Azara Blog: UN releases atlas of satellite images of the planet

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Date published: 2005/06/04

The BBC says:

An atlas of environmental change compiled by the United Nations reveals some of the dramatic transformations that are occurring to our planet.

It compares and contrasts satellite images taken over the past few decades with contemporary ones.

These highlight in vivid detail the striking make-over wrought in some corners of the Earth by deforestation, urbanisation and climate change.

The atlas has been released to mark World Environment Day.

The United Nations Environmental Programme (Unep) produced One Planet Many People: Atlas of our Changing Environment in collaboration with other agencies such as the US Geological Survey and the US space agency (Nasa).

Among the transformations highlighted in the atlas are the huge growth of greenhouses in southern Spain, the rapid rise of shrimp farming in Asia and Latin America and the emergence of a giant, shadow puppet-shaped peninsula at the mouth of the Yellow River that has built up through transportation of sediment in the waters.

The effects of retreating glaciers on mountains and in polar regions, deforestation in South America and forest fires across sub-Saharan Africa are also shown in the atlas.

This year's World Environment Day, which will be hosted by San Francisco in California, will focus on ways of making cities more environmentally friendly and resource-efficient.

"The battle for sustainable development, for delivering a more environmentally stable, just and healthier world, is going to be largely won and lost in our cities," said Klaus Toepfer, Unep's executive director.

"Cities pull in huge amounts of resources including water, food, timber, metals and people. They export large amounts of wastes including household and industrial wastes, waste water and the gases linked with global warming.

"Thus their impacts stretch beyond their physical borders affecting countries, regions and the planet as a whole."

This kind of data is invaluable but the bottom line is that there are too many people on the planet. The specific mention of cities is interesting in light of the view of the urban planning elite in the UK that "sustainable" development means that everybody should be forced to live in cities (in high-density housing, and with no access to cars). The amount of environmental damage a person causes (either directly or indirectly) is not related so much to location of habitation as to income and wealth (more money means more energy consumption and hence environmental damage, although the effect is not exact because of taxes and because differing economic activities and energy sources have differing, unpaid for, externalised costs).

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