The critical decade: 2010-2020

Action is needed now to stave off an environmental disaster

Your excellent coverage of the “Destruction of Africa” as described in the UN Environment Programme’s new atlas (11 June) follows your ground-breaking report on the “epidemic of extinctions” revealed by the latest Living Planet Index (16 May).

The former shows no less than environmental collapse across a whole continent, while the latter documents a global mass extinction that is already taking huge bites out of the richness of our planet’s species.

This news from the world is very bad. We are making for ourselves a future that no previous generation of people could have imagined outside of apocalyptic visions. By any reasonable accounting, we are making a future that is no future at all, for anyone. Another kind of vision for the future is needed, one that can motivate people on the streets of Cairo and Lagos as much as those in Paris and Ottawa.

And that vision, with all that it implies for lifestyles and businesses, needs to be implemented by a mass action of unprecedented determination and inclusiveness.

But where are these things? We can survive these challenges – perhaps – but only if we reinvent ourselves, and our governments become more firmly focused on the future. Our leaders need to govern on behalf of future generations of people, and to preserve the future in-tegrity and productivity of diverse eco-systems.

Old, short-term ways of thinking and acting are not good enough for the new emergency. The decade 2010-20 will be the most critical in the history of life on Earth, when we simply have to get a grip. Since those years may well be the heart of David Cameron’s premiership, let’s hope he’s paying attention.

Julian Caldecott, published in The Independent, 14 June 2008.