By Ross McCluney
In an amazing one-two punch of scientific understanding, the University of Georgia and Arizona State University have, independently, brought new insights into the root causes of accelerated climatic disruption, unprecedented species extinctions, resource depletions—all at the hands of humanity—plus a dramatic spurt of population growth in the last couple of centuries and the resulting threat of human self-extinction.
“You can think of the Earth like a battery that has been charged very slowly over billions of years. The sun’s energy is stored in plants and fossil fuels, but humans are draining energy much faster than it can be replenished.”
In just the last few hundred years, humans extracted exploitable energy from these living and fossilized biomass fuels to build the modern industrial-technological-informational economy, to grow our population to more than 7 billion, and to transform the biogeochemical cycles and biodiversity of the earth.
This rapid discharge of the earth’s store of organic energy is what fuels the human domination of the biosphere, including conversion of natural habitats to agricultural fields and the resulting loss of native species, emission of carbon dioxide and the resulting climate and sea level change, and use of supplemental nuclear, hydro, wind, and solar energy sources.
The laws of thermodynamics, part of physics, govern the trickle-charge and rapid discharge of the earth’s battery and are therefore universal and absolute. In the long span of universe history, Earth is only temporarily poised on its outpost, some distance away from the thermodynamic equilibrium of outer space.
With the rapid depletion of the chemical energy stored in planetary biomass, however, the earth is shifting back toward the inhospitable equilibrium of outer space—with fundamental ramifications for the biosphere and humanity. Because there is no substitute or replacement energy for living biomass, the remaining distance from equilibrium that will be required to support human life is unknown.
Date: 19 June 2015
Source: Stanford University
Summary: Biologists have used highly conservative estimates to prove that species are disappearing faster than at any time since the dinosaurs’ demise.
Publication: Science Daily News Release
There is no longer any doubt: We are entering a mass extinction that threatens humanity’s existence.
That is the bad news at the center of a new study by a group of scientists including Paul Ehrlich, the Bing Professor of Population Studies in biology and a senior fellow at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment. Ehrlich and his co-authors call for fast action to conserve threatened species, populations and habitat, but warn that the window of opportunity is rapidly closing.
“[The study] shows without any significant doubt that we are now entering the sixth great mass extinction event,” Ehrlich said.
Although most well known for his positions on human population, Ehrlich has done extensive work on extinctions going back to his 1981 book, Extinction: The Causes and Consequences of the Disappearance of Species. He has long tied his work on coevolution, on racial, gender and economic justice, and on nuclear winter with the issue of wildlife populations and species loss.
There is general agreement among scientists that extinction rates have reached levels unparalleled since the dinosaurs died out 66 million years ago. However, some have challenged the theory, believing earlier estimates rested on assumptions that overestimated the crisis.
The new study, published in the journal Science Advances, shows that even with extremely conservative estimates, species are disappearing up to about 100 times faster than the normal rate between mass extinctions, known as the background rate.
“If it is allowed to continue, life would take many millions of years to recover, and our species itself would likely disappear early on,” said lead author Gerardo Ceballos of the Universidad Autónoma de México.
Most of my scientist friends and colleagues, when they speak or write to each other about this topic, have a very dim view of humanity’s near term future on Earth. “Near Term” in this context spans the next several generations of humans.
The problem, of course, is the systematic taking apart of our life-support system, a global action in which we are all, collectively, embarked. Their dim view stems largely not from failures of science and other disciplines to identify, measure, and scope out the problems we are experiencing around the world, but from:
- failures of education regarding the Earth and how it works plus what we are doing to it,
- failures to accept the magnitude of the changes that must be made quickly enough to reverse the dangerous trend,
- failures of current political system design (and/or operation) to recognize the scope and immediacy of the problem, and
- failures to take actions of magnitudes worthy of the need.
(For a very effective short cartoon video, “300 Years of FOSSIL FUELS in 300 Seconds” showing what has brought us to the current turning point, check out this youtube link.)
Fortunately, academics in other fields outside science and many other educated and aware people have formed the same view of our future and are recommending a new movement to address the problem. This group has finally recognized the larger systemic nature of the problem faced globally — failures of governing systems to function on behalf of human sustainability, health, and general welfare. Two of four bullet points at the web site of this new attempt to create real change states the case thusly: Continue reading
Occasionally, the smart mind of a keen observer will see a political trend and hypothesize that it may be more than this, something that could crystallize into a new way of governing. Mr. Englehardt has just done this with respect to the U.S. political system, and offered it to us in a “Tomgram,” a description of what he sees, somewhat tentatively, at his TomDispatch.com blog. I have excerpted the most salient points from that below. As Tom said in his introduction to the original, “Have you ever undertaken some task you felt less than qualified for, but knew that someone needed to do? Consider this piece my version of that.”
The following is reproduced by permission of Tom Englehardt.
Originally posted at TomDispatch.com
Excerpts by R. McCluney 27 MAR 15
There are five areas in which at least the faint outlines of that new [political] system [in the U.S.] seem to be emerging: (1) political campaigns and elections; (2) the privatization of Washington through the marriage of the corporation and the state; (3) the de-legitimization of our traditional system of governance; (4) the empowerment of the national security state as an untouchable fourth branch of government; and (5) the demobilization of “we the people.”
by Michael Mariotte
Just in case there was any doubt, “Americans ‘overwhelmingly’ prefer solar and wind energy to coal, oil, and nuclear energy, according to a Harvard political scientist who has conducted a comprehensive survey of attitudes toward energy and climate for the last 12 years.” So begins a New Year’s Day column in Forbes by Jeff McMahon that a lot of people missed–for most people, New Year’s Day is not prime time for reading about energy issues.
It’s not even close. 80% of the American people want solar and wind to increase a lot, and another 10% want it to increase somewhat (The other 10% probably earn their living either directly or indirectly from the nuclear and fossil fuel industries, or perhaps live in caves and don’t want electricity, or maybe just lie to pollsters). Continue reading
“No one knows what will happen to civilization if planetary conditions continue to change…”
From Jo Bish of Population Media Center About PMC
Late last week, Science Magazine published a paper titled “Planetary boundaries: Guiding human development on a changing planet.” In short, the paper is an updated version of a 2009 effort, and contends that humans have now forced transgression of four out of nine “planetary boundaries”: extinction rates; deforestation; the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere; and the flow of nitrogen and phosphorous (used on land as fertiliser) into the ocean.
Of course, it seems the only thing humans discard faster than banal consumer widgets are serious, scientifically-backed warnings about our highly-advanced skills of fouling our own nest. This is not altogether surprising when factions of the scientific community itself work overtime to sow doubt about limits to growth. For example, Dot Earth has given a platform to a set of authors, including the infamous Erle Ellis (Overpopulation Is Not The Problem), who gaudily assert that “The key to better environmental outcomes is not in ending human alteration of environments but in anticipating and mitigating their negative consequences.” Fortunately, Dot Earth also includes a rebuttal by the paper’s lead authors. Below is an article I found in the Sydney Morning Herald, covering the new Science report. Immediately below is the abstract.
The planetary boundaries framework defines a safe operating space for humanity based on the intrinsic biophysical processes that regulate the stability of the Earth System. Here, we revise and update the planetary boundaries framework, with a focus on the underpinning biophysical science, based on targeted input from expert research communities and on more general scientific advances over the past 5 years. Several of the boundaries now have a two-tier approach, reflecting the importance of cross-scale interactions and the regional-level heterogeneity of the processes that underpin the boundaries. Two core boundaries-climate change and biosphere integrity-have been identified, each of which has the potential on its own to drive the Earth System into a new state should they be substantially and persistently transgressed.
Link to the Science Article:
The new Year in America brings in a new Congress, largely dedicated to the proposition that climate change is not human-induced, nor is it an urgent problem, so there is no need in the minds of a powerful faction of the Republican Party for major climate reform legislation. This is but another threat to the future welfare of the human species.
Fortunately, however, at least for the next couple of years, we have a President in place who can veto the worst anti-environment legislation that might come up, perhaps starting off with the Keystone XL pipeline legislation expected to arrive at his desk early this year. However, the future of civilization is in growing jeopardy, mostly from the continued human-induced degradation of our climate. It’s not just the climate of the US. It’s everyone’s climate. The dire prospects for the air we breathe is not something the younger generation likes to hear or think much about, especially if they have or expect to have children and grandchildren of their own who will suffer most from the currently underwhelming action to reverse climate degradation. There’s enough bad news in the world these days.
Oldsters such as myself, have lived through the promising 70s, when so much hopeful environmental legislation was passed, creating national environmental agencies of government and some improvements in state and local laws aimed to protect natural resources directly benefitting humans. In spite of all the optimism back then, now we see that those efforts have largely failed. The reason is a decades-long lack of focused attention to the implementation of those laws and bold actions of the environmental agencies on a scale sufficient to make a real difference.
The governmental bodies set up to police our environmental assets and protect them from serious abuse and degradation have been infiltrated or even taken over by corporate interests which increasingly see nature as little more than their own resource base from which whatever desired can be taken and used for financial profit and enhanced power, regardless of the damage, depletion, and contamination of those resources and related assets.
At least in America, however, we do have three branches of government designed to protect us from the menace of a powerful few taking value and sustenance from the seemingly weak many. These are the Executive Branches, the Legislative Branches, and the Judicial Branches at national, state, and local levels of government.
As environmental law professor and author of a new book on the subject, Mary Christina Wood points out, the failure of one of these branches to take action to reverse a trend affecting the future welfare of the citizens who elected them does not mean the other two branches cannot take action.
Fortunately, as I mentioned, President Obama has already taken serious action and is poised to take further steps. (For example the agreement between two of the most climate-disrupting nations in the world, China and the U.S., to halt carbon and other climate altering emissions, new fuel efficiency standards, EPA rules to cut light duty vehicle greenhouse gas emissions by 2016 in the U.S, and other actions, plus his threatened veto of the Keystone XL pipeline legislation.)
But what about the third branch of government, the Judiciary? Some interesting actions in this sector were begun several years ago and are currently being amped up in a big way this year. 18 year old Kelsey Juliana from Eugene, Oregon has joined as co-plaintiff in a law suit spearheaded by Our Children’s Trust claiming that Oregon is not doing all it can to slow down global warming and protect the future.
Population and Sustainability Director, Center for Biological Diversity
From Huff Post Green, Updated: 12/30/2014 5:59 pm EST
RM: Thanks to Joe Bish of Population Media Center for bringing this to our attention.
As you’re poring over your resolutions this week, add this one—somewhere between saving money and learning a new skill—Share the planet.
This year has been full of bad news for the planet, from our dietary habits making climate goals impossible to the loss of half of all wildlife over the past four decades. Even fireflies had a bad year. On top of that, we added more than 77 million people to our population in 2014. That’s like adding another California, Florida, and New York to the world in a single year.
And we’re not done yet — not even close. In the first month of 2015, 4.3 people will be born worldwide every second. By mid-century, it’s estimated that we’ll be ringing in the New Year with almost 10 billion of our closest friends. There’s not enough champagne to go around (especially since climate change may bring the end of wine from the Champagne region).
THE WHITE HOUSE
19 November 2014
Climate change is happening now — and we’ve got to be ready because we’re going to see more extreme weather.
That’s why we’re taking action. Last Tuesday, the President made a historic announcement with China that sets new targets for carbon pollution reductions.
And on Monday, the Administration released the Climate Resilience Toolkit to help our communities respond to our changing climate.
Check out these easy-to-use tools, including interactive maps and visualizations, that will help prepare your community for the impacts of climate change. See how you can help your community or business get ready.
That’s why we’re taking action. Continue reading