Red alert: Kofi Annan on the photos that capture our choking planet

From a masked Tokyo commuter fighting for space to the plastic particles killing our oceans, the former UN secretary-general hails the photographers shortlisted for tonight’s space-themed Prix Pictet prize

We are running out of space. Fly over Africa at night and you will see mile after mile of fires burning red in the dark as scrub is removed to make way for human beings. Satellite images of nocturnal Europe or America show vast areas lit up like an enormous fairground. From Shanghai to Sydney, from Moscow to Mexico City, the skylines of our major cities are no longer fixed and familiar. Where we cannot build into the sky, we construct vast chequerboards of smogbound, low-rise dwellings that stretch from one horizon to the other.

Our cities expand in every direction as we fight to house a population that is growing at the rate of 200,000 each day. That adds up to a headcount the size of Germany every year. To feed this growing number requires ever more land to farm: each year, more than 150,000 square kilometres of natural forest are lost to agricultural or urban development.

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