Nearly 80 Percent of the World's Energy Comes
From Oil, Coal, or Natural Gas.
WASHINGTON, D.C.- According to Vital
Signs 2006-2007,  released today by the Worldwatch Institute,
economic indicators are on the rise: in 2005, more steel and aluminum
were produced than ever before, vehicle production reached a record
45.6 million units, and gross world product reached a record $59.6
trillion. The number of Internet users worldwide topped 1 billion
in 2005, and cell phone sales reached an estimated 816 million
However, while these trends point to unprecedented
levels of commerce and consumption, they are set against a backdrop
of ecological decline in a world powered overwhelmingly by fossil
fuels. In 2005, the average atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration
increased 0.6 percent over the high in 2004, representing the
largest annual increase ever recorded. The average global temperature
reached 14.6 degrees Celsius, making 2005 the warmest year ever
recorded on the Earth's surface.
As of late last year, an estimated 20 percent
of the world's coral reefs had been destroyed, as were 20 percent
of mangrove forests over the last 25 years alone. Both can provide
a natural buffer for coastlines against weather-related disasters,
the cost of which hit a record $204 billion in 2005, with $125
billion of this caused by Hurricane Katrina.
The findings in Vital Signs 2006-2007 build
on those of the United Nations-sponsored Millennium Ecosystem
Assessment released in 2005, which notes that degradation of Earth's
natural systems has been brought about by human activity. For
example, deforestation accounts for 25 percent of annual human-caused
carbon emissions, and nearly 1 percent of the global forested
area was lost between 2000 and 2005 (with the greatest losses
posted in Africa and Latin America, at 3.2 percent and 2.5 percent
respectively). The decline of ecosystems is undermining the vital
services they provide, including the provision of fresh water
and food and the regulation of climate and air quality. Ecosystem
decline is also increasing the risk of disruptive and potentially
irreversible changes such as regional climate shifts, the emergence
of new diseases, and the formation of low-oxygen "dead zones"
in coastal waters.
"Business as usual is harming the Earth's
ecosystems and the people who depend on them," said Erik
Assadourian, Vital Signs 2006-2007 project director. "If
everyone consumed at the average level of high-income countries,
the planet could sustainably support only 1.8 billion people,
not today's population of 6.5 billion. Yet the world's population
is expected not to shrink but to grow to 8.9 billion by 2050."
Nearly 80 percent of the world's energy comes
from oil, coal, or natural gas, fossil fuels that contribute to
the greenhouse gas emissions that precipitate climate change.
Fossil fuel burning continued to rise despite soaring energy prices
over the past two years: in 2004, coal use jumped 6.3 percent
and natural gas consumption rose 3.3 percent; in 2005, oil use
increased 1.3 percent.
These growth rates were dwarfed by those
in renewable energy: global wind power capacity jumped 24 percent
in 2005, solar photovoltaic production increased 45 percent, and
biofuels production jumped 20 percent. "These developments
are impressive and are likely to provoke far-reaching changes
in world energy markets within the next five years," said
Worldwatch Institute president Christopher Flavin. "But the
transition will have to move even faster to prevent the kind of
ecological and economic crises that may be precipitated by continuing
dependence on fossil fuels."