Global Threats, Global Futures
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Global Threats, Global Futures

Living with Declining Living Standards

Thayer Scudder

Global threats can be expected to cause a global environmental crisis and declining living standards for most people. Threats analyzed include poverty, cultural, economic, political and religious fundamentalism, consumption, population increase and degradation of the global ecosystem. Chapters on the United States, China and Zambia illustrate difficulties that high, middle and low income countries face in addressing such threats. The final chapter examines the type of transformational change required just to reduce the rate and magnitude of future decline.
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Chapter 3: The Threat of Environmental Degradation

Thayer Scudder


INTRODUCTION Environmental degradation involves a daunting range of issues. I will start with a case history of the complex interrelationship between development, increases in population and population density, poverty and environmental degradation. I will then concentrate on threats to ecosystems, ecosystem services and biodiversity. Special attention will be paid to river basins, coastal ecosystems, decreasing water availability due to melting of mountain glaciers and snowfields and threats to bird species and numbers. Discussion of the state of global ecosystems and biodiversity will be informed in part by the 2005 synthesis reports of the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment’s Ecosystems and Human Well-Being: General Synthesis and Ecosystems and Human Well-being: Biodiversity Synthesis. A credible argument can be made that global climate change alone will be sufficient to reduce the living standards and quality of life of future generations. Rich and poor will be affected although the poor will be the most vulnerable, since they tend to live in more marginal areas, have access to a narrower range of options and resources (including less government assistance, as illustrated by the weak U.S. responses in 2005 to the poor in New Orleans following hurricane Katrina) and, as in the case with many ethnic minorities, have already lost what resilience they had prior to their incorporation into ‘the modern world.’ A CASE HISTORY: GWEMBE TONGA RESETTLEMENT AND ENVIRONMENTAL DEGRADATION The environmental degradation caused by the development-induced resettlement of 57 000 Gwembe Tonga may strike readers as an extreme case. It is especially important, however, because it...

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