HOME by Yann Arthus-Bertrand (EXCERPTS)
Catch the movie here: http://www.yannarthusbertrand.org/en/films-tv/home
Today, life, our life, is just a link in a chain of innumerable living beings that have succeeded one another on Earth over nearly four billion years. Our Earth relies on a balance in which every being has a role to play and exist only through the existence of other beings.
What do we know about life on Earth? How many species are we aware of? A tenth of them? A hundredth perhaps? What do we know about the bonds that link them?
The Earth is a miracle. Life remains a mystery. Every species has a role to play, every species has its place. None is futile or harmful. They all balance out.
And that’s where you, Homo Sapiens – ‘wise human’ enter the story. You benefit from a fabulous four-billion-year-old legacy bequeathed by the Earth. You’re only 200,000 years old, but you have changed the face of the world. Despite your vulnerability, you have taken possession of every habitat and conquered swaths of territory like no other species before you.
After 180,000 nomadic years, and thanks to a more clement climate, humans settled down. They no longer depended on hunting for survival. They chose to live in wet environments that abounded in fish, game and wild plants. There, where land, water and life combine.
The first towns grew up less than six hundred years ago. It was a considerable leap in human history. Why towns? Because they allowed humans to defend themselves more easily. They became social beings meeting and sharing knowledge and crafts, blending their similarities and differences. In a word, they became civilized. But the only energy at their disposal was provided by nature and the strength of their bodies. It was the story of humankind for thousands of years. It still is for one person in four – over one and a half billion human beings, more than the combined population of all the wealthy nations. Taking from the Earth only the strictly necessary. For a long time, the relationship between humans and the planet was evenly balanced.
The Earth feeds people, clothes them and provides for their daily needs. Everything comes from the Earth. Towns change humanity’s nature as well as its destiny. The farmer becomes a craftsman, trader or peddler. What the Earth gives the farmer, the city dweller buys, sells or barters. Goods changed hands along with ideas. Humanity’s genius is to have always had a sense of its weakness. Humans tried to extend the frontiers of their territory, but they knew their limits. The physical energy and strength with which nature had not endowed them was found in the animals they domesticated to serve them.
After relying on muscle power for so long, humankind found a way to tap into the energy buried deep in the Earth. Pure energy – the energy of the sun – captured over millions of years by millions of plants more than a hundred million years ago. It’s coal. It’s gas. And above all, it’s oil.
And this pocket of sunlight freed humans from their toil on the land. With oil began the era of humans who break free of the shackles of time. With oil, some of us acquired unprecedented comforts. And in fifty years, in a single lifetime, the Earth has been more radically changed than by all previous generations of humanity.
Faster and faster. In the last 60 years, the Earth’s population has almost tripled, and over two billion people have moved to the cities.
Faster and faster. Shenzhen, in China, with its hundreds of skyscrapers and millions of inhabitants, was just a small fishing village barely 40 years ago.
Faster and faster. In Shanghai, 3,000 towers and skyscrapers have been built in 20 years. Hundreds more are under construction.
Our agriculture has become oil-powered. It feeds twice as many humans on Earth but has replaced diversity with standardization. It has offered many of us comforts we could only dream of, but it makes our way of life totally dependent on oil.
The more a country develops, the more meat its inhabitants consume. How can a growing worldwide demand be satisfied without recourse to concentration camp-style cattle farms?
Faster and faster. Manufacturing meat faster than the animal has become a daily routine. The result is that it takes 100 liters of water to produce one kilogram of potatoes, 4,000 for one kilo of rice and 13,000 for one kilo of beef. Not to mention the oil guzzled in the production process and transport.
[Oil pumps are] the new measure of time. Our world’s clock now beats to the rhythm of these indefatigable machines tapping into the pocket of sunlight. Their regularity reassures us. The tiniest hiccup throws us into disarray. The whole planet is attentive to these metronomes of our hopes and illusions. The same hopes and illusions that proliferate along with our increasingly insatiable desires.
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 around dead-end streets. The model of a lucky few countries has become a universal dream preached by televisions all over the world.
The automobile has become the symbol of comfort and progress. If this model were followed by every society, the planet wouldn’t have nine hundred 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 twenty 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 twenty times over. Ninety percent of trade goes by sea.
Since 1950, fishing catches have increased fivefold, from eighteen to one hundred 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.
Across the planet, one major river in ten no longer flows into the sea for several months of the year. 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 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.
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.
Since the 1960s, deforestation has constantly gathered pace. 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, accounting for 20% of the greenhouse gases emitted across the globe.
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.
Half the world’s poor live in resource-rich countries. Our model of development has not fulfilled its promises. In fifty 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 disparities be maintained? They’re the cause of population movements whose scale we have yet to fully realize. 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.
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. 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 forty years. Its surface area in the summer shrinks year by year. It could disappear before 2030.
By 2050, a quarter of the Earth’s species could be threatened with extinction. 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.
Sea levels are rising. Low-lying lands around the globe are threatened. 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.
Seventy percent of the world’s population lives on coastal plains. Eleven of the fifteen 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.
Humanity has no more than ten 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.
- 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 biofuels
- 40% of arable land has suffered long-term damage
- Every year, 13 million 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
It’s too late to be a pessimist. Culture, education, research, and innovation are inexhaustible resources. In the face of misery and suffering, millions of N.G.O’s prove that solidarity between peoples is stronger than the selfishness of nations. 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.
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 ten 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. 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.
The government of New Zealand, Iceland, Austria, Sweden and other nations have made the development of renewable energy sources a top priority. Wind farms off the coast of Denmark 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.
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 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?
IT’S UP TO US TO WRITE WHAT HAPPENS NEXT
Catch the movie here: http://www.yannarthusbertrand.org/en/films-tv/home