Archive for the ‘14. HOME – Part 3’ 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.





Part III


Here’s one theory of the story of the Rapa Nui, the inhabitants of Easter Island, that could perhaps give us pause for thought. Living on the most isolated island in the world, the Rapa Nui exploited their resources until there was nothing left. Their civilization did not survive.

On these lands stood the highest palm trees in the world. They have disappeared. The Rapa Nui chopped them all down for lumber. They then had to face widespread soil erosion. The Rapa Nui could no longer go fishing. There were no trees to build canoes. And yet the Rapa Nui formed one of the most brilliant civilizations in the Pacific. Innovative farmers, sculptors, exceptional navigators, they were caught in the vise of overpopulation and dwindling resources. They experienced social unrest, revolts, and famine. Many did not survive the cataclysm.  The real mystery of Easter Island is not how its strange statues got there. We know now. It’s why the Rapa Nui didn’t react in time. It’s only one of a number of theories, but it has particular relevance to us today.

Since 1950, the world’s population has almost tripled. And since 1950, we have more fundamentally altered our island, the Earth, than in all of our 200,000 year history.

Nigeria is the biggest oil exporter in Africa, and yet 70% of the population lives under the poverty line. The wealth is there, but the country’s inhabitants don’t have access to it. The same is true all over the globe. Half the world’s poor live in resource-rich countries.

Our mode of development has not fulfilled its promises. In 50 years, the gap between rich and poor has grown wider than ever. Today, half of the world’s wealth is in the hands of the richest two percent of the population. Can such disparity be maintained? They’re the cause of population movements whose scale we have yet to fully realize.

The city of Lagos had a population of 700,000 in 1960. That will rise to 16 million by 2025. Lagos is one of the fastest-growing megalopolises in the world. The new arrivals are mostly farmers forced off the land for economic or demographic reasons or because of the diminishing resources. This is a radically new type of urban growth driven by the urge to survive rather than to prosper. Every week, over a million people swell the populations of the world’s cities.

One human being in six now lives in a precarious, unhealthy, overpopulated environment, without access to daily necessities, such as water, sanitation. or electricity. Hunger is spreading once more. It affects nearly one billion people.

All over the planet, the poorest scrabble to survive on scraps, while we continue to dig for resources that we can no longer live without. We look farther and farther afield, in previously unspoiled territory and in regions that are increasingly difficult to exploit. We’re not changing our model.

Oil might run out? We can still extract oil from the tar sands of Canada. The biggest trucks in the world move thousands of tons of sand. The process of heating and separating bitumen from the sand requires millions of cubic meters of water. Colossal amounts of energy are needed. The pollution is catastrophic. The most urgent priority, apparently, is to pick every pocket of sunlight.

Our oil tankers are getting bigger and bigger. Our energy requirements are constantly increasing. We try to power growth like a bottomless oven that demands more and more fuel.

It’s all about carbon. In a few decades, the carbon that made our atmosphere a furnace, and that nature captured over millions of years, allowing life to develop, will have largely been pumped back out. The atmosphere is heating up. It would have been inconceivable for a boat to be here just a few years ago.

Transport, industry, deforestation, agriculture — our activities release gigantic quantities of carbon dioxide. Without realizing it — molecule by molecule — we have upset the Earth’s climatic balance.

All eyes are on the poles, where the effects of global warming are most visible. It’s happening fast — very fast. The Northwest Passage that connects America, Europe, and Asia via the pole is opening up. The Arctic ice cap is melting. Under the effect of global warming, the ice cap has lost 40% of its thickness in 40 years. Its surface area in the summer shrinks year by year. It could disappear before 2030. Some predictions suggest 2015. Soon these waters will be free of ice several summer months a year. The sunbeams that the ice sheet previously reflected back now penetrate the dark water heating up. The warming process gathers pace. This ice contains the records of our planet.

The concentration of carbon dioxide hasn’t been so high for several hundred thousand years. Humanity has never lived in an atmosphere like this.

Is excessive exploitation of our resources threatening the lives of every species? Climate change accentuates the threat.

By 2050, a quarter of the Earth’s species could be threatened with extinction. In these polar regions, the balance of nature has already been disrupted.

Off the coast of Greenland, there are more and more icebergs. Around the North Pole, the ice cap has lost 30% of its surface area in 30 years. But as Greenland rapidly becomes warmer, the freshwater of a whole continent flows into the salt water of the oceans. Greenland’s ice contains 20% of the freshwater of the whole planet. If it melts, sea levels will rise by nearly seven meters.

But there is no industry here. Greenland’s ice sheet suffers from greenhouse gases emitted elsewhere on Earth. Our ecosystem doesn’t have borders. Wherever we are, our actions have repercussions on the whole Earth. The atmosphere of our planet is an indivisible whole. It is an asset we share.

On Greenland’s surface, lakes are appearing on the landscape. The ice cap has begun to melt at a speed that even the most pessimistic scientists did not envision 10 years ago.

More and more of these glacier-fed rivers are emerging together and burrowing through the surface. It was thought the water would freeze in the depths of the ice. On the contrary, it flows under the ice, carrying the ice sheet into the sea, where it breaks into icebergs. As the freshwater of Greenland’s ice sheet gradually seeps into the salt water of the oceans, low-lying lands around the globe are threatened.

Sea levels are rising. Water expanding as it gets warmer caused, in the 20th century alone, a rise of 20 centimeters. Everything becomes unstable. Coral reefs, for example, are extremely sensitive to the slightest change in water temperature. Thirty percent have disappeared. They are an essential link in the chain of species. In the atmosphere, the major wind streams are changing direction. Rain cycles are altered. The geography of climate is modified.

The inhabitants of low-lying islands here in the Maldives, for example, are on the front line. They are increasingly concerned. Some are already looking for new, more hospitable lands.

If sea levels continue to rise faster and faster, what would major cities like Tokyo, the world’s most populous city, do? Every year scientists’ predictions become more and more alarming. Seventy percent of the world’s population lives on coastal plains. Eleven of the 15 biggest cities stand on a coastline or river estuary. As the seas rise, salt will invade the water table, depriving inhabitants of drinking water. Migratory phenomena are inevitable. The only uncertainty concerns their scale.

In Africa, Mount Kilimanjaro is unrecognizable. Eighty percent of its glaciers have disappeared. In summer, the rivers no longer flow. Local peoples are affected by the lack of water.

Even on the world’s highest peaks, in the heart of the Himalayas, eternal snows and glaciers are receding. Yet these glaciers play an essential role in the water cycle. They trap the water from the monsoons as ice and release it in the summer when the snow melts.

The glaciers of the Himalayas are the source of all the great Asian rivers — the Indus, Ganges, Mekong, Yangtze, Kiang. Two billion people depend on them for drinking water and to irrigate their crops as in Bangladesh. On the delta of the Ganges and Brahmaputra, Bangladesh is directly affected by the phenomena occurring in the Himalayas and at sea level. This is one of the most populous and poorest countries in the world. It is already hit by global warming. The combined impact of increasingly dramatic floods and hurricanes could make a third of its landmass disappear.

When populations are subjected to these devastating phenomena, they eventually move away. Wealthy countries will not be spared. Droughts are occurring all over the planet. In Australia, half of farmland is already affected. We are in the process of compromising the climatic balance that has allowed us to develop over 12,000 years. More and more wildfires encroach on major cities. In turn, they exacerbate global warming. As the trees burn, they release carbon dioxide. The system that controls our climate has been severely disrupted.

The elements on which it relies have been disrupted. The clock of climate change is ticking in these magnificent landscapes. Here in Siberia and elsewhere across the globe it is so cold that the ground is constantly frozen. It’s known as permafrost. Under its surface lies a climatic time bomb; methane – a greenhouse gas 20 times more powerful than carbon dioxide. If the permafrost melts, the methane released would cause the greenhouse effect to race out of control with consequences no one can predict. We would literally be in unknown territory.

Humanity has no more than 10 years to reverse the trend and avoid crossing into this territory life on Earth as we have never known it.  We have created phenomena we cannot control. Since our origins, water, air, and forms of life are intimately linked. But recently, we have broken those links.

Let’s face the facts. We must believe what we know. All that we have just seen is a reflection of human behavior. We have shaped the Earth in our image. We have very little time to change. How can this century carry the burden of nine billion human beings if we refuse to be called to account for everything we alone have done?

20% of the world’s population consumes 80% of its resources

The world spends 12 times more on military expenditures than on aid to developing countries.

5,000 people a day die because of dirty drinking water

1 billion people have no access to safe drinking water

Nearly 1 billion people are going hungry

Over 50% of grain traded around the world is used for animal feed or bio fuels

40% of arable land has suffered long-term damage

Every year, 13 millions hectares of forest disappear

One mammal in 4, one bird in 8, one amphibian in 3 are threatened with extinction

Species are dying out at a rhythm 1,000 times faster than the natural rate

Three quarters of fishing grounds are exhausted, depleted or in dangerous decline

The average temperature of the last 15 years have been the highest ever recorded

The ice cap is 40% thinner than 40 years ago

There may be at least 200 million climate refugees by 2050

The cost of our actions is high. Others pay the price without having been actively involved. I have seen refugee camps as big as cities sprawling in the desert. How many men, women, and children will be left by the wayside tomorrow. Must we always build walls to break the chain of human solidarity, to separate peoples and protect the happiness of some from the misery of others? It’s too late to be a pessimist. I know that a single human can knock down every wall.

It’s too late to be a pessimist. Worldwide, four children out of five attend school. Never has learning been given to so many human beings. Everyone, from richest to poorest, can make a contribution. Lesotho, one of the world’s poorest countries, is proportionally the one that invests most in its people’s education. Qatar, one of the world’s richest states, has opened its doors to the best universities. Culture, education, research, and innovation are inexhaustible resources.

In the face of misery and suffering, millions of NGOs prove that solidarity between peoples is stronger than the selfishness of nations. In Bangladesh, a man thought the unthinkable and founded a bank that lends only to the poor. In barely 30 years, it has changed the lives of 150 million people around the world.

Antarctica is a continent with immense natural resources that no country can claim for itself, a natural reserve devoted to peace and science. A treaty signed by 49 states has made it a treasure shared by all humanity.

It’s too late to be a pessimist. Governments have acted to protect nearly two percent of the world’s territorial waters. It’s not much but it’s two times more than 10 years ago.

The first natural parks were created just over a century ago. They cover over 13% of the continents. They create spaces where human activity is in step with the preservation of species, soils, and landscapes.

This harmony between humans and nature can become the rule, no longer the exception. In the United States, New York has realized what nature does for us. These forests and lakes supply all the drinking water the city needs.

In South Korea, the forests had been devastated by war. Thanks to a national reforestation program, they once more cover 65% of the country. More than 75% of paper is recycled.

Costa Rica has made a choice between military spending and the conservation of its lands. The country no longer has an army. It prefers to devote its resources to education, ecotourism, and the protection of its primary forest.

Gabon is one of the world’s leading producers of wood. It enforces selective logging. Not more than one tree every hectare. Its forests are one of the country’s most important economic resources but they have the time to regenerate. Programs exist that guarantee sustainable forest management. They must become mandatory.

For consumers and producers, justice is an opportunity to be seized. When trade is fair, when both buyer and seller benefit, everybody can prosper and earn a decent living. How can there be justice and equity between people whose only tools are their hands and those who harvest their crops with a machine and state subsidies? Let’s be responsible consumers. Think about what we buy.

It’s too late to be a pessimist. I have seen agriculture on a human scale. It can feed the whole planet if meat production doesn’t take the food out of the people’s mouths. I have seen fishermen who take care of what they catch and care for the riches of the ocean.

I have seen houses producing their own energy. 5,000 people live in the world’s first ever eco-friendly district in Freiburg, Germany. Other cities partner the project. Mumbai is the thousandth to join them.

The government of New Zealand, Iceland, Austria, Sweden, and other nations have made the development of renewable energy sources a top priority. I know that 80% of the energy we consume comes from fossil energy sources. Every week, two new coal-fired generating plants are built in China alone.

But I have also seen, in Denmark, a prototype of a coal-fired plant that releases its carbon into the soil rather than the air. A solution for the future? Nobody knows yet.

I have seen in Iceland an electricity plant powered by the Earth’s heat-geothermal power.

I have seen a sea snake lying on the swell to absorb the energy of the waves and produce electricity.

I have seen wind farms off the coast of Denmark that produce 20% of the country’s electricity. The U.S.A., China, India, Germany, and Spain are the biggest investors in renewable energy. They have already created over two and a half million jobs. Where on Earth doesn’t the wind blow?

I have seen desert expanses baking in the sun. Everything on Earth is linked and the Earth is linked to the sun, its original energy source. Can humans not imitate plants and capture its energy? In one hour, the sun gives the Earth the same amount of energy as that consumed by all humanity in one year. As long as the Earth exists, the sun’s energy will be inexhaustible. All we have to do is stop drilling the Earth and start looking to the sky. All we have to do is learn to cultivate the sun.

All these experiments are only examples that they testify to a new awareness. They lay down markers for a new human adventure based on moderation, intelligence, and sharing.

It’s time to come together. What’s important is not what’s gone, but what remains. We still have half the world’s forests, thousands of rivers, lakes and glaciers, and thousands of thriving species. We know that the solutions are there today. We all have the power to change. So what are we waiting for?





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