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Every now and then something really important happens, not important in the “newsworthy” sense as is evidenced by the fact that it is already being shunted off the front pages (although I am in no way belittling the victims of the recent earthquake in Indonesia and the surrounding area) but important in the sense that it will effect you, and I, and billions of people around the world.

Well it might.

The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment was drawn up by 1,300 researchers from 95 nations over a period of four years. Essentially it’s an account of the current state of our natural resources, resources which are hugely depleted and still under increasing threat.

“Human activity is putting such a strain on the natural functions of Earth that the ability of the planet’s ecosystems to sustain future generations can no longer be taken for granted,”

There is a lot of necessary doom and gloom listed in the report but some of the suggested policies for starting to correct the damage are refreshing and, wait for it, show a level of common sense and understanding not normally associated with the United Nations.

The report offer four ways to turn the tide and they all work on the same principle, namely that economic growth, more trade, lower taxes and a reliance on the private sector is the key. I’ll hand you over to Tim Worstall now as he states WHY this is a good thing:

This is marvellous, a real step forward. We can now all agree with the tree huggers, indeed, the planet is in bad shape, so let’s go and do what the report tells us we should. Abolish subsidies, create markets where they currently do not exist, provide the legal and institutional framework for such markets to work (that is, private property ownership), drag the poor up out of their destitution by incorporating them into the globalized system. In short, the report is telling us two important things. One, that there are problems, and the eco-weenies will of course agree with this. Two, that the solution is more markets, properly structured, so that externalities are properly reflected in the prices paid, something that the greenies will not like, but if they accept the first part of the report they need to accept the second.

Tim Worstall

Of course it won’t be that simple, and there is a tinge of dread in the back of my mind when you mention terms like “globalized systems”. Getting the balance right will be very difficult as there is only one thing in which the private sector is truly interested, but hopefully the governments who have signed off on this report will finally start to take their responsibility seriously.

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“The four-year research project … backed by the United Nations, World Bank, and international scientific and development agencies, represents the widest-ranging study of the planet’s life support systems.”

“Over the past 50 years, humans have changed ecosystems more rapidly and extensively than at any time in human history, largely to meet rapidly growing demands for food, fresh water, timber and fibre”

“Nature, the scientists warn, is not something to be enjoyed at the weekend. Conservation of natural spaces is not just a luxury.”

“The over-riding conclusion of this assessment is that it lies within the power of human societies to ease the strains we are putting on the nature services of the planet, while continuing to use them to bring better living standards to all.”

“Achieving this, however, will require radical changes in the way nature is treated at every level of decision-making and new ways of co-operation between government, business and civil society”

Environmental advocates such as Nadia Martinez … applauded the report’s findings but said she is concerned that governments could implement its market-based recommendations while ignoring its caveats.”

“There will undoubtedly be gainsayers, as there are with the IPCC; but I put them in the same box as the flat-Earthers and the people who believe smoking doesn’t cause cancer”

Download the Assessment (PDF) or view a summary of the key facts.