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When one reads about the state of our world and the crises it faces, one tends to get a sense that “it’s getting better all the time”. Sure, we face crises, but that’s nothing new. Almost daily now we’re presented with news about “solutions” to the environmental crisis, whether that means international climate summits or DIY off-grid living tips on social media. “Green” and “ethical” products are everywhere, and it seems like every business, politician and government official is getting with the program. Anyone who suggests we aren’t doing enough is branded an “alarmist”, “extremist” or “luddite” and with the help of a few “good news” stories we’re all encouraged to assume that everything is going to be ok.

This is a comforting view, but it isn’t accurate. The real numbers tell a very different story.

Greenhouse gas emissions, for instance, are still increasing. As of the end of this year, it’s estimated that we’ll be emitting a full 65% more than we did in 1990, the year used as a benchmark by the Kyoto Protocol. Worse yet, the rate at which these emissions are increasing doubled in the first decade of the new millennium (compared to the previous three) and emissions this year are showing growing at the fastest rate seen in 30 years. World oil consumption, too, just set another record, thanks largely to the shale oil (“fracking”) boom in the United States. A recent report by the World Wildlife Fund, following animal populations globally over four decades, has found a roughly 40% decline across the board, including a 52% loss of vertebrates (mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish) as well as a 76% decline in freshwater species. Another study, earlier this year, calculated the current global rate of species extinction around 1000 times higher than the natural “background” rate. Last UN researchers found 168 countries suffering from desertification, up from 110 in the 1990s. Then there’s the 40% drop in coral reef growth rates since the 1970s, a troubling indicator of ocean acidification (as well as a potential tipping point). Other worrying trends, especially to those of us who rely on food to live, include vanishing pollinators, collapsing fish stocks and persistence of record-setting droughts in places like California and Brazil.

These numbers paint a very ugly picture. Simply put, there is every reason to believe that our planet is headed for a catastrophic collapse. We can hold on to hope and faith that technology or politics will reverse this trend, but we cannot pretend that those views are backed up by hard evidence. Humanity is heading for a wall, and we show no signs of slowing down.

Admittedly, we’ve made great strides – we’ve pulled a few species back from the brink of extinction, and greatly slowed the rate of deforestation in places like the Amazon (though it’s up 30% this year…). Entire continents, like Europe, have actually managed to lower their carbon emissions and solar power is entering a renaissance. Still, there’s an unavoidable feeling that we’re taking two steps backward for every step forward. Try as we might, it’s not easy to fight the tide of exponential growth. With growing populations enjoying growing per-person consumption, a growing impact on our planet’s ecology is going to be nearly impossible to avoid.

What can we do? First, and foremost, we can stop deluding ourselves. Not only can we write off the likes of Bjorn Lomberg who would downplay the crisis, but also the business-as-usual solutions which promise to save the world without any effort, sacrifice or critical thinking on our part. Bumper stickers and “buying green” aren’t going to cut it anymore. This milquetoast environmentalism is doing more harm than good – both by wasting the time and effort of dedicated people and presenting the illusion that something’s really being accomplished. Only once we’ve abandoned the easy answers can we really look for solutions.

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