2.1.2 Context: environmental impacts of human activities

The whole concept of the green economy rests on the fact that human activities are having a major effect on the environment, at a global scale. Sustainability science examines these impacts, and attempts to identify how human needs can be met without compromising the global ecosystems on which we all depend.

It is difficult to appreciate just how profound the environmental impacts of human activities actually are.

Further reading:

A number of global environmental assessments are regularly conducted, with the aim of providing an overview of the state of the global environment. One of the best known is the Global Environmental Outlook (GEO), produced by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). Their reports are freely accessible, and generally well presented, so are well worth exploring. The Executive Summary would be well worth examining, if you don’t have the time to look at the whole report –

The latest version of GEO (5) has recently been released. It is very interesting to note that, for the first time, this assessment has identified human population growth as a major driver of environmental change. It stops short, however, of saying what should be done about it. Have a look at the section on ‘Drivers’, at the beginning of the GEO-5 Assessment Report, which is available here. This provides a great introduction to the subject.

If you would like a really accessible and readable account of human impacts on the earth, this book is highly recommended: The World Without Us, by Alan Weisman. It takes an unusual position: if humans vanished from the earth tomorrow, what would the legacy of their activities actually be?