With the climate changing, natural resources dwindling, politicians procrastinating, workers idling and bankers receiving bonuses for their ruinous activities, it's easy to imagine we're on the brink of something.
In an interview Naomi Oreskes, author of Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming, describes how right-wingers, fundamentalist Christians, the coal industry and the media have worked together to fool the North American public into thinking there's a debate about climate change. Somehow they're winning, with concern about global warming falling in the USA and Canada over the past year and a half. She says the debate is over. Now it's up to the scientists to go over the heads of conflict-hungry journalists and communicate with people directly.
From the largest city in North America, however, there comes good news. After twenty years hard work, air pollution in Mexico City is declining. The city government has prioritised buses, prohibited certain cars from driving on certain days, and encouraged cycling. Still, one in six days this year has seen ozone levels rise above acceptable levels.
A North American export has found an unwelcome niche in Australia. To combat Earth Hour (which is this Saturday, and sees millions turn their lights out for sixty minutes), the Competitive Enterprise Institute came up with Human Achievement Hour (when environmental terrorists do the opposite). What a great achievement it will be if humanity manages to make the Earth uninhabitable!
New Moore Island is already uninhabitable. Today it only breaches the surface of the waters of the Bay of Bengal when tides are extremely low. It's disappearance is caused by rising temperatures, according to Sugato Hazra, director of Jadavpur University's school of oceanography studies. The island was once disputed by Bangladesh and India. Well, that's one less thing for them to worry about.
Other islands threatened with disappearance include the 33 which make up the nation of Kiribati. The government of Taiwan has promised technical assistance to hold back the waves, but Kiribati's president, Anote Tong, suggested Taiwan may best help by taking in his 96,500 people when their country becomes submerged. Taiwan's aid to Kiribati is a diplomatic move to counter China's influence. Is this an early instance of the confluence of geopolitics and climate change?
Elsewhere in the South Pacific, the New Zealand government plans to allow mining in previously protected conservation areas. The value of the minerals is unclear. Also unclear is the damage such a move will do to New Zealand's green credentials, and the cost in lost tourism revenues. Ecologically minded tourists have long flocked to New Zealand's unspoilt regions, although flying halfway around the world to get there does untold damage in itself.
Another tourism hotspot is under threat, not from mining but from rising seas. The scene of the romance between Anthony and Cleopatra, Alexandria may be swamped by Mediterranean water by the end of the century. Already scientists are finding increased salinity and crop failure in the fertile Nile Delta, an area which feeds some of Egypt's 80 million people.
Tides can do good as well as ill. The Pentland Firth in Scotland has been described as the Saudi Arabia of marine power. Now it's being opened up to energy companies and may generate as much as 700MW by the end of the decade. Whether this will mean the closure of conventional power stations or just that Scots can use more electricity in their day-to-day lives remains to be seen.
But however much power water may generate, it's not welcome if it brings death and disease. According to a UNEP report, lack of clean water kills more than a million under-fives each year and half the world's hospital beds are taken up by people suffering from diseases linked to dirty water. Water recycling systems, sewage treatment works, wetland protection and saving animal waste to use as fertilizer are putative solutions.
So what is it we're on the brink of? Is it something good or something bad? Perhaps that's still up to us, but a survey of world news suggests for every one step forward its two steps back.