment is protected.
Over the last few decades, human societies have come to comprehend that they are depleting resources at unsustainable rates, spreading dangerous pollutants, undermining ecosystems, and threatening to unhinge the planet’s climate balance. But a reckoning is complicated by the fact that the complete environmental impacts are not always readily discernible— they are camouflaged and multiplied by discontinuities, synergisms, feedback loops, and cascading effects. And the manner in which environmental impacts translate into the social and economic spheres further complicates the picture, producing unexpected consequences. Even economic growth, long unquestioned and coveted, needs to be examined with healthy skepticism.
“These are significant threats, but each and every one of them has solutions, especially if we commit to an ethic of stewardship, robust citizenship, and a systems approach to addressing the challenges that we face,” says Groark.
For many of these hidden threats, the solutions are common sense. For example, more rapid adoption of renewable energy systems would reduce the pressure to find ever more exotic sources of fossil fuels. And the pressure to import food could be reduced by effectively increasing food supplies through reductions in food waste-about a third of the global harvest is lost each year. But this requires that economics ministers and others set human well-being, rather than growth, as the primary economic objective, shifting the global economic machine away from intensive resource use and the endless pursuit of “more.”
With the latest edition of State of the World, the researchers at Worldwatch bring to light challenges that we can no longer afford to ignore. For more information on State of the World, the Institute’s annual flagship publication, view the complete book series.