May 14, 2005

Good news from Worldwatch

The Worldwatch Institute has just published Vital Signs 2005. I think the report is a mine of good news (for a gloomier reading see Two Steps Forward) and offers some reasonable recommendations for individual action.

Vital Facts is a selection of facts and story ideas from Vital Signs 2005. Worldwatch highlights the rise of well-being in China. The Chinese not only are getting out of poverty (they eat more meat and fish and buy lots of cars) but they are helping other people do the same (they bolster international trade and drive down unemployment in Asia).

Worldwatch also points out other improvements in human well-being worldwide: the year 2004 has seen records in grain harvest, car production, and nuclear, wind and solar energy production (I just hope that wind farms do not destroy wild habitats and landscapes elsewhere as badly as here in Spain, where they do much more harm than good).

We also get a quantitative measure of how consumers are consciously changing markets:

- Consumers are demanding more grass-fed meat, milk, and eggs for health reasons—grass-fed products are higher in Omega 3 fatty acids, which help lower cholesterol, and in conjugated linoleic acid.

- Socially responsible investing in the United States nearly doubled between 1996 and 1997, and almost doubled again two years later. In 2003, SRI totalled $2.16 trillion in the U.S., of $2.63 trillion worldwide.

- Certification schemes for sustainable wood products are increasing in number worldwide. The Forest Stewardship Council reports the area that meets internationally recognized criteria and principles of forest stewardship has grown more than tenfold since 1995, to some 47 million hectares in 60 countries.

- In the U.S., Toyota and Honda have sold more than 120,000 hybrid electric vehicles since 1999. U.S. sales are expected to reach some 200,000 units in 2005 alone.

The report also includes some facts that are not news at all. Thus in 2004 governments have kept wasting huge amounts of money in stupid enterprises such as wars. That at present “global forest cover stands at approximately half the original extent of 8,000 years ago” could be shocking news for people living 8000 years ago, but not for us.

“There are countless actions that individuals can take to influence many of the economic, social, and environmental trends affecting our world and its people.” Indeed! Worldwatch has its own suggestions and I like most of them. A few of the 30 what-you-can-do’s involve coercive measures or ripping taxpayers off (“encourage your government to reward farmers for meeting ecological goals” and “to adopt stronger efficiency standards for appliances, vehicles, and buildings; and to devise policies that create markets for solar, wind, and other renewable technologies” and so on) but even these are bundled with positive messages (“help eliminate farm subsidies” and “eliminate subsidies for fossil fuels and nuclear power”). The remaining ones suggest purely personal and voluntary actions. I respect all of them although some I will not follow. Thus, I am not willing to “invest responsibly” (I have no money), “buy local” (I find this xenophobic and anti-environment), “buy organic food” (also anti-environment, to the best of my knowledge) and “be an informed voter” (this is asking too much from me).

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