State of the World 2003—Special Anniversary Edition

The Worldwatch Institute
reviewed by Dr. Kenn Kassman

State of the World, book cover

The Worldwatch Institute is one of the planet’s leading think tanks specializing in progressive “Green” public policy. Every year for the past 20 years, it has published an impressive overview of its work in a wide variety of subject areas. This annual State of the World report is translated into more than 20 different languages and available worldwide. Its strengths include good solid analysis of current issues, backed up by facts and figures, and an emphasis on positive steps towards realistic solutions to complicated problems. I have used previous issues in undergraduate university courses with great success.
 This year’s report focuses on the usual types of issues: species endangerment (with a fascinating look at the world’s birds); a study linking population, women and biodiversity; another looking at the connections between human development, poverty and modern city planning; and one covering the problems related to and strategies for reducing the mining of the earth’s resources. I found the chapter making the case for a new energy policy to be particularly interesting given the world’s current dependence on oil and the consequences of that addiction. Citing the German example of the past 10 years and covering everything from solar, wind and photovoltaics to innovative conservation attempts, the author shows that alternatives in major industrialized countries can work. The chapter cites the predictions of major oil companies that no less than 50% of all energy production is expected to come from renewable sources by 2050.
 The chapter that most readers of New Renaissance should find most interesting, however, is the last one, which emphasizes the role of religion in solving the modern sustainability problem. The world’s religions and spiritual heritage are all too often overlooked in the search for what is seen as political, economic, or ecological problems. This is a tremendous waste of potential, especially considering that 85-90% of the worlds population is affiliated in some way to a religious tradition, and the big three—Christianity, Islam and Hinduism—account for 2/3 of the global population alone. The deeper values of each of these religions—indeed, dare I say all spirituality?—are arguably based on ecological and humanitarian ethics. The spiritual traditions manifested in religious institutions thus have the potential to introduce a positive moral dimension to today’s crisis of modernity. Spirituality can thus be seen as the heart and the soul needed to balance the hardheaded rationality of science and the tightfisted economics of plutocratic capitalism.
 Every religion, of course, can be interpreted in innumerable ways, and many of these ways can be used to justify exploitation. The potential for the opposite, however, is unlimited. Religious institutions own around 7% of all the world’s habitable property. In the USA there is one house of worship for every 900 residents; in Pakistan, one mosque for every 30 households. Many of the world’s schools are run by religions, as are most of the world’s charities. In the US, the Catholic Church is the biggest service provider after the federal government. With this strength, reach and service orientation, the potential behind these and other religious organizations is enormous.
 The examples of positive social and ecological progress listed in the chapter backing this argument up are too numerous to mention here, and are probably typical of those the average New Renaissance reader has experienced firsthand. Nevertheless, the article is definitely worth a read, and like every single issue of the Worldwatch report itself, can be highly recommended.
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 This article was printed in New Renaissance, Vol. 11, No. 4, issue 39, Spring, 2003  Copyright © 2003 by Renaissance Universal, all rights reserved.  Posted on the web on March 22, 2003.