Worldwatch’s Vital Signs Paints a Dismal Picture

Meat production hit a record 304 million tons—or 95 pounds per person—in 2006.

The Worldwatch Institute last week released "Vital Signs 2007-2008," its annual rundown on environmental trends shaping our future—and the news is not good. Only six of the 44 environmental trends the organization tracks were positive developments, with 28 categorized by Worldwatch as "pronouncedly bad." Some of the more disturbing findings: meat production hit a record 304 million tons—or 95 pounds per person—in 2006; soybean plantations could displace 54 million acres of forest and savanna over the next two decades; humans ate three times as much seafood per person in 2004 than in 1950; and the world’s forests lost more wood in 2005 than ever before.

Beyond these individual flashpoints, though, the biggest issue, as outlined by the report, is climate change. Worldwatch warns that the warming climate is undermining biodiversity by accelerating habitat loss, altering the timing of animal migrations and plant flowerings, raising sea levels, and intensifying weather-related disasters and coastal erosion, among other effects. The findings underscore what the group terms an "urgent need to check consumption of energy and other resources that are contributing to the climate crisis, starting with the largest polluter, the U.S., which accounted for over 21 percent of global carbon emissions from fossil fuel burning in 2005." (According to the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, however, China has surpassed the U.S. as a greenhouse gas emitter, producing 6,200 million metric tons in 2006, compared to a U.S. figure of 5,800 million metric tons.)

Vital Signs Project Director Erik Assadourian is calling on Europe, which has been hit hard in recent years by deadly fires, floods and heat waves likely intensified if not sparked by global warming, to pressure the U.S. to mandate emissions reductions.

"The world is running out of time to head off catastrophic climate change, and it is essential that Europe and the rest of the international community bring pressure to bear on U.S. policymakers to address the climate crisis," said Assadourian at the Vital Signs launch event last week. "The U.S. must be held accountable for its emissions, double the per capita level in Europe, and should follow the EU lead by committing to reducing its total greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050."

Sources: Worldwatch Institute; Planet Ark