Wednesday, June 27, 2012
From the Presidential Conference as well as the Rio Conference, a startling picture emerges: the existence of the human species on earth is in certain and almost imminent danger.
View of the Arava Desert.
Photo: Avi Hirschfield
In everything that relates to the environment, the future is now. The challenge we are facing is no less than the survival of the human species on earth. Indeed, in June 2012, there were two “green” conferences. Our Presidential Conference
was about facing tomorrow and included, as it should, an environmental panel, in which I had the honor of taking part, and in Rio de Janeiro, representatives from the nations of the world convened marking twenty years since the Earth Summit, also in Rio, which is why the Conference was called Rio +20
. The Earth Summit is now considered to have been a milestone. For the first time, the nations of the world prioritized an approach calling for sustainable development on the world agenda. The results of the conference – international environmental resolutions regarding biodiversity, desertification and climate change – are still the fundamentals of environmental, social and economic dialogue in the world.
Let us examine what has transpired since then, which I will illustrate with only two statistics. There are at present seven billion people living on our planet. When the previous conference took place in Rio, only twenty years ago, there were 5.5 billion people on the planet. This kind of growth creates a great deal of environmental, social and economic pressure. However, population growth is not the only issue. Another problem, maybe even more critical, is the growth of the middle class in Asia, especially in China and in India. There, too, the people wish to live in a Western style. There, too, they want cars, computers and Western food, and who are we to blame them?
Now I am getting to the second statistic. Experts estimate that there are 1.8 billion people in the world at present who could be classified as middle class, and by the end of the decade there will be 3.2 billion people in the middle class. This has a formidable influence on the utilization of environmental resources. One of the severe effects on the environment by the social changes taking place is the damage to forests. Without going into too much detail, it seems that in the time it takes to read this article, about a hundred dunams of the world's forests will have been destroyed. The dimensions were illustrated in the famous photograph of the Columbia space shuttle. On its last trip, in which the late Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon took part, the space shuttle photographed smoke rising from the forests of the Amazon. Clearing forests by means of fire is one of the methods of obtaining land for agriculture.
There are at least two severe results from the massive felling of forests. First, it causes major damage to trees and to the biodiversity that depends on them. Second, felling forests leads to desertification
, which means damage to the natural and economical productivity of forests, woodlands, pastures and cultivated areas. This occurs because the mineral reserves in the exposed land after felling is sufficient for only a few seasons of cultivation. The lands are then abandoned, forests can no longer grow on the degraded soil, and the farmers move on to fell another forested area. Desertification is not an insignificant phenomenon. According to estimates, desertification directly harms over 250 million people and endangers an additional billion in most of the world's countries. Naturally, desertification harms populations that are already poorer and weaker economically and politically.
One of the motives for felling the rain forests in Brazil and in Southeast Asia is the need for food, which is hard or unprofitable to grow in other places. The world is hungrier than ever. Now, in view of demographic and social trends, it is clear that we cannot wait until Rio +40.
The author is the Chairman of the Board of Directors of KKL-JNF.