A Moment Before It Is Too Late

The World Conservation Union's grim report on the status of species of flora and fauna around the globe was released on the eve of Rosh Hashanah.

"Let the inscription then run (that broken slab without readers): The planet is going to burst. Those it bred will destroy it," reads the poem "Swan Song," written by Bertold Brecht 60 years ago. Brecht was referring mainly to the dangers of war and the atom bomb. These dangers still exist, but now, they have been joined by dwindling resources, pollution and global warming, which threaten to destroy the systems that support life on our planet.

The World Conservation Union's grim report on the status of species of flora and fauna around the globe was released on the eve of Rosh Hashanah. It included a long list of species on the verge of extinction, among them the two simian species closest to humans: gorillas and orangutans.

Two months ago, the United Nations published its follow-up report on the Millennium Development Goals, whose implementation began in 2000. This plan set far-reaching social, economic and environmental goals, first and foremost a significant reduction in poverty and disease throughout the world.

One of the goals the UN set was reversing the trend of loss of environmental resources. According to the report, this goal has not been attained: Resources such as forests and fish continue to dwindle at an accelerated rate. Forests covering an area twice the size of Paris are now being decimated every day. Only 22 percent of the fish population in various geographic areas is not in a state of continuing decline, down from 40 percent in 1975.

Another goal the UN set is to reduce the number of people who do not have access to clean water and sanitation by half by 2015. But the UN estimates that in that year, these basic means will not be available to some 600 million people who should have had access to them had the target been met. This means that each year, millions of children will continue to sicken or die from infection.

The UN also determined that by 2020, the number of people living in urban slums should be reduced by 100 million. Instead, the number of people living in places where they lack at least one basic need, such as sanitation, sufficient space or a safe place to live, is growing.

Brecht also wrote in "Swan Song": "As a way of living together we merely thought up capitalism. Thinking of physics, we thought up rather more: a way of dying together." But this does not have to be the way things are run. Physics and chemistry, like the tools of social and economic policy, can be used in other ways.

The international community has proven its ability to deal with threats like the thinning of the ozone layer. Last week, the world marked the 20th anniversary of the signing of an international treaty to protect the ozone layer, damage to which could mean the destruction of life on earth. Thanks to efficient international cooperation and determination in the face of economic interests, great progress has been made in phasing out materials that deplete the ozone layer.

Significant achievements have also been made in recent years in reducing deforestation in the Amazon, expanding the use of renewable energy and reducing poverty and sickness in areas such as Southeast Asia and Latin America. But the culture of consumption and ongoing environmental lawlessness are continuing to destroy the planet. The economic growth of part of the human race continues as if it were disconnected from the reality in other parts of the world. It is necessary to improve the means of oversight and reduce the waste of resources much more quickly if the UN goals are not soon to become irrelevant.