By JOHN PASSACANTANDO
WASHINGTON -- Yes, things have gotten worse over the last year, when it comes to the environment. Only a fool -- or someone who makes money selling oil, coal, cars and wars -- would tell you that things are getting better.
We're fighting for oil in Iraq, stripping trees out of ancient forests around the world for toilet paper and feeding global warming so that glacial meltdown, the spread of disease, supercharged storms and rising seas will affect generations to come.
Sure, there have been some little bright spots. Some cities have cleaner air, community groups are cleaning up riverbanks, and some species, such as the bald eagle and striped bass, have made a comeback. But unlike flacks from energy companies -- or the politicians in their pay -- I get paid to tell you the truth, good or bad. And it's bad. Real bad.
It's not that we re-elected the most anti-environmental president in U.S. history. Even Clinton needed serious pressure to do the right thing when it came to the environment. But this regime comprises of a bunch of thugs running a pay-to-pollute racket out of our White House.
It's worse than that. The United Nations recently released a new report called the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, which incorporated the work of more than 2,000 authors and reviewers worldwide to assess the state of the environment.
The report measured how the great ecosystems of the world are faring. Ecosystems provide the clean air, water, soil nutrients, healthy oceans and climate stability that are needed to keep us and all living things on the planet alive. The conclusions are chilling.
If you are a rock, you need not worry. If you aren't, the assessment's three conclusions should concern you:
U"Approximately 60 percent of the ecosystem services examined during the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment are being degraded or used unsustainably, including fresh water, capture fisheries, air and water purification."
U"There is established but incomplete evidence that changes being made in ecosystems are increasing the likelihood of nonlinear changes in ecosystems -- including accelerating, abrupt, and potentially irreversible changes -- that have important consequences for human well-being."
U"The harmful effects of the degradation of ecosystem services ... are being borne disproportionately by the poor."
I recommend this scary and weighty tome of a report. I also recommend you read it side by side with Jared Diamond's new book, "Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed."
Diamond takes us through civilizations that destroyed their ecosystems and then collapsed, often turning to cannibalism, and ultimately disappearing. The Mayans, the Anasazi, the inhabitants of Easter Island, the Norse of Greenland all destroyed themselves, in part by destroying their ecosystems.
Think we're smarter? The jury is still out, but the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment can be seen as an argument that we're not.
Project thin Ice
Next month Greenpeace is partnering with two explorers who are going to attempt the first summer crossing of the Arctic Ocean as part of Project Thin Ice, a global campaign to document and raise awareness of the destructive impacts of global warming where it is at its worst -- in the polar regions.
The two explorers will be making a 1,240-mile journey. That's a lot of miles, but we as a nation have a longer way to go if we are to make this world a healthy place for future generations.
The latest science tells us that, at the current rate of global warming, polar bears might not make it to the next century. Humankind surely has more time than that, but how much longer is up to us.
X John Passacantando is executive director of Greenpeace USA in Washington, D.C. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services