State of the World 2000

The information economy boom is obscuring Earth's decline.

provided by Worldwatch Institute

he fast-evolving information economy is affecting every facet of our lives, but it is environmental trends that will ultimately shape the new century, says the Worldwatch Institute in State of the World 2000, its first report in the new millennium.

In the United States, the rapidly growing information economy has created millions of jobs and helped drive the Dow Jones Industrial Average of stocks from less than 3,000 in early 1990 to over 11,000 in 1999. "Caught up in the growth of the Internet," said senior author Lester Brown, "we seem to have lost sight of the Earth's deteriorating health. It would be a mistake to confuse the vibrancy of the virtual world with the increasingly troubled state of the real world."

"When we launched this series of annual assessments in 1984, we hoped that we could begin the next century with an upbeat report, one that would show the Earth's health improving," said Brown. "But unfortunately the list of trends we were concerned with then -- shrinking forests, eroding soils, falling water tables, collapsing fisheries, and disappearing species -- has since lengthened to include rising temperatures, more destructive storms, dying coral reefs, and melting glaciers. As the Dow Jones goes up, the Earth's health goes down."

One key trend affecting the entire world is rising temperature, which is melting glaciers from the Peruvian Andes to the Swiss Alps. In late 1991, hikers in the southwestern Alps discovered an intact human body, a male, protruding from a glacier. Apparently trapped in a storm some 5,000 years ago and quickly covered with snow and ice, his body was remarkably well preserved. In 1999, another body was found in a melting glacier in the Yukon Territory of western Canada. "Our ancestors are emerging from the ice with a message for us: The Earth is getting warmer," said Brown.

In a surprise finding, the study reports that the number of people who are over-nourished and overweight now rivals the number who are undernourished and underweight, each group containing roughly 1.2 billion people. Other chapters assess the issue of persistent organic pollutants, the future of paper, the information economy, micropower technologies, and environmental job creation.

"The scale and urgency of the challenges facing us in this century are unprecedented," said Brown. "We cannot overestimate the urgency of stabilizing the relationship between ourselves, now 6 billion in number, and the natural systems on which we depend. If we continue the irreversible destruction of these systems, our grandchildren will never forgive us. As the report notes, 'Nature has no reset button.'"

The Worldwatch Institute is dedicated to fostering an environmentally sustainable society in which human needs are met in ways that do not threaten the health of the natural environment or the prospects of future generations. Worldwatch Institute, 1776 Massachusetts Ave., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20036-1904; (202) 452-1999; email; website