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State of the World 2000
By Lester R. Brown, Christopher Flavin, Hilary French, and others

New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2000
276 pp.,$14.95, paper
ISBN 0-393-31998-9
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Vital Signs 2000
The Environmental Trends That are Shaping Our Future
By Lester R. Brown, Michael Renner, Brian Halwell, and others

New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2000
192 pp., $13.00, paper
ISBN 0-303-32022-7
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While economic trends, including the "information economy," dominate media attention, environmental trends ultimately will shape the next decades, according to these two annual reports from Worldwatch Institute. In fact, in State of the World 2000, the authors maintain that "as the Dow Jones [Industrial Average] goes up, the Earth's health goes down."

This seventeenth annual report on "Progress Toward a Sustainable Society," describes in some detail the reasons for increasing concern. Decline is replacing progress in sub-Saharan Africa where life expectancy in several countries has dropped from about 65 years to less than 50 years largely because of AIDs. While not yet apparent, other trends have the potential to reduce life expectancy in other countries, such as India (with one-sixth of the world's population) where pumping groundwater much faster than aquifers recharge will lead to steep reduction in irrigation water and the resulting decline in food production.

In addition to falling groundwater tables, over the past 50 years the amount of land growing grain per person has fallen by 50 percent, and oceanic fish catch is leveling off (and is probably at or above the sustainable level), all suggesting that it will be increasingly difficult to keep up with world food demand. Forest land is also shrinking from industrialization and urbanization, resulting in the accelerating extinction of plant and animal species. The report's grim prediction: "As more and more species disappear, local ecosystems begin to collapse; at some point, we will face wholesale ecosystem collapse."

The report says that there are two overriding challenges: stabilizing climate and stabilizing population. On the positive side, technologies exist to succeed at both.

Stabilizing climate requires increased investment in climate-benign energy sources of the solar/hydrogen economy rather than the fossil-fuel and nuclear energy sources that have been dominant for decades. Stabilizing population requires additional investment in reproductive health services and education of young women to bring about changes in reproductive behavior. The authors state: "The key to stabilizing world population is for national governments to formulate strategies for stablizing population humanely rather than waiting for nature to intervene with its inhumane methods."

Other important issues covered are combating malnutrition, phasing out persistent organic pollutants (POPs), reducing paper consumption, taking advantage of micropower, and coping with globalization. The three faces of malnutrition that affect almost half the population are hunger, deficiencies in vitamins or minerals, and overeating.

Vital Signs covers 48 topics, including food, agriculture, energy, climate, transportation, and population. Among the concerns not covered in State of the World is that automobile production is growing such that worldwide, there are more than 520 million cars, while bicycle production has fallen more than 20 percent in five years. Forty-seven percent of the world's people now live in urban areas, which generate 75 percent of carbon dioxide from fossil fuel burning that leads to climate change and overuse of resources. While paper recycling is rapidly increasing, the amount of paper used worldwide is also growing so that in the last 25 years the share of paper being recycled has grown only from 38 percent to 43 percent.

These reports increase understanding of the vast scope of international problems. Clearly more action, locally, nationally, and internationally is required to counter some of the destructive trends.

Don Hancock

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Washington, DC 20036

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"Until one is committed there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth…that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves, too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one's favour all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance which no man would have dreamt would have come his way."
– W.H. Murray in The Scottish Himalayan Expedition.

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