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Vital Signs 2006-2007: The trends that are shaping our future

Vital Signs 2006-2007: The trends that are shaping our future

Compiled by the Worldwatch Institute
Published by WW Norton and Co.
Website: www.worldwatch.org
2006, 160pp, ISBN 0 393 32872 4(Pb), US$16.95

In a world where startling statistics are being thrust before our eyes on a daily basis, it is perhaps increasingly difficult for the authors of Vital Signs to find something new to shock us. This year's snapshot of the 'trends that are shaping our future' includes figures on global warming that, while perhaps not surprising, deserve to be reiterated. 2005 was, according to NASA, the warmest year ever recorded; more shocking still, the five hottest years that have been recorded since measurement began in 1880 have all occurred since 1998. The impacts of that warming on ice caps and oceans have been well documented, but the report also highlights the plight of tens of millions of Chinese farmers who have been forced to retreat from a Gobi desert that is expanding by 26,000 square kilometres per year.

In response, production of biofuels is on the rise. Fuel ethanol production increased by 19 per cent in 2005, and production of biodiesel rose by 60 per cent. This has had a knock on effect on food prices, with the world sugar price doubling between 2004-2006 thanks to massive consumption by Brazil's sugarcane-based ethanol industry. The report also documents trends in industry, transport, health and society, and conflict. Global spending on advertising increased to a record $570 billion in 2005, with nearly half of this spent in the US. Of that US expenditure, $56.6 billion went on direct mail advertising, producing 41.5 billion pieces of mail. Meanwhile, one in three of the world's urban dwellers live in 'slums', without access to one or more basic necessities, such as clean water or sanitation. And while over 80 per cent of New Zealand's population use the Internet, Germany has more than twice the number of users as the whole African continent, where Internet penetration has reached just 3 per cent.

Date published: November 2006


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