Earth is sick with multiple and worsening environmental ills killing millions of people yearly, a new UN report says. Climate change, a global major extinction of animals and plants, a human population soaring toward 10 billion, degraded land, polluted air, and plastics, pesticides, and hormone-changing chemicals in the water are making the planet an increasing unhealthy place for people, says the sixth "Global Environment Outlook," released Wednesday at a UN conference in Nairobi, Kenya. But it may not be too late. "There is every reason to be hopeful," report co-editors Joyeeta Gupta and Paul Ekins told the AP in an email. "There is still time, but the window is closing fast." What you need to know:
- The report, issued once every few years, uses the word "risk" 561 times in 740 pages. But while "unsustainable human activities" have imperiled "the ecological foundations of society," changes in the way the world eats, buys things, gets its energy, and handles its waste could help fix the problems, the report notes.
- The report is "a dramatic warning and a high-level road map for what must be done to prevent widespread disruption and even irreversible destruction of planetary life-support systems," says Jonathan Overpeck, the University of Michigan's environment dean, who wasn't part of the report.
- The scientists said the most important and pressing problems facing humankind are global warming and loss of biodiversity because they're permanent and affect so many people in so many different ways. The report notes conservationists are divided on whether Earth is in a sixth mass extinction.
- While 1.5 billion people now get clean drinking water they lacked in 2000, water quality in many regions has worsened, the report says. Plastics and other litter have invaded every ocean at all depths, the report says.
- People getting sick from diseases caused by antimicrobial-resistant bacteria in water supplies could become a major cause of death worldwide by 2050 unless something can be done about it, the report says.
- Land is getting less fertile and useful. The report says degradation "hot spots," where it's difficult to grow crops, now cover 29% of all land areas.
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