The Environment and You
It has been said that change is the only constant. For billions of years, Earth’s environment and the organisms that inhabit it have been constantly changing. Over tens of millennia we, our species, have constantly changed; each generation’s technologies, values, and understanding of its environment have differed from those that preceded it. As a consequence of those technologies and our growing numbers, we have changed Earth’s environment more than any other species living now or in the past.
You and the world around you are the current manifestation of this process of inexorable change. The health and well-being of most of Earth’s people have markedly improved over the past century but our impacts on Earth’s environment have increased significantly. A century ago, our global population was fewer than 2 billion; today there are 7 billion of us. What’s more, each of us today uses several times more resources and generates several times more waste than our century-ago ancestors. The affects on our environment are alarming. Resources such as water and petroleum are dwindling. Air pollution and water pollution have become commonplace. Rates of extinction among Earth’s species are more than 10 times higher than in pre-industrial times, and Earth’s climate is warming because of human-caused changes in the chemistry of its atmosphere.
These changes threaten the health of Earth’s ecosystems and the well-being of many of its people; they directly affect you. These changes are unsustainable, but they are not inevitable. Sustainability and ecosystems are important themes throughout this book. Sustainable action and change require knowledge and understanding of the ecosystems upon which we depend. Yes, they are complex, but the key elements of ecosystem function and sustainability are beautifully simple. In an increasingly urban and technology-driven world, the connections between Earth’s ecosystems and our well-being may seem distant, even irrelevant. But they are at all times immediate and compelling.
I have not downplayed the significant challenges presented by the variety of environmental issues that affect our lives, because a balanced view of the challenges is needed. Naïve optimism is not likely to motivate substantial change in our actions and
impacts, but neither is pessimism. I am confident that we can change and that we can change the world in directions that are truly sustainable. I am convinced you will be part of that process of change. That confidence and conviction were the motivation for writing this book; hope was the inspiration.
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