Why you should care
From the birds to the bees, nature is a wonder – one increasingly imperiled by human beings.
Though humankind has been wreaking havoc on the environment for centuries, the past few decades have been especially cruel. Environmental disasters loom and lurk, to the extent that we’ve become used to feeling we’re on the edge of apocalypse. In this collection, OZY considers the big issues – as well as what is to be done.
Sparrows have been around since at least Aphrodite’s day, but in the past two decades their numbers have fallen dramatically. Scientists are trying to solve the riddle of why: It could be increased urbanization, pollutants or electromagnetic radiation. Whatever the cause, the decline of the sparrow is eerie and sad.
As seas rise, small island states from the Marshall Islands to Maldives are fighting a battle for their lives – literally. The recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report predicts sea levels will rise at least one meter by 2300* and possibly more than three meters. Already, many islands’ water supplies are contaminated by salt water. OZY reported on their quixotic attempts to fight back and the existential questions global warming has brought to their shores. First and foremost, is a country submerged by water still a nation-state?
Efficient rail could make a real dent in Americans’ carbon emissions and could mitigate road rage and general commuter unhappiness besides. Yet even though France, Japan, China and even Uzbekistan have high-speed rail, the United States has…Acela, which maxes out at 78 miles per hour. OZY looks at America’s failure to get on the, er, train. Alas, there’s no silver-bullet solution.
The environment is in serious trouble, but the forecast is not completely doom and gloom. What’s more, some of the best conservation ideas are coming from Africa. One of them is “natural capital accounting,” which strives to include environmental assets in conventional (read: outdated) measures of a country’s assets, like GDP. OZY contributor Laurene Powell Jobs describes how Botswana’s president Ian Khama is spearheading an international effort focused on the value of natural capital to long-term development.
Not many Americans know about the Millennium Development Goals, which set the anti-poverty agenda for developing countries and are soon to expire. They’ll likely know more about the sequel – tentatively named the Sustainable Development Goals – because the environment will be a big part of them. So will commitments by big, wealthy countries to adopt more sustainable practices. The big question economists like Jeff Sachs are pondering: Will rich countries voluntarily sign on to them?
*Correction: This sentence was updated to provide the correct year by which the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s report predicts sea levels could rise by one to more than three meters. It is 2300.