Vital Signs 1996
This fifth edition of Vital Signs: The Trends That Are Shaping Our Future will, we believe, be more useful than ever in allowing policymakers, journalists, and academic researchers to chart and understand the major ecological, economic, and social forces affecting the world. In 1996, we have included 33 key indicators, most of which present data from 1950 through 1995, and an additional 12 special features.
This year's report, produced by 14 contributing researchers, includes most of the basic indicators we have been charting since 1992, such as world population, grain production, and carbon emissions. But it also incorporates 10 entirely new vital signs, all of them in Part 2. In this section, we continue to seek out new, less noticed, trends, many of which are not regularly charted by the world's national and international statistical agencies.
Among the disturbing trends described in these features are a resurgence of infectious diseases, including many that the world's health authorities thought were under control and gradually diminishing; growing threats to aquatic ecosystems, which have extinguished or endangered one fifth of all fish species; and the laying of 110 million landmines across 64 countries, which maim thousands of people each year, many of them children.
One of the trends covered for the first time in Vital Signs 1996 is the rising insurance claims for weather-related disasters, which went from $16 billion for the decade of the eighties to $48 billion for just the first half of the nineties. Although this trend cannot be definitively linked to human-induced global climate change, the risk is high enough that many insurance companies are now reviewing their exposure to weather-related losses. Other new trends covered this year include bans on pesticide use, green taxes, and violence against women.
Despite the bleakness of many of these trends, Vital Signs continues to report on a number of encouraging developments. Markets for some of the technologies needed to create a sustainable global economy reached new highs in 1995, including a 15-percent rise in sales of the highly efficient compact fluorescent light bulbs, a 17-percent increase in shipments of photovoltaic cells, and a 33-percent increase in the installation of wind turbines. If such double-digit growth rates continue for a few more years, they will help curtail the emissions of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and carbon dioxide that are documented elsewhere in the report.
Readers around the world continue to tell us about a range of new uses they are finding for Vital Signs statistics. For example, several major newspapers regularly download Vital Signs data from our Database Disk to create their own graphic representations of global trends. Many top government and industry officials say that they rely on Vital Signs for information in their policy deliberations.
So far, Vital Signs has been published in 17 languages, a market that we plan to continue expanding in the years ahead. We were pleased to add a Vietnamese edition of Vital Signs 1995 and have signed a contract for a Chinese edition of this year's volume with the Institute of Scientific and Technical Information in Beijing.