Too Much Hand Wringing, Too Many Reports, Not Enough Innovation
Mark J. Poznansky
It should be abundantly clear to most of us that we have entered into a new era, some have called it a new epoch, the Anthropocene, where man’s activities are now having an important if not dominant impact on our environment. You don’t have to go very far to see this: over 50% of the world’s population now live in cities, often massive concrete jungles, our industries and transportation systems continue to spew green-house gases unabated, forests are disappearing at an alarming rate in favour of cities, highways and agriculture and garbage , especially plastics are accumulating everywhere. Of course, most of what we see in terms of climate change and the loss of biodiversity occur as a result of massive population growth, and industrialization that has occurred largely since the end of World War II. And then there is our collective lack of attention to our impact on nature, read the environment: to the impact on our health, to the security of the world’s food supply and to our environment, especially the impact on global warming. These are all clearly putting humanity at risk.
In terms of our health, unresolved cancers (e.g. pancreas and lung) continue with little progress. Infectious diseases where effective vaccines have not been forthcoming and anti-microbial resistance have become major individual and public health concerns. In terms of our Mental Health we’re not only NOT progressing, things are getting worse. In North America suicides rates are up by 33% and addiction rates, especially to opiates are up by 100+%. But these are not even the most critical issues
While food appears plentiful in our Canadian supermarkets, at least in the south and in our cities, food security is a major issue worldwide. 36 million people and as many as 6 million children died of starvation in 2018 and 800+ million were malnourished. Experts say that by 2050 we will not be able to feed the roughly 10 billion people who we expect to inhabit the earth. And to make it worse food production is incredibly land and energy-dependent thus further exacerbating the increase in atmospheric CO2 and global warming.
Then in terms of the quality of our environment there is no question that we continue to go in the wrong direction; the quality of our air, the temperature of our atmosphere and that of the oceans, the contamination of agricultural land with flood waters, often salt water, the cutting down of our forest, the continued contamination of our lakes, rivers and groundwater and the list goes on. It seems perfectly clear that this progression simply can’t continue if we are to survive as a species.
These are all crises that are manmade and just as they are manmade so will the solutions have to be. We are certainly beyond the point when we can merely say that “nature will take care of itself”. Fortunately, there are science-based solutions to all of these problems.
We need more research, but it can’t simply be more basic research money offered to our houses of advance learning by Government agencies and philanthropists. While continued investments in fundamental research is critical for the future, so is research to develop manmade solutions to lift us out of crises that we face. But innovation doesn’t just include development and implementation. It requires effective and timely regulation. Just as we can’t afford to allow faulty and even dangerous technologies to reach the market so we can’t afford to have regulators sit and stifle or impede the implementation of critical solutions to our many essential problems. Solving the regulatory roadblocks will do a lot to encourage the private sector to participate in much more meaningful ways.
And isn’t it utter madness that we can’t bring ourselves to penalize sharply those who would continue to pollute and strongly incentivize those who would protect our environment? Who with even an iota of understanding of what we are doing to our planet would oppose an effective carbon tax or withdraw a credit encouraging the purchase of electric vehicles? And that’s just the start of a long list of what can and should be done. When will we all wake up and get our priorities straight?
And finally, in a time such as this, we need a more educated, science appreciating populace. We cannot afford to allow paranoid (or worse), anti-science conspiracy theorists to rule the day. The anti-vaxxers and the anti-GMO people are one and the same. They trade on scare tactics and falsehoods and they are an impediment to allowing us to present solutions to some of the most serious challenges that humanity faces.
So, let’s stop wringing our hands in dismay. Let’s each of us do our best to reverse the insults that we are imposing on our environment and let’s demand from our leaders a more aggressive approach to regulation and to the development of science-based solutions.