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World on the Edge, writes Lester Brown, Earth Policy

with 3 comments

In his introduction to the upcoming title, Lester Brown of the Earth Policy Institute says that we are facing issues of near-overwhelming complexity and unprecedented urgency. “Our challenge is to think globally and develop policies to counteract environmental decline and economic collapse. The question is: Can we change direction before we go over the edge?”

The edge is what Pakistan and Russia did go over in 2010. In the summer of 2010 record-high temperatures hit Moscow and torrential rains caused immense devastation in Pakistan.

NASA Earth Observatory, Russia fires

NASA Earth Observatory, Russia fires

At first it was just another heat wave, says the first chapter of the book, but the scorching heat that started in late June continued through mid-August. Western Russia was so hot and dry in early August that 300 or 400 new fires were starting every day. Millions of acres of forest burned. So did thousands of homes. Crops withered. Day after day, Moscow was bathed in seemingly endless smoke. The elderly and those with impaired respiratory systems struggled to breathe. The death rate climbed as heat stress and smoke took their toll.

The average July temperature in Moscow was a scarcely believable 14 degrees Fahrenheit above the norm. Twice during the heat wave, the Moscow temperature exceeded 100 degrees Fahrenheit, a level Muscovites had never before experienced. Watching the heat wave play out over a seven-week period on the TV evening news, with the thousands of fires and the smoke everywhere, was like watching a horror film that had no end. Russia’s 140 million people were in shock, traumatized by what was happening to them and their country.

Mohammad Rezwan, 24, swims one hour every other day to get food from at a World Food Programme distribution in Kashmore, Pakistan. Photo: IRIN News

Mohammad Rezwan, 24, swims one hour every other day to get food from at a World Food Programme distribution in Kashmore, Pakistan. Photo: IRIN News

Even before the Russian heat wave ended, there were reports in late July of torrential rains in the mountains of northern Pakistan. The Indus River, the lifeline of Pakistan, and its tributaries were overflowing. Levees that had confined the river to a narrow channel so the fertile floodplains could be farmed had failed. Eventually the raging waters covered one fifth of the country. The destruction was everywhere. Some 2 million homes were damaged or destroyed. More than 20 million people were affected by the flooding. Nearly 2,000 Pakistanis died. Some 6 million acres of crops were damaged or destroyed. Over a million livestock drowned. Roads and bridges were washed away.

Although the flooding was blamed on the heavy rainfall, there were actually several trends converging to produce what was described as the largest natural disaster in Pakistan’s history. On May 26, 2010, the official temperature in Mohenjodaro in south-central Pakistan reached 128 degrees Fahrenheit, a record for Asia. Snow and glaciers in the western Himalayas, where the tributaries of the Indus River originate, were melting fast. As Pakistani glaciologist M. Iqbal Khan noted, the glacial melt was already swelling the flow of the Indus even before the rains came.

3 Responses

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  1. Have we reached the point of no return?
    Are we greater than the natural world in wich we live?
    Will the piper soon demand his due?
    Are human beings now on the endangered species list?
    Have we wondered too far from the roots as Buckminister once said?
    is there anything that can prevent humanity from going over the edge?

    John Canivan

    December 17, 2010 at 00:37

    • Dear John, thanks for that lyrical questioning. No, I’d like to think we haven’t reached the point of no return. There are many who are doing their best to practice sensible and humane living. Rahul


      December 20, 2010 at 11:27

  2. Listen to a BBC interview with Lester Brown:

    “In this edition of Global Business, Peter Day hears from an American environmental campaigner who has been drawing the world’s attention to the state of itself since the 1970s.

    Lester Brown is the author of the recently published book World on the Edge – How to Prevent Environmental and Economic Collapse.

    He thinks the world has to mobilise to embrace sustainability in the same way that the much of the western world mobilised to fight in World War II. With his Washington policy makers’ focus, he calls it the Pearl Harbour model.

    We need to know the true costs of doing business in a fragile world, he says. This will help to provide a strategy for avoiding what he foresees as decline and collapse.”

    Charles Palmer

    March 20, 2011 at 04:10

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