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Updated 2:00 PM February 11, 2005




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More Earths would be needed to keep up with standard of living

About 15 percent of the world's population resides in industrialized countries, yet the people of these nations consume 85 percent of the world's resources, said Peter Raven, director of the Missouri Botanical Garden, during a School of Natural Resources and Environment (SNRE) lecture Feb. 2.

Raven said it would require the equivalent of three planet Earths to sustain the current population at the standard of living of most industrialized countries like the United States. This figure increases to six Earths in the event of a doubling in the current population with the same living standard—12 Earths if both the population and standard of living double.

"We don't have another couple of planets out there that we can appropriate in order to improve everyone's standard of living, so how are we going to get from 'A' to 'B'? Maybe we could figure out how to clone it, but I don't see how yet," Raven joked.

Touted as a "hero for the planet" by Time magazine in 1999, Raven delivered the lecture, "Global Sustainability: Our Future, Our Role," for the SNRE Distinguished Lecture, co-sponsored by the school, Nichols Arboretum and Matthaei Botanical Gardens. Raven, who has served more than 30 years in his current role and is a past recipient of the National Medal of Science, discussed the issues of sustainability and biodiversity.

Raven suggested remedies for the issue of the imbalance in consumption. They include maintenance of both population and use of resources at a reasonable, "socially just" level across the globe, in addition to the improvement of technology around the world. He added that the United States has "very, very little interest in sustainable technology."

Raven also cited the obstacles for maintaining biodiversity around the world, including alien invasive species, hunting and gathering, climate change and habitat destruction, which all are factors in species extinction.

"There are a lot of things that we need to do to preserve biodiversity and get on with sustainability," he said. Among these tasks are serious control of alien invasive species, conserving plant biodiversity in the greenhouse, discovering new sources of energy and moving away from a dependence on carbon, but most importantly educating one another and working together.

Raven challenged U-M to consider a University-wide environmental studies requirement.

"Is it really a good idea for a great university like this to be turning out most graduates without a clue of the environmental situation in the entire world?" Raven asked. "Everyone should be environmentally literate, able to make the fundamental choices that will determine the quality of their lives.

"Universities have a great role to play—not only in the educational role, but they can be models of sustainability for the community and the region."

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