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Archive for the ‘13. HOME – Part 2’ Category

PLEASE NOTE: This transcript is being provided for educational purposes only to be used in conjunction with a university course designed to raise awareness of the serious environmental issues that the documentary film HOME: A Stunning Visual Portrayal of Earth addresses. The kind understanding of the filmmakers will be appreciated with respect to any copyright issues which may arise, and it is hoped that permission to use this material will be granted so that the message M. Yann Arthus-Bertrand puts forth may be disseminated among the students participating in this course.

Students are encouraged to purchase their own copies of this important documentary on DVD.

Thank you.

Tony Del Vecchio, M.Ed.

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Part II


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For many of us, the American dream is embodied by a legendary name: Los Angeles. In this city that stretches over 100 kilometers, the number of cars is almost equal to the number of inhabitants.

Here energy puts on a fantastic show every night. The day seems to be no more than the pale reflection of nights that turn the city into a starry sky.

Faster and faster. Distances are no longer counted in miles but in minutes. The automobile shapes new suburbs where every home is a castle, a safe distance from the asphyxiated city centers, and where neat rows of houses huddle round dead-end streets. The model of a lucky few countries has become a universal dream preached by televisions all over the world. Even here in Beijing it is cloned, copied and reproduced in these formatted houses that have wiped pagodas off the map.

The automobile has become the symbol of comfort and progress. If this model were followed by every society, the planet wouldn’t have 900 million vehicles, as it does today, but five billion.

Faster and faster. The more the world develops, the greater its thirst for energy. Everywhere, machines dig, bore, and rip from the Earth the pieces of stars buried in its depths since its creation: minerals.

In the next 20 years, more ore will be extracted from the Earth than in the whole of humanity’s history. As a privilege of power, 80% of this mineral wealth is consumed by 20% of the world’s population. Before the end of this century excessive mining will have exhausted nearly all the planet’s reserves.

Faster and faster. Shipyards churn out oil tankers, container ships, and gas tankers to cater for the demands of globalized industrial production. Most consumer goods travel thousands of kilometers from the country of production to the country of consumption. Since 1950, the volume of international trade has increased 20 times over. Ninety percent of trade goes by sea. 500 million containers are transported every year headed for the world’s major hubs of consumption, such as Dubai.

Dubai is one of the biggest construction sites in the world, a country where the impossible becomes possible. Building artificial islands in the sea, for example. Dubai has few natural resources, but with the money from oil, it can bring millions of tons of material and people from all over the world. It can build forests of skyscrapers, each one taller than the last, or even a ski slope in the middle of the desert. Dubai has no farmland but it can import food. Dubai has no water but it can afford to expend immense amounts of energy to desalinate seawater and build the highest skyscrapers in the world. Dubai has endless sun but no solar panels. It is the city of more is more, where the wildest dreams become reality.

Dubai is a sort of culmination of the Western model with its 800-meter high totem to total modernity that never fails to amaze the world. Excessive? Perhaps. Dubai appears to have made its choice. It is like the new beacon for all the world’s money. Nothing seems further removed from nature than Dubai, although nothing depends on nature more than Dubai. The city merely follows the model of wealthy nations. We haven’t understood that we’re depleting what nature provides.

What do we know of the marine world, of which we see only the surface, and which covers three-quarters of the planet? The ocean depths remain a secret. They contain thousands of species whose existence remains a mystery to us.

Since 1950, fishing catches have increased fivefold, from 18 to 100 million metric tons a year. Thousands of factory ships are emptying the oceans. Three-quarters of fishing grounds are exhausted, depleted, or in danger of being so. Most large fish have been fished out of existence since they have no time to reproduce.

We are destroying the cycle of a life that was given to us. On the coastlines, signs of the exhaustion of stocks abound.

First sign: Colonies of sea mammals are getting smaller. Made vulnerable by urbanization of the coasts and pollution, they now face a new threat: famine. In their unequal battle against industrial fishing fleets, they can’t find enough fish to feed their young.

Second sign: Seabirds must fly ever-greater distances to find food. At the current rate, all fish stocks are threatened with exhaustion.

In Dakar, traditional net fishing boomed in the years of plenty, but today, fish stocks are dwindling. Fish is the staple diet of one in five humans. Can we envision the inconceivable: abandoned boats, seas devoid of fish?

We have forgotten that resources are scarce. Five hundred million humans live in the world’s desert lands, more than the combined population of Europe. They know the value of water. They know how to use it sparingly. Here, they depend on wells replenished by fossil water which accumulated underground in the days when it rained on these deserts:, 25,000 years ago. Fossil water also enables crops to be grown in the desert to provide food for local populations.

The field’s circular shape derives from the pipes that irrigate them around a central pivot. But there is a heavy price to pay. Fossil water is a nonrenewable resource. In Saudi Arabia, the dream of industrial farming in the desert has faded. As if on a parchment map, the light spots on this patchwork show abandoned plots. The irrigation equipment is still there; the energy to pump water also. But the fossil water reserves are severely depleted.

Israel turned the desert into arable land. Even though these hothouses are now irrigated drop by drop, water consumption continues to increase along with exports. The once mighty river Jordan is now just a trickle. Its water has flown to supermarkets all over the world in crates of fruit and vegetables.

The Jordan’s fate is not unique. Across the planet, one major river in 10 no longer flows into the sea for several months of the year. The Dead Sea derives its name from its incredibly high salinity that makes all life impossible.

Deprived of the Jordan’s water, its level goes down by over one meter per year. Its salinity is increasing. Evaporation, due to the heat, produces these fine islands of salt evaporates — beautiful but sterile.

In Rajasthan, India, Udaipur is a miracle of water. The city was made possible by a system of dams and channels that created an artificial lake. For its architects, was water so precious that they dedicated a palace to it?

India risks being the country that suffers most from the lack of water in the coming century. Massive irrigation has fed the growing population, and in the last 50 years,  21 million wells have been dug. The victory over famine has a downside, however. In many parts of the country, the drill has to sink ever deeper to hit water. In western India, 30% of wells have been abandoned. The underground aquifers are drying out. Vast reservoirs will catch the monsoon rains to replenish the aquifers. In dry season, women from local villages dig them with their bare hands.

Thousands of kilometers away, 800 to 1,000 liters of water are consumed per person per day. Las Vegas was built out of the desert. Millions of people live there. Thousands more arrive every month. The inhabitants of Las Vegas are among the biggest consumers of water in the world.

Palm Springs is another desert city with tropical vegetation and lush golf courses. How long can this mirage continue to prosper? The Earth cannot keep up. The Colorado River, which brings water to these cities, is one of those rivers that no longer reaches the sea. Even more alarmingly, its flow is diminishing at source. Water levels in the catchment lakes along its course are plummeting. Lake Powell took 17 years to reach high-peak mark. Its level is now half of that. Water shortages could affect nearly two billion people before 2025. Yet water is still abundant in unspoiled regions of the planet — the wetlands.

These wetlands are crucial to all life on Earth. They represent six percent of the planet. Marshes are sponges that regulate the flow of water. They absorb it in the wet season and release it in the dry season. The water runs off the mountain peaks, carrying with it the seeds of the regions it flows through. This process gives birth to unique landscapes, where the diversity of species is unequaled in its richness. Under the calm water lies a veritable factory where this ultimately-linked richness and diversity patiently filters the water and digests all the pollution.

Marshes are indispensable environments for the regeneration and purification of water. These wetlands were always seen as unhealthy expanses, unfit for human habitation. In our race to conquer more land, we have reclaimed them as pasture for our livestock, or as land for agriculture or building. In the last century, half of the world’s marshes were drained. We know neither their richness nor their role.

All living matter is linked. Water, air, soil, trees — the world’s magic is right in front of our eyes. Trees breathe groundwater into the atmosphere as light mist.

They form a canopy that alleviates the impact of heavy rains and protects the soil from erosion. The forests provide the humidity that is necessary for life. They are the mother and father of rain. The forests store carbon. They contain more than all the Earth’s atmosphere. They are the cornerstone of the climatic balance on which we all depend. Trees provide a habitat for three-quarters of the planet’s biodiversity — that is to say, of all life on Earth.

Every year, we discover new species we had no idea existed — insects, birds, mammals. These forests provide the remedies that cure us. The substances secreted by these plants can be recognized by our bodies. Our cells talk the same language. We are of the same family.

Mangroves are forests that step out onto the sea. Like coral reefs, they are a nursery for the oceans. Their roots entwine and form a shelter for the fish and mollusks that come to breed. Mangroves protect the coasts from hurricanes, tidal waves and erosion by the sea. Whole peoples depend on them — yet they were reduced by half during the 20th century.

One of the reasons for the ongoing disaster is these shrimp farms installed on the mangroves’ rich waters. Ventilators aerate pools full of antibiotics to prevent the asphyxiation of the shrimps, not that of the mangroves.

Since the 1960s, deforestation has constantly gathered pace. Every year, 13 million hectares of tropical forest — an area the size of Illinois — disappear in smoke and as lumber. The world’s largest rain forest, the Amazon, has already been reduced by 20%. The forest gives way to cattle ranches or soybean farms. Ninety-five percent of these soybeans are used to feed livestock and poultry in Europe and Asia. And so, a forest is turned into meat. When they burn, forests and their soils release huge quantities of carbon, accounted for 20% of the greenhouse gases emitted across the globe. Deforestation is one of the principal causes of global warming. Thousands of species disappear forever. With them, one of the links in a long chain of evolution snaps. The intelligence of the living matter from which they came is lost forever.

Barely 20 years ago, Borneo — the fourth-largest island in the world — was covered by a vast primary forest. At the current rate of deforestation, it will have totally disappeared within 10 years. Living matter bonds water, air, earth, and the sun. In Borneo, this bond has been broken in what was one of the Earth’s greatest reservoirs of biodiversity. This catastrophe was provoked by the decision to produce palm oil, the most consumed oil in the world, on Borneo. Palm oil not only caters to our growing demand for food, but also cosmetics, detergents, and, increasingly, alternative fuels. The forest diversity was replaced by a single species — the oil palm. Monoculture is easy, productive and rapid. For local people, it provides employment. It is an agricultural industry.

Another example of massive deforestation is the eucalyptus. Eucalyptus is used to make paper pulp. Plantations are growing, as demand for paper has increased fivefold in 50 years. Monocultures of trees are gaining ground all over the world. But a monoculture is not a forest. By definition, there is little diversity. One forest does not replace another forest. At the foot of these eucalyptus trees, nothing grows because their leaves form a bed that is toxic for most other plants. They grow quickly, but exhaust water reserves.

Soybeans, palm oil, eucalyptus trees — deforestation destroys the essential to produce the superfluous. But elsewhere, deforestation is a last resort to survive. Over two billion people — almost a third of the world’s population — still depend on charcoal.

In Haiti, one of the world’s poorest countries, charcoal is one of the population’s main consumables. Once the pearl of the Caribbean, Haiti can no longer feed its population without foreign aid. On the hills of Haiti, only two percent of the forests are left. Stripped bare, the soil no longer absorbs the rainwater. With no vegetation and no roots to reinforce them, nothing holds the soils back. The rainwater washes them down the hillsides as far as the sea.

Erosion impoverishes the quality of the soils, reducing their suitability for agriculture. In some parts of Madagascar, the erosion is spectacular. Whole hillsides bear deep gashes hundreds of meters wide. Thin and fragile, soil is made by living matter. With erosion, the fine layer of humus, which took thousands of years to form, disappears.

Download a PDF file for Part II here:

HOME – Part II

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