We can decide to live within the limits of our planet

A ring-tailed Lemur sits in the sunshine at the Manor Wildlife Park, near Tenby, Pembrokeshire, Wales, Britain February 3, 2019. REUTERS/Rebecca Naden - RC132307E8D0

As much as 70% of the world’s genetic biodiversity may already be extinct Image: REUTERS/Rebecca Naden

Are we living within nature’s limits? Or are we putting ourselves at profound risk of climate change, resource scarcity and a depleted world? Does the Fourth Industrial Revolution offer new opportunities or pose new threats? The World Economic Forum’s Global Future Council on Environmental and Natural Resource Security has spent the last two years trying to answer these questions.

We have entered the era of the Anthropocene

Humanity is reshaping the natural world. Nowhere on Earth has escaped our influence, from the deepest ocean trench to the outer limits of the atmosphere. We have truly entered the era of the Anthropocene.

Every year, we produce enough steel to make a girder that could circle the earth nearly 100 times, and we pour enough concrete to make a car park the size of England. In our lifetimes, plastic production has increased twentyfold, of which only 10% has been recycled. Every year, we produce our own weight in plastic, and the world uses 500 billion plastic bottles – around one million every minute. There could be more plastic than fish in the oceans by 2050, according to a report by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.

Another recent report estimated the mass of all mammals on Earth and concluded that by weight, 60% are livestock (mostly cattle and pigs), 36% are human and just 4% are wild animals. The world has 1.5 billion cows, 1 billion pigs and 1 billion sheep, and we raise more than 50 billion chickens annually. Three quarters of agricultural land supports livestock, and nearly two fifths of grain is fed to animals rather than people. MORE

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Investors Join Calls for a Food Revolution to Fight Climate Change

A series of new reports shows how climate change is intertwined with the world’s worsening health, and suggests changes in the global food production system.

Fast food burger. Credit: Cate Gillon/Getty Images
New reports describe how food choices and farming practices can exacerbate climate change, and they argue for changes and even an international treaty. Investors are also calling for greenhouse gas reductions from the fast-food industry. Credit: Cate Gillon/Getty Images

scientific study published Monday also shows how “food production shocks” linked to climate change have been rising globally, putting food security at risk. The researchers identified nearly 230 food production shocks, in 134 countries, from 1961 to 2013, and said the frequency of crop production shocks driven by extreme weather had been increasing steadily. Food shocks threaten to destabilize the global food supply and drive up global hunger rates, which have started to tick up in recent years.

“Land-based crop and livestock production are particularly vulnerable to extreme weather events such as drought, which are expected to become more frequent and intense with climate change,” said Richard Cottrell of the University of Tasmania, the report’s lead author.

“The dominant diets that the world has been producing and eating for the past 50 years are no longer nutritionally optimal, are a major contributor to climate change, and are accelerating erosion of natural biodiversity.”

The drumbeat for change in food and nutrition gained volume this month with the release of a detailed plan by an international commission organized by the prestigious medical journal The Lancet. The plan urges a major overhaul in food production and diets, or what one of the report’s authors called “nothing less than a new global agricultural revolution.” MORE