In a new report, titled State of the World 2015: Confronting Hidden Threats to Sustainability, the research organisation highlights eight factors that threaten sustainability but are not being widely discussed – all of which are linked to overconsumption of resources.
Specifically, it cites growing dependence on imported food, agricultural losses, problems of energy availability, increasingly degraded oceans, the pursuit of never-ending economic growth, migration as a climate adaptation strategy, disputes over Arctic ownership, and emerging diseases originating in animals.
"These threats are hidden in the sense that they are commonly overlooked or underappreciated," said acting president of Worldwatch Ed Groark. "But addressing them is critical to building sustainable societies….These are significant threats, but each and every one of them has solutions, especially if we commit to an ethic of stewardship, robust citizenship, and a systems approach to addressing the challenges that we face.”
Reliance on food imports
The organisation said pressure to import food, for example, could be reduced by effectively increasing food supplies through reductions in food waste. According the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation, about a third of the global harvest is lost each year.
According to the report, import-dependent countries are vulnerable to high prices and supply disruptions due to crop failures, as well as to politically motivated manipulation of prices in supplier countries. More than a third of the world’s countries depend on imported grain for at least a quarter of their domestic consumption, while a quarter import more than half their grain, the report said.
Questioning the economic growth model
“Even economic growth, long unquestioned and coveted, needs to be examined with healthy scepticism,” Worldwatch said. It claims that the pursuit of never-ending growth comes at an environmental cost, as human activities outgrow the planet that supports them – and argues that the economy could still offer adequate employment, greater equality and lower environmental impact even if it were not driven by growth of material throughput.
“This requires that economics ministers and others set human well-being, rather than growth, as the primary economic objective, shifting the global economic machine away from intensive resource use and the endless pursuit of ‘more’,” it said.
The full report is available online here.