Heading off Eco-Armageddon

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Try not to despair. Yet another report has come out predicting a dire future for Earth's ecosystems. This one, however, is hard to ignore. Some 1,300 experts from 95 countries spent more than four years trying to get a global picture of the state of the planet.

Their conclusion? About 60 percent of nature's "services," such as fresh water, fisheries, and farm land, are being degraded or used in ways that are not sustainable and are a barrier to the goal of reducing poverty and disease. What's more, the damage is diminishing economic growth, especially in the poorest nations.

The report, called the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, was commissioned by the UN to help it meet such goals as cutting poverty in half by 2015. While it's long on data, it's short on innovative solutions.

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Critics, such as Danish economist and environmentalist Bjorn Lomborg, no doubt will punch holes in some of the report's doomsday analysis. He led an effort last year with other economists to set feasible priorities for global problems. The most immediate challenges: HIV-AIDS, malnutrition, free trade, and malaria. Global warming was way down the list.

The Millennium report could, however, be a springboard for action to repair damaged ecosystems. The current $8 billion Everglades restoration project is just one example. Such cleanups from human activity not only provide jobs, they create opportunities for new economic activity.

The World Bank, under its new president Paul Wolfowitz, should put an emphasis on this ecorestoration idea by financing projects that help bring back waterways, endangered species, spoiled lands, and the like.

The cost of not reviving the ecology could be greater than the cost of making it whole again.

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