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Listen to me, please. You’re like me, a homo sapiens, a wise human. Life, a miracle in the universe,
appeared around 4 billion years ago. And we humans
only 200,000 years ago. Yet we have succeeded in disrupting
the balance so essential to life. Listen carefully to this
extraordinary story, which is yours, and decide
what you want to do with it. These are traces of our origins. At the beginning, our planet
was no more than a chaos of fire, a cloud
of agglutinated dust particles, like so many similar clusters
in the universe. Yet this is where
the miracle of life occurred. Today, life, our life, is just a link in a chain
of innumerable living beings that have succeeded one another
on Earth over nearly 4 billion years. And even today, new volcanoes continue
to sculpt our landscapes. They offer a glimpse of what
our Earth was like at its birth, molten rock surging from the depths, solidifying, cracking, blistering
or spreading in a thin crust, before falling dormant for a time. These wreathes of smoke
curling from the bowels of the Earth bear witness
to the Earth’s original atmosphere. An atmosphere devoid of oxygen. A dense atmosphere,
thick with water vapor, full of carbon dioxide. A furnace. The Earth cooled. The water vapor condensed
and fell in torrential downpours. At the right distance from the sun,
not too far, not too near, the Earth’s perfect balance
enabled it to conserve water in liquid form. The water cut channels. They are like the veins of a body,
the branches of a tree, the vessels of the sap
that the water gave to the Earth. The rivers tore minerals from rocks,
adding them to the oceans’ freshwater. And the oceans became heavy with salt. Where do we come from? Where did life
first spark into being? A miracle of time, primitive life forms still exist
in the globe’s hot springs. They give them their colors.
They’re called archeobacteria. They all feed off the Earth’s heat. All except the cyanobacteria, or blue-green algae. They alone have the capacity
to turn to the sun to capture its energy. They are a vital ancestor of all
yesterday’s and today’s plant species. These tiny bacteria
and their billions of descendants changed the destiny of our planet. They transformed its atmosphere. What happened to the carbon
that poisoned the atmosphere? It’s still here,
imprisoned in the Earth’s crust. Here, there once was a sea,
inhabited by micro-organisms. They grew shells by tapping into
the atmosphere’s carbon now dissolved in the ocean. These strata
are the accumulated shells of those billions and billions
of micro-organisms. Thanks to them, the carbon drained
from the atmosphere and other life forms could develop. It is life
that altered the atmosphere. Plant life fed off the sun’s energy, which enabled it to break apart
the water molecule and take the oxygen. And oxygen filled the air. The Earth’s water cycle
is a process of constant renewal. Waterfalls, water vapor, clouds, rain, springs, rivers, seas, oceans, glaciers… The cycle is never broken. There’s always the same quantity
of water on Earth. All the successive species on Earth
have drunk the same water. The astonishing matter that is water. One of the most unstable of all. It takes a liquid form
as running water, gaseous as vapor,
or solid as ice. In Siberia, the frozen surfaces
of the lakes in winter contain the trace of the forces
that water deploys when it freezes. Lighter than water, the ice floats. It forms a protective mantle
against the cold, under which life can go on. The engine of life is linkage. Everything is linked. Nothing is self-sufficient. Water and air are inseparable, united in life
and for our life on Earth. Sharing is everything. The green expanse through the clouds
is the source of oxygen in the air. 70% of this gas, without which our lungs
cannot function, comes from the algae that tint
the surface of the oceans. Our Earth relies on a balance, in which every being
has a role to play and exists only through the existence
of another being. A subtle, fragile harmony
that is easily shattered. Thus, corals are born
from the marriage of algae and shells. Coral reefs cover
less than 1% of the ocean floor, but they provide a habitat for thousands
of species of fish, mollusks and algae. The equilibrium of every ocean
depends on them. The Earth counts time
in billions of years. It took more than 4 billion years
for it to make trees. In the chain of species,
trees are a pinnacle, a perfect, living sculpture. Trees defy gravity. They are the only natural element
in perpetual movement toward the sky. They grow unhurriedly toward the sun
that nourishes their foliage. They have inherited
from these miniscule cyanobacteria the power to capture light’s energy. They store it and feed off it, turning it into wood and leaves, which then decompose
into a mixture of water, mineral, vegetable and living matter. And so, gradually, soils are formed. Soils teem with the incessant activity
of micro-organisms, feeding, digging,
aerating and transforming. They make the humus, the fertile layer
to which all life on land is linked. 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. Families of animals form,
united by customs and rituals that are handed down
through the generations. Some adapt
to the nature of their pasture and their pasture adapts to them. And both gain. The animal sates its hunger
and the tree can blossom again. In the great adventure
of life on Earth, 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
4-billion-year-old legacy bequeathed by the Earth. You are 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 swathes 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. Even today, the majority of humankind
lives on the continents’ coastlines or the banks of rivers and lakes. Across the planet,
one person in four lives as humankind did
6,000 years ago, their only energy that which nature
provides season after season. It’s the way of life
of 1.5 billion people, more than the combined population
of all the wealthy nations. But life expectancy is short
and hard labor takes its toll. The uncertainties of nature
weigh on daily life. Education is a rare privilege. Children are a family’s only asset as long as every extra pair of hands is a necessary contribution
to its subsistence. Humanity’s genius is to have always had a sense
of its weakness. The physical strength, with which
nature insufficiently endowed humans, is found in animals that help them
to discover new territories. But how can you conquer the world
on an empty stomach? The invention of agriculture
turned our history on end. It was less than 10,000 years ago. Agriculture
was our first great revolution. It resulted in the first surpluses and gave birth to cities
and civilizations. The memory of thousands of years
scrabbling for food faded. Having made grain the yeast of life,
we multiplied the number of varieties and learned to adapt them
to our soils and climates. We are like every species on Earth. Our principal daily concern
is to feed ourselves. When the soil is less than generous and water becomes scarce, we are able
to deploy prodigious efforts to extract from the land
enough to live on. Humans shaped the land with the patience
and devotion the Earth demands in an almost sacrificial ritual
performed over and over. Agriculture is still
the world’s most widespread occupation. Half of humankind tills the soil, over three-quarters of them by hand. Agriculture is like a tradition handed
down from generation to generation in sweat, graft and toil, because for humanity
it is a prerequisite of survival. But after relying on muscle-power
for so long, humankind found a way to tap into the energy
buried deep in the Earth. These flames are also from plants.
A pocket of sunlight. Pure energy.
The energy of the sun, captured over millions of years
by millions of plants more than 100 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 50 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 2 billion people
have moved to the cities. Faster and faster. Shenzhen, in China, with 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. Today, over half of the world’s
7 billion inhabitants live in cities. New York. The world’s first megalopolis is the symbol of the exploitation
of the energy the Earth supplies to human genius.
The manpower of millions of immigrants, the energy of coal,
the unbridled power of oil. America was the first
to harness the phenomenal, revolutionary power of “black gold”. In the fields,
machines replaced men. A liter of oil
generates as much energy as 100 pairs of hands in 24 hours. In the United States,
only 3 million farmers are left. They produce enough grain
to feed 2 billion people. But most of that grain
is not used to feed people. Here, and in all other
industrialized nations, it is transformed into livestock feed
or biofuels. The pocket of sunshine’s energy
chased away the specter of drought that stalked farmland. No spring escapes
the demands of agriculture, which accounts for 70%
of humanity’s water consumption. In nature, everything is linked. The expansion of cultivated land
and single-crop farming encouraged
the development of parasites. Pesticides, another gift
of the petrochemical revolution, exterminated them. Bad harvests and famine
became a distant memory. The biggest headache now was what to do with the surpluses
engendered by modern agriculture. But toxic pesticides
seeped into the air, soil, plants,
animals, rivers and oceans. They penetrated the heart of cells similar to the mother cell
shared by all forms of life. Are they harmful to the humans
they released from hunger? These farmers
in their yellow protective suits probably have a good idea. Then came fertilizers,
another petrochemical discovery. They produced unprecedented results
on plots of land thus far ignored. Crops adapted to soils and climates gave way to the most productive
varieties and easiest to transport. And so, in the last century, three-quarters of the varieties
developed by farmers over thousands of years
have been wiped out. As far as the eye can see,
fertilizer below, plastic on top. The greenhouses of Almeria, Spain,
are Europe’s vegetable garden. A city of uniformly sized vegetables
waits every day for hundreds of trucks to take them
to the continent’s supermarkets. The more a country develops,
the more meat its inhabitants consume. How can growing worldwide demand
be satisfied without recourse to concentration camp-style
cattle farms? Faster and faster. Like the life cycle of livestock,
which may never see a meadow. Manufacturing meat faster than
the animal has become a daily routine. In these vast foodlots,
trampled by millions of cattle, not a blade of grass grows. A fleet of trucks from every corner
of the country brings tons of grain, soy meal and protein-rich granules that will become tons of meat. The result is that
it takes 100 liters of water to produce 1 kilogram of potatoes, 4,000 liters for 1 kilo of rice and 13,000 liters for 1 kilo of beef. Not to mention the oil guzzled
in the production process and transport. Our agriculture
has become oil-powered. It feeds
twice as many humans on Earth, but has replaced diversity
with standardization. It gives many of us comforts
we could only dream of, but it makes our way of life
totally dependent on oil. This is the new measure of time. Our world’s clock now beats
to the rhythm of indefatigable machines tapping into the pocket of sunlight. The whole planet is attentive
to these metronomes of our hopes and illusions. The same hopes and illusions
that proliferate along with our needs, increasingly insatiable desires
and profligacy. We know that the end of cheap oil
is imminent, but we refuse to believe it. For many of us, the American dream is embodied
by a legendary name. Los Angeles. In this city
that stretches over 100 kilometers, the number of cars is almost equal
to the number of inhabitants. Here, energy puts on a fantastic show
every night. The days seem no more
than a pale reflection of nights that turn the city into a starry sky. 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 TVs all over the world. Even here in Beijing, it is cloned, copied and reproduced
in these formatted houses that have wiped pagodas off the map. The automobile has become the symbol
of comfort and progress. If this model were followed
by every society, the planet wouldn’t have 900 million
vehicles, as it does today, but 5 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. 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 20 times over. 90% of trade goes by sea. 500 million containers
are transported every year. Headed for the world’s major hubs
of consumption, such as Dubai. Dubai is a sort of culmination
of the Western model, a country where the impossible
becomes possible. Building artificial islands in the sea,
for example. Dubai has few natural resources, but with oil money it can bring in
millions of tons of material and workers from all over the planet. Dubai has no farmland,
but it can import food. Dubai has no water, but it can afford
to expend immense amounts of energy to desalinate seawater and build
the world’s highest skyscrapers. Dubai has endless sun,
but no solar panels. It is the totem to total modernity
that never fails to amaze the world. Dubai is like the new beacon
for all the world’s money. Nothing seems further removed
from nature than Dubai, although nothing depends on nature
more than Dubai. Dubai is a sort of culmination
of the Western model. We haven’t understood that
we’re depleting what nature provides. Since 1950, fishing catches
have increased fivefold from 18 to 100 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. We are destroying the cycle of a life
that was given to us. At the current rate, all fish stocks
are threatened with exhaustion. Fish is the staple diet
of one in five humans. We have forgotten
that resources are scarce. 500 million humans
live in the world’s desert lands, more than the combined population
of Europe. They know the value of water. They know how to use it sparingly. Here, they depend on wells
replenished by fossil water, which accumulated underground
back when it rained on these deserts. 25,000 years ago. Fossil water also enables crops
to be grown in the desert to provide food for local populations. The fields’ circular shape derives from the pipes that irrigate them
around a central pivot. But there is a heavy price to pay. Fossil water
is a non-renewable resource. In Saudi Arabia, the dream of industrial farming
in the desert has faded. As if on a parchment map, the light spots on this patchwork
show abandoned plots. The irrigation equipment
is still there. The energy to pump water also. But the fossil water reserves
are severely depleted. Israel turned the desert
into arable land. Even though these hothouses
are now irrigated drop by drop, water consumption continues
to increase along with exports. The once mighty River Jordan
is now just a trickle. Its water has flown to supermarkets
all over the world in crates of fruit and vegetables. The Jordan’s fate is not unique. Across the planet,
one major river in ten no longer flows into the sea
for several months of the year. Deprived of the Jordan’s water, the level of the Dead Sea goes down
by over one meter per year. India risks being the country
that suffers most from lack of water
in the coming century. Massive irrigation
has fed the growing population and in the last 50 years,
21 million wells have been dug. In many parts of the country, the drill has to sink every deeper
to hit water. In western India,
30% of wells have been abandoned. The underground aquifers
are drying out. Vast reservoirs will catch monsoon rains
to replenish the aquifers. In the dry season, local village women
dig them with their bare hands. Thousands of kilometers away, 800 to 1,000 liters of water
are consumed per person per day. Las Vegas was built out of the desert. Millions of people live there. Thousands more arrive every month. Its inhabitants are among the biggest
water consumers in the world. Palm Springs is another desert city
with tropical vegetation and lush golf courses. How long can this mirage
continue to prosper? The Earth cannot keep up. The Colorado River,
which brings water to these cities, is one of those rivers
that no longer reaches the sea. Water levels in the catchment lakes
along its course are plummeting. Water shortages could affect nearly
2 billion people before 2025. The wetlands represent
6% of the surface of the planet. Under their calm waters
lies a veritable factory, where plants and micro-organisms
patiently filter the water and digest all the pollution. These marshes are indispensable
environments for the regeneration and purification of water. They are sponges
that regulate the flow of water. They absorb it in the wet season and release it in the dry season. In our race to conquer more land, we have reclaimed them
as pasture for livestock, or as land for agriculture or building. In the last century,
half the world’s marshes were drained. We know neither their richness
nor their role. 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. The forests provide the humidity
that is necessary for life. They store carbon, containing more
than all the Earth’s atmosphere. They are the cornerstone of the climatic
balance on which we all depend. The primary forests provide a habitat for three-quarters
of the planet’s biodiversity, that is to say,
of all life on Earth. 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. But in barely 40 years,
the world’s largest rainforest, the Amazon,
has been reduced by 20%. The forest gives way to cattle ranches
or soybean farms. 95% of these soybeans are used
to feed livestock and poultry in Europe and Asia. And so, a forest is turned into meat. Barely 20 years ago, Borneo,
the 4th largest island in the world,
was covered by a vast primary forest. At the current rate of deforestation, it will have disappeared
within 10 years. Living matter
bonds water, air, earth and the sun. In Borneo, this bond has been broken in what was one of the Earth’s
greatest reservoirs of biodiversity. This catastrophe was provoked
by the decision to produce palm oil, one of the most productive and consumed
oils in the world, on Borneo. Palm oil not only caters
to our growing demand for food, but also cosmetics, detergents
and, increasingly, alternative fuels. The forest’s diversity was replaced
by a single species, the oil palm. For local people,
it provides employment. It’s an agricultural industry. Another example of massive deforestation
is the eucalyptus. Eucalyptus is used to make paper pulp. Plantations are growing
as demand for paper has increased fivefold in 50 years. One forest
does not replace another forest. At the foot of these eucalyptus trees, nothing grows because their leaves form
a toxic bed for most other plants. They grow quickly,
but exhaust water reserves. Soybeans, palm oil, eucalyptus trees… Deforestation destroys the essential
to produce the superfluous. But elsewhere, deforestation is a last resort
to survive. Over 2 billion people, almost one third
of the world’s population, still depend on charcoal. In Haiti, one of the world’s poorest countries, charcoal is one of the population’s
main consumables. Once the “pearl of the Caribbean”, Haiti can no longer feed
its population without foreign aid. On the hills of Haiti,
only 2% of the forests are left. Stripped bare, nothing holds the soils back. The rainwater washes them
down the hillsides as far as the sea. What’s left is increasingly
unsuitable for agriculture. In some parts of Madagascar,
the erosion is spectacular. Whole hillsides bear deep gashes
hundreds of meters wide. Thin and fragile,
soil is made by living matter. With erosion,
the fine layer of humus, which took thousands of years to form,
disappears. Here’s one theory of the story
of the Rapanui, the inhabitants of Easter Island, that could perhaps
give us pause for thought. Living on the most isolated island
in the world, the Rapanui exploited their resources
until there was nothing left. Their civilization did not survive. On these lands stood
the highest palm trees in the world. They have disappeared. The Rapanui
chopped them all down for lumber. They then faced
widespread soil erosion. The Rapanui could no longer go fishing.
There were no trees to build canoes. Yet the Rapanui formed one of the most
brilliant civilizations in the Pacific. Innovative farmers, sculptors,
exceptional navigators, they were caught in the vise of
overpopulation and dwindling resources. They experienced social unrest,
revolts and famine. Many did not survive the cataclysm. The real mystery of Easter Island is not
how its strange statues got there, we know now. It is why the Rapanui
didn’t react in time. It’s only one of a number of theories,
but it has particular relevance today. 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. Nigeria is the biggest oil exporter
in Africa, yet 70% of the population
lives under the poverty line. The wealth is there, but the country’s
inhabitants don’t have access to it. The same is true all over the globe. Half the world’s poor
live in resource-rich countries. Our mode of development
has not fulfilled its promises. In 50 years, the gap between rich
and poor has grown wider than ever. Today, half the world’s wealth is in the hands
of the richest 2% of the population. Can such disparities be maintained? They are the cause
of population movements whose scale we have yet
to fully realize. The city of Lagos
had a population of 700,000 in 1960. That will rise to 16 million by 2025. Lagos is one of the fastest growing
megalopolises in the world. The new arrivals are mostly farmers
forced off the land for economic or demographic reasons,
or because of diminishing resources. This is a radically new type
of urban growth, driven by the urge to survive
rather than to prosper. Every week, over a million people swell
the populations of the world’s cities. 1 human in 6 now lives in a precarious,
unhealthy, overpopulated environment without access to daily necessities,
such as water, sanitation, electricity. Hunger is spreading once more. It affects nearly 1 billion people. All over the planet, the poorest
scrabble to survive, while we continue to dig for resources
that we can no longer live without. We look farther and farther afield in previously unspoilt territory and in regions that are
increasingly difficult to exploit. We’re not changing our model. Oil might run out? We can still extract oil
from the tar sands of Canada. The biggest trucks in the world
move thousands of tons of sand. The process of heating
and separating bitumen from the sand requires millions
of cubic meters of water. Colossal amounts of energy are needed. The pollution is catastrophic. The most urgent priority, apparently, is to pick every pocket of sunlight. 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. It would have been inconceivable for
a boat to be here just a few years ago. Transport, industry,
deforestation, agriculture… 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 north-west 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 40 years. Its surface area in the summer
shrinks year by year. It could disappear
in the summer months by 2030. Some say 2015. The sunbeams that the ice sheet
previously reflected back now penetrate the dark water,
heating it up. The warming process gathers pace. This ice contains the records
of our planet. The concentration of carbon dioxide
hasn’t been so high for several hundred thousand years. Humanity has never lived
in an atmosphere like this. Is excessive exploitation of resources
threatening the lives of every species? Climate change accentuates the threat. By 2050,
a quarter of the Earth’s species could be threatened with extinction. In these polar regions, the balance of nature
has already been disrupted. Around the North Pole, the ice cap has lost 30%
of its surface area in 30 years. But as Greenland
rapidly becomes warmer, the freshwater of a whole continent
flows into the salt water of the oceans. Greenland’s ice contains 20%
of the freshwater of the whole planet. If it melts,
sea levels will rise by nearly 7 meters. But there is no industry here. Greenland’s ice sheet suffers
from greenhouse gases emitted elsewhere on Earth. Our ecosystem doesn’t have borders. Wherever we are, our actions have repercussions
on the whole Earth. Our planet’s atmosphere
is an indivisible whole. It is an asset we share. In Greenland,
lakes are appearing on the landscape. The ice cap is melting at a speed
even the most pessimistic scientists did not envision 10 years ago. More and more of these glacier-fed
rivers are merging together and burrowing though the surface. It was thought the water would freeze
in the depths of the ice. On the contrary,
it flows under the ice, carrying the ice sheet into the sea,
where it breaks into icebergs. As the freshwater
of Greenland’s ice sheet seeps into the salt water of the oceans, low-lying lands around the globe
are threatened. Sea levels are rising. Water expanding as it gets warmer caused, in the 20th century alone, a rise of 20 centimeters. Everything becomes unstable. Coral reefs are extremely sensitive
to the slightest change in water temperature.
30% have disappeared. They are an essential link
in the chain of species. In the atmosphere, major wind streams
are changing direction. Rain cycles are altered. The geography of climates is modified. The inhabitants of low-lying islands, here in the Maldives, for example,
are on the front line. They are increasingly concerned. Some are already looking for new,
more hospitable lands. If sea levels continue to rise
faster and faster, what will major cities like Tokyo,
the world’s most populous city, do? Every year, scientists’ predictions
become more alarming. 70% of the world’s population
lives on coastal plains. 11 of the 15 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. In Africa,
Mount Kilimanjaro is unrecognizable. 80% of its glaciers have disappeared. In summer,
the rivers no longer flow. Local peoples are affected
by the lack of water. Even on the world’s highest peaks,
in the heart of the Himalayas, eternal snows and glaciers
are receding. Yet these glaciers play
an essential role in the water cycle. They trap the water
from the monsoons as ice and release it in the summer
when the snows melt. The Himalayan glaciers are the source
of all the great Asian rivers, the Indus, Ganges,
Mekong, Yangtze Kiang… 2 billion people depend on them
for drinking water and to irrigate their crops,
as in Bangladesh. On the delta
of the Ganges and Brahmaputra, Bangladesh is directly affected
by phenomena occurring in the Himalayas and at sea level. This is one of the most populous
and poorest countries in the world. It is already hit by global warming. The combined impact of increasingly
dramatic floods and hurricanes could make
a third of its land mass disappear. When populations are subjected
to these devastating phenomena, they eventually move away. Wealthy countries will not be spared. Droughts are occurring
all over the planet. In Australia,
half of farmland is already affected. We are in the process of compromising
the climatic balance that has allowed us to develop
over 12,000 years. More and more wildfires
encroach on major cities. In turn,
they exacerbate global warming. As the trees burn,
they release carbon dioxide. The system that controls our climate
has been severely disrupted. The elements on which it relies
have been disrupted. The clock of climate change is ticking
in these magnificent landscapes. Here in Siberia,
and elsewhere across the globe, it is so cold
that the ground is constantly frozen. It’s known as permafrost. Under its surface
lies a climatic time-bomb. Methane, a greenhouse gas 20 times
more powerful than carbon dioxide. If the permafrost melts, the methane releases would cause
the greenhouse effect to race out of control
with consequences no one can predict. We would literally
be in unknown territory. Humanity has no more than 10 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. Let’s face the facts. We must believe what we know. All we have just seen is a reflection
of human behavior. We have shaped the Earth in our image. We have very little time to change. How can this century carry the burden
of 9 billion human beings if we refuse to be called to account for everything we alone have done? 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 1 mammal in 4, 1 bird in 8, 1 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 has 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 The cost of our actions is high. Others pay the price
without having been actively involved. I have seen refugee camps as big as cities,
sprawling in the desert. How many men,
women and children will be left by the wayside tomorrow? Must we always build walls
to break the chain of human solidarity, separate peoples and protect the happiness of some
from others’ misery? It’s too late to be a pessimist. I know that a single human
can knock down every wall. It’s too late to be a pessimist. Worldwide,
4 children out of 5 attend school. Never has learning been given
to so many human beings. Everyone, from richest to poorest,
can make a contribution. Lesotho,
one of the world’s poorest countries, is proportionally the one that invests
most in its people’s education. Qatar, one of the richest states,
has opened up to the best universities. Culture, education,
research and innovation are inexhaustible resources. In the face of misery and suffering, millions of NGOs prove that solidarity between peoples is stronger
than the selfishness of nations. In Bangladesh,
a man thought the unthinkable and founded a bank
that lends only to the poor. In 30 years, it has changed
the lives of 150 million people. 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. It’s too late to be a pessimist. Governments have acted to protect
nearly 2% of territorial waters. It’s not much but it’s 2 times more
than 10 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. In the US, New York has realized
what nature does for us. These forests and lakes
supply all the city’s drinking water. In South Korea,
the forests had been devastated by war. Thanks to
a national reforestation program, they once more cover
65% of the country. More than 75% of paper is recycled. Costa Rica has made a choice between
military spending and land conservation. The country no longer has an army. It prefers to devote its resources
to education, ecotourism and the protection
of its primary forest. Gabon is one of the world’s
leading producers of wood. It enforces selective logging.
Not more than 1 tree every hectare. Its forests are one of the country’s
most important resources, but they have time to regenerate. Programs exist that guarantee
sustainable forest management. They must become mandatory. For consumers and producers,
justice is an opportunity to be seized. When trade is fair,
when both buyer and seller benefit, everybody can prosper
and earn a decent living. How can there be justice and equity between people
whose only tools are their hands and those who harvest their crops
with a machine and state subsidies? Let’s be responsible consumers. Think about what we buy! It’s too late to be a pessimist. I have seen agriculture
on a human scale. It can feed the whole planet if meat production doesn’t take
the food out of people’s mouths. I have seen fishermen
who take care what they catch and care for the riches of the ocean. I have seen houses
producing their own energy. 5,000 people live in the world’s first ever eco-friendly district
in Freiburg, Germany. Other cities partner the project. Mumbai is the thousandth to join them. The governments of New Zealand, Iceland,
Austria, Sweden and other nations have made the development
of renewable energy sources a top priority. 80% of the energy we consume
comes from fossil energy sources. Every week, two new coal-fired generating plants
are built in China alone. But I have also seen, in Denmark,
a prototype of a coal-fired plant that releases carbon into the soil
rather than the air. A solution for the future?
Nobody knows yet. I have seen, in Iceland, an electricity plant
powered by the Earth’s heat. Geothermal power. I have seen a sea snake lying on the swell
to absorb the energy of the waves and produce electricity. I have seen wind farms
off Denmark’s coast that produce 20%
of the country’s electricity. The USA, China, India, Germany
and Spain are the biggest investors in renewable energy. They have already created
over 2.5 million jobs. Where on earth
doesn’t the wind blow? I have seen desert expanses
baking in the sun. Everything on Earth is linked, and the Earth is linked to the sun,
its original energy source. Can humans not imitate plants
and capture its energy? 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 we have to do
is learn to cultivate the sun. All these experiments
are only examples, but 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 Together get involved and join us on
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