To cope with the numerous threats facing us (progressive depletion of resources, unequal access to energy, tensions over supplies and damage to the environment), the necessary solutions must guarantee:
- Long-term availability of the energy required for development of the planet, without excluding the Third World countries.
- Security of supplies, to protect the importing countries against sudden crises.
- Availability of the means designed to avoid the catastrophic effects of a major climate change.
These threats must be considered in a broader context. The risk of depletion does not concern energy alone, but all natural resources (water, food resources, raw materials, etc.). The notion of scarcity, which plays a major role in the economy, requires new forms of management and governance .
Pollution and global warming could make the planet unfit to support life. Pollution of the natural environment coupled with excessive use of pesticides and dumping of waste worsens the situation, especially with regard to access to water.
Overexploitation of water resources for irrigation or consumption in towns depletes the water tables, dries out rivers and causes numerous lakes to disappear . Global warming also jeopardises water resources in many regions.
The concept of an ecological footprint formalises the problem of access to the Earth's resources. The geological footprint represents the area of the Earth needed to regenerate the resources a human population consumes and to absorb and render harmless the corresponding waste. It is greater than 5 ha per capita in the richest countries and less than 1 ha in the poorest. In 2003, it was 5.6 ha in France and 9.6 ha in the USA. The ecological footprint of the world population is rising steadily, and it is estimated that it has changed from slightly over 4 billion ha in 1963, to nearly 14 billion ha in 2003. In contrast, the maximum footprint per capita that can be supported in terms of natural resources is consistently decreasing, changing from 2.9 ha in 1970 to 1.8 ha in 2003. If every inhabitant on the planet was to consume as much as a current inhabitant of the USA, the equivalent of 5.3 planets would be necessary to support humanity, clearly demonstrating that this option is not viable .
Pressure on the environment is likely to increase further, with major consequences for the ecosystems on Earth. Biodiversity is especially vulnerable.
Unless immediate action is taken to remedy the current practice, this situation could eventually become disastrous, causing an ecological catastrophe , a scenario already predicted by some authors [14, 15].
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