When I look at the world today, I think that, barring some planet-wide epiphany, some massive revolutionary change, we're hooped.
I try to stay current with developments in environmental science, the latest reports and such. Many of these studies are behind paywalls but you can usually find the executive summary and a few informative reviews to put the pieces together.
The past six months have seen new science that has certainly dimmed my outlook. There was the World Bank study that found we have already locked in 1.5C warming for our grandkids even if we stopped carbon emissions today. What that means is that all of our ongoing and steadily increasing carbon emissions are adding to that 1.5C. It seems to confirm projections that we're heading for 4 to 5C of warming by the end of this century and nobody contends that's survivable.
In September we received the Living Planet Report 2014 of the WWF, the Global Footprint Network and the Zoological Society of London that found we have lost half of the wild life on our planet since the early 70s. Half of it is gone. We're now working our way on the remaining half. How can that be? It's easy. Mankind is now consuming renewable resources at more than 1.5 times their replenishment rate. When we're taking that much, what's left for all other life forms? Certainly not enough to sustain them. We won't do without so they have to until they can't. We get politely concerned when lakes dry up or rivers no longer reach the sea but we're talking about habitats that other animals and plants cannot live without. Sometimes, as in the collapse of global fisheries, we go at them directly for our own consumption. Sometimes it's our pollution, especially nitrogen and phosphorous discharge, that kills them off. If you're a non-human life form today you have to contend with climate change impacts, loss of resources and habitat, human predation and the steadily accumulating pollutants and contaminants of many varieties.
Then there were the reports released this week, apparently for the World Economic Forum, Davos. The WEF released its "Global Risks 2015" report. The future it foresees is increasingly challenging, an "increasingly complex risk environment for which the world is "insufficiently prepared." Inter-state wars, resource wars which are wars for survival, are the predominant threat to global security in the coming decade. Water wars are the prime culprit.
Most troubling for me was the report on the 5-year study of the nine key factors that "ensure a livable planet for humans." We're already in serious trouble on four of the nine and the trend is not encouraging on the others.
The report reinforces a conclusion I reached some time ago that climate change/global warming is not a stand-alone problem but one symptom of a much greater disorder that confronts and threatens the continuation of mankind. The comments of the lead author, published in The Guardian, speak for themselves about the mess we're in.
Since 1950 urban populations have increased seven-fold, primary energy use has soared by a factor of five, while the amount of fertiliser used is now eight times higher. The amount of nitrogen entering the oceans has quadrupled.
All of these changes are shifting Earth into a “new state” that is becoming less hospitable to human life, researchers said.
“These indicators have shot up since 1950 and there are no signs they are slowing down,” said Prof Will Steffen of the Australian National University and the Stockholm Resilience Centre. Steffen is the lead author on both of the studies.
“When economic systems went into overdrive, there was a massive increase in resource use and pollution. It used to be confined to local and regional areas but we’re now seeing this occurring on a global scale. These changes are down to human activity, not natural variability.”
“If the Earth is going to move to a warmer state, 5-6C warmer, with no ice caps, it will do so and that won’t be good for large mammals like us. People say the world is robust and that’s true, there will be life on Earth, but the Earth won’t be robust for us.
“Some people say we can adapt due to technology, but that’s a belief system, it’s not based on fact. There is no convincing evidence that a large mammal, with a core body temperature of 37C, will be able to evolve that quickly. Insects can, but humans can’t and that’s a problem.”
Steffen said the research showed the economic system was “fundamentally flawed” as it ignored critically important life support systems.
“It’s clear the economic system is driving us towards an unsustainable future and people of my daughter’s generation will find it increasingly hard to survive,” he said. “History has shown that civilisations have risen, stuck to their core values and then collapsed because they didn’t change. That’s where we are today.”
The two studies, published in Science and Anthropocene Review, featured the work of scientists from countries including the US, Sweden, Germany and India. The findings will be presented in seven seminars at the World Economic Forum in Davos, which takes place between 21 and 25 January.
All of these studies that are coming in point to one conclusion. We, mankind, have painted ourselves into a very dangerous corner and there may no longer be a way out. We cling to forms of organization - economic, industrial, social and political - that outlived their utility as far back as the 70s when we began expanding past the limits of our environment. Whether we even have the ability to solve our challenges isn't the issue. What's holding us back is a complete lack of will, especially among those we empower and rely upon to safeguard our nation and our children.