Millennium EcoSystem Assessment

There's been much reporting on the UN-sponsored Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, which seemingly paints (in the typical story) a very bleak picture of the Earth's future. As soon as that flavor emerged my bovine excrement detector went off and I refused to look further. Who needs another sky-is-falling hour anyway? Then came a decent reporter's take on it (1 in a million chance) making it clear that other sources had misconstrued. It was, after all, an inventory, followed with a scenario planning study; and, only one of the four written scenarios were dire. Of course the dire one got almost all of the coverage. Which leads me to the obvious point. Is the media's constant rant about environmentalists being negative, the doom and gloom thing if you will, an intrinsic problem with TreeHuggers?Or is it just reporters creating fear-driven gaper's block so ads get seen? Read the summaries to see what you think. One of the principal authors, a scientist from the University of Wisconsin, has done other scenario planning work that this TreeHugger found compelling. Spread the word and give your local reporters some feedback.

The scenarios paint pictures of the world in 2050 in which policy-makers in some cases make a mess of things. But in other instances, a combination of enlightened leadership, free markets and the promise of technology come together to solve mounting pollution and resource problems.

All told, 1,360 scientists from 95 countries participated. Carpenter said, "We didn't want this just to be another gloom-and-doom study, so what we tried to do was spend some time thinking about what we could do about it." Carpenter and his colleagues determined that the world will respond to these problems in different ways.

Global orchestration: World powers embrace global trade and liberal trade practices, leading to a more equitable distribution of wealth. The middle class grows, and many people are lifted out of poverty. World powers are in a better position to deal with global issues such as climate change and dwindling fisheries.

However, environmental issues could be overshadowed as economic issues trump the environment. A stronger global economy boosts demand for goods and other services. That could harm forests and move more land to agricultural production, and potentially, intensive farming practices could lead to greater pollution. Other basics such as potable water could suffer as well, especially among the poor.

Order from strength: The world becomes more fragmented, and concerns about security and protection increase. Nations look after their own interests as the best defense against economic uncertainty. The role of government expands as oil companies, water systems and other strategic businesses are either nationalized or are subject to more oversight by government.

The result is that global cooperation suffers. Agreements on global climate change, international fisheries and trade in endangered species are only weakly enforced. Industries that market natural resources - coal, timber and mining, for example - move to wealthier countries. Ecosystems become vulnerable. There are growing shortages of food and water in poorer countries.

Adapting Mosaic: Power and managing environmental issues move downward to local units of government. Society invests in new ways to improve ecosystems. Barriers to information virtually disappear. There is better understanding of the resilience, fragility and flexibility of ecosystems, and leaders understand that mistakes will be made. There is great variation among regions about how to solve problems. Some areas thrive, while others falter and continue to see their environments degrade.

With so much attention on local governance, there are some failures in managing global problems such as climate change and pollution. Communities slowly realize they can't manage everything at the local level. Gradually, they begin to develop networks of communities, regions, even nations, to work on global problems. This works especially well in regions where there are shared assets, such as a river valley. Eventually, people figure out what works and what doesn't.

TechnoGarden: This is perhaps the most optimistic of outcomes, where a globally interconnected world leans heavily on technology and the marketplace to reward environmental innovation. Solutions are designed to benefit both the economy and the environment. People are required to pay for the pollution they create, and conversely, others are paid to clean and maintain watersheds or create energy from non-polluting sources. The innovation quickly expands to developing countries, and incomes there rise.

But many solutions depend on big, engineered systems that depend on business markets, which are inherently risky. Technical innovation can't solve all problems. Problems keep cropping up, and the challenge is trying to adapt to them more quickly.

Keep those bold Scenario titles in mind. The idea is to promote "strategic conversations" that equate leading indicators with what seems to be a direction we're pushing toward. TechnoGarden TreeHuggers. TechnoGarden.

by: John Laumer