“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
By Michael Tuckson
Formerly advisor in rural development in Thailand and Laos
Former government and university staffer in Australia
Degrees in geology, palaeoecology and human geography
Excerpts from “Changing the World: Using the Humanity System Idea”
Reproduced by permission from The Millennium Alliance for Humanity and the Biosphere
November 4, 2014
Paul Ehrlich’s first visit to Australia in 1970 drew me away from doctoral studies in palaeoecology towards a tutorship in human geography and a new life increasingly in human affairs.
In my journey from natural science into the social sciences I eventually came to see human ecology and the social sciences as together describing critical parts of the whole system that I began to call the ‘humanity system’. The system includes all of human thought, action and the short and long-term consequences.
The humanity system is best studied starting at least 200,000 years ago, including a-temporal concepts as they become relevant through time. Humanity systems evolved from nature harvesting through farming to city-centered systems, through ‘traditional’ and modern stages. With population growth, humanity systems have now replaced much of the biosphere with farming, mining, and rigidi-structure largely in arable regions of the world and degraded the rest of the biosphere.
None of the specialized subjects which populate the social sciences, nor human ecology, by themselves can fully explain our life on planet Earth. An integrating theory, which recognizes the influence of Nature, emotion, power and force, and avails itself of the best relevant ideas in each of the relatively specialized disciplines, is needed. It must be recognized that some of the theory of the social sciences is based on values influenced by emotion such as wealth, luxury and ethnic and national prestige.
James Hansen 20 OCT 2014
The essential spur required to phase down fossil fuel emissions is a rising carbon fee. Only a few major nations must agree, e.g., China and the United States. Most of the world would follow, induced by the desire to avoid border duties and modernize energy infrastructure.
Other things are needed, especially technology development, but those things will be hastened by a rising carbon fee.
So why is an agreement on a carbon fee at [the United Nations Climate Change Conference, COP21]* in Paris in December 2015 not a foregone conclusion?
The old excuse, that it would be costly, has been shot down. A steadily rising carbon fee, if it is revenue neutral via 100% dispersal of the funds to the public, stimulates the economy, increasing jobs and the GDP (see REMI study commissioned by Citizens Climate Lobby).
(For more, go to this link.)
*The 21st yearly session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 21) to the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the 11th session of the Meeting of the Parties (CMP 11) to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol**. The conference objective is to achieve alegally binding and universal agreement on climate, from all the nations of the world. Leadership of the negotiations is yet to be determined.
**The Kyoto Protocol was adopted in Kyoto, Japan, on 11 December 1997 and entered into force on 16 February 2005. There are currently 192 Parties to the Protocol. The Kyoto Protocol implemented the objective of the UNFCCC to fight global warming by reducing greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere to ‘a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system’. The Protocol is based on the principle of Common but Differentiated Responsibilities: it puts the obligation to reduce current emissions on developed countries on the basis that they are historically responsible for the current levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
In my 6 November 2012 blog posting titled “Intentional Ignorance,” I quoted something Julia Allen Field said in Miami around the time of the first Earth Day Teach-In in 1970:
“We are using the Earth as if we were the last generation.”
In that piece I offered my own version of her statement:
Humanity is systematically taking apart the life-support system of Planet Earth for humans.
Now comes a measure of the depth of this action from the World Wildlife Fund‘s Living Planet Report.
That report is the world’s leading, science-based analysis on the health of our planet and the impact of human activity. Knowing we only have one planet, WWF believes that humanity can make better choices that translate into clear benefits for ecology, society and the economy today and in the long term. From the WWF web site on the new report comes this summary:
“[The] latest edition of the Living Planet Report is not for the faint-hearted. One key point that jumps out is that the Living Planet Index (LPI), which measures more than 10,000 representative populations of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish, has declined by 52 per cent since 1970.
Some direct and indirect consequences of overpopulation have grabbed attention on the web recently.
Check these out:
When I awoke this morning, something simple popped into my head. It was this brief explanation of what Alan Weissman’s book Countdown is all about: How humanity went wrong with the Earth and what we’ve learned to do about it.
As is my want, I decided to elaborate a little.
When humanity first arrived as a distinct species, we were like infants, having to explore our world and learn how to get along in it. This took a very long time, but was successful. We became hunters and gatherers, roaming the countryside, mostly looking for food, and learning how best to find, prepare, and eat it. Life was not that easy for humans and our numbers remained quite low for a long long time.
About 10,000 to 15,000 years ago some of us first learned how to plant seeds, water them once in a while, and actively grow crops to feed ourselves. We found out which species in different climates were relatively easy to grow, tasted pretty good, and satisfied our hunger. Along the way we learned how to cook our food to make it more delicious, easier to eat, and have greater shelf life. Our numbers started to grow a little more rapidly, but still there were very few of us. Continue reading
I draw your attention to the amazing book Countdown by Alan Weisman. It makes all the connections, anchored by the core reason for the human population’s current unsustainability: unrelenting population growth coupled with humanity’s also unrelenting propensity toward more food, more unsustainable resource use, and more fossil fuel extraction.
On page after page—as Weisman tours the world—he spotlights failed government policy (often going against desires of people to be more rational) and describes the terrible environmental and other consequences of those failures, culture after culture, region after region, and country after country. But he also chronicles, page after page, the experiences of countries and regions whose populations blew up last century now exhibiting substantially lowered fertility levels, in many cases below the replacement level of about 2.1 births per fertile female.
By the end of Chapter 4, seventeen percent of the book, I thought Weissman had written enough. It was comprehensive and overwhelming, but I continued reading anyway. I’m glad I did.