“It is plausible that key transitions in human evolutionary history have been driven in large part by climate change,” write Eugene A. Rosa and Thomas Dietz in “Human Drivers of National Greenhouse-Gas Emissions
,” a literature review published by Nature Climate Change
. “Changes in climate will doubtless be a key force in the future evolution of social systems, including all aspects of social, economic, and political life, while impinging on the health and well-being of the individuals who populate them.” Rosa and Dietz cite numerous studies to argue that nearly every facet of society will be affected by climate change. “The critical point,” they write, “is that population, affluence, technology, and all other drivers act not alone or additively but in a multiplicative fashion.” For example, rapid population growth can lead to an increase in urbanization, which generates “substantial demand for goods and services that can induce emissions in distant places.” They conclude that huge changes must be made in technology and consumption in order to combat the effects of climate change that are being caused by a growing population and an increasingly affluent world.
The United Nations’ 2012 Millennium Development Goals Report, released last month in New York City, announces that three of the eight major human development goals have been reached ahead of their 2015 targets. The Millennium Development Goals, set at a conference in 2000, were established to “uphold the principles of human dignity, equality, and equity at a global level.” The 2012 report indicates that the number of people living in extreme poverty has been halved since 1990; the proportion of people in the world without sustainable access to safe drinking water has also been halved; and more than 200 million slum dwellers have “gained access to either improved water sources, improved sanitation facilities, or durable or less crowded housing.” At the report launch, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon noted that “these results represent a tremendous reduction in human suffering and are a clear validation of the approach embodied in the MDGs, but they are not a reason to relax.” Goals that have yet to be achieved include universal primary education; gender equality; reduced child mortality and improved maternal health; reducing rates of diseases such as HIV and malaria; and creating a global partnership for development.
Keenan Dillard is a cadet at the United States Military Academy at West Point and an intern with the Woodrow Wilson Center’s Environmental Change and Security Program.