Thursday, January 15, 2015

The Nine Really Deadly Sins. Another One Falls.

Five years ago a team of 30-scientists formulated a list of nine ecological tipping points mankind must not cross.  Consider them the planetary nine deadly sins. A report in Scientific American warns that we have just crossed our fourth tipping point.

To its peril, the world had already crossed three of those safe limits: too much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, too rapid a rate of species loss and too much pouring of nitrogen into rivers and oceans—primarily in the form of fertilizer runoff.

Now we have succeeded in transgressing a fourth limit: the amount of forestland being bulldozed or burned out of existence. Less and less forest reduces the planet’s ability to absorb some of that carbon dioxide and to produce water vapor, crucial to plant life. And the ongoing loss alters how much of the sun’s energy is absorbed or reflected across wide regions, which itself can modify climate.

Details about the fourth transgression, and updates on how well the planet is faring on all nine boundaries, are being published today online in Science. Another international team, with some of the same members from the original group, decided to reassess the boundaries given five more years of data, and they plan to keep doing so into the future. “Science moves on,” says the paper’s lead author, Will Steffen, a professor at the Australian National University and at the Stockholm Resilience Center at Stockholm University. “And so do the best ways to formulate the boundaries and apply them to policy.”

It's all too much for the political classes to grasp.

 Indeed, the group chose two “core boundaries,” each of which could “drive the earth system into a new state” if they are persistently surpassed. Of course the insinuation is that a “new” state is not a state we want to be in. The two core boundaries are “climate change”—primarily the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere—and “biosphere integrity,” which is how much we are killing off species and tearing up natural habitat. “Looking back into geologic history, we see that climate change and mass extinctions have occurred when major changes took place on earth,” Steffen says. Too much CO2 will simply cook the planet, and too much disruption of ecosystems will destroy natural resources (think food) on which people depend.

The designation of two core boundaries may in part be a response to frustration from policymakers when the nine boundaries were first revealed. They were simply too much for legislators and political leaders to take on. Steffen hopes that a focus on the core boundaries will guide the finalization of U.N. Sustainable Development Goals, happening this year, which are meant to guide nations in crafting policies that help sustain the planet into the future.
The realization that it is time to talk tough comes from a second new paper appearing today online in Anthropocene Review, also led by Steffen. It updates a striking set of 24 graphs that show that almost all the damage to earth by humans has occurred since 1950, in lock step with rapid economic growth worldwide. This “great acceleration” of social, economic and environmental drivers basically says that although growing population adds stress to the earth’s systems, greater consumption through rising living standards is responsible for even more of the burden.

The fact is that we're out of time.  Applying the brakes, slowing down, is not going to do it for us any more.  We have to find "reverse".  We have to claw our way back out of this or accept what could be a terminal outcome for not just mankind but almost all life on our planet.

We have to stop looking the other way.  Watching this clip would be a good start.


lungta said...

i can see number nine "chemical pollution" passed as well
if you add in all the plastics and 50 million new chemicals patented, the 70% of all drugs returned to water cycle and the tons of ceramicized depleted uranium and other radiation, pesticides, herbicides and fungicides, fracking toxins, paints , glues , cosmetics, cleaners.
where do GMOs fit in?

The Mound of Sound said...

I don't have the faintest idea, lungta, but you've raised questions that need clear answers.

mogs moglio said...

Lungta same place the rest goes to poison the fish the reptilians oh hell all life including us...

Owen Gray said...

We keep merrily marching down the same road.