Climate change is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the future of humanity. It's just one piece of a far greater problem that won't be solved with a minuscule carbon tax.
For years I've argued that we can't hope to thwart climate change if we treat it as some standalone threat which is precisely what we've been doing. That cavalier approach could, probably will be our undoing.
Climate change is just one existential threat that is tightly interwoven with others. To sort even one we must sort them all. I have tried to lump them into three categories: climate change, overpopulation and over-exploitation of the planet's finite resources.
Johan Rockstrom, co-director of the Potsdam Institute, warns that when it comes to averting climate breakdown, eliminating fossil fuels is the easy part. He says there are nine planetary boundaries we must not cross if human civilization is to survive.
'(The framework) answers where are the biophysical processes in the Earth's system that regulate our ability to have a stable climate system and planet. And what you find is that it's not only about carbon, it's also about biological systems and processes. It is taking all the planetary boundaries seriously and (recognising that) they all interact with each other.'
'If you read the 1.5°C report carefully, it tells you that, yes, we have to basically decarbonise the world's energy system by 2045, 2050 by the latest, to stand a chance at 1.5°C. But the assumption is, and it's really a prerequisite to that feat, that the overall resilience of the planet is maintained, that carbon continues to be sequestered (stored) in all our natural ecosystems.
'How we deal with natural capital and the living biosphere will be fundamental to whether we will fail or succeed with Paris (the Paris Agreement to limit global warming).'
'We focus all our attention on coal, oil and natural gas, but when you look at the agenda overall, that's the easier part of the climate challenge. The much more challenging part is water, soil, biodiversity, nitrogen, phosphorus, the bio dimension of the economy and of the climate challenge.
'The key here is to take a systems approach (i.e. understand how ecosystems and climate interact) and to take a full life cycle approach, and then to look at the systemic challenges around all the aspects of the bioeconomy. If one does that, I think many solutions will emerge.'So we have these planetary boundaries and our survival depends on staying within them. Which brings us to another line of argument routinely advanced on this blog - the need to shrink the global economy until it is safely within the finite limits of our planet's ecology.
'The first task is to define, through Earth system analysis, where the boundaries are. That's the task that I, and my scientific peers with me, have focused our attention on. The planet boundary framework is in no way a solution or a monitoring scheme. It gives you the boundaries within which we have a good chance of maintaining a stable planet.Then comes the hardest part - equity. Not only do we have to find a way forward that's not driven by perpetual exponential growth, we have to find ways to fairly allocate resources and budgets, nation by nation, sector by sector. It's an odd form of rationing among nations and we're either going to accept it or we're finished. It's that simple and that obvious.
'Then, of course, the exciting question is, where are we and how are we progressing over time against these boundaries? Now, can we measure that? Yes, we have increasing (measuring) capabilities ... based on data from, for example, global Earth observation systems.'
'We are working very hard, as are very many research groups around the world, to develop methodologies of how to quantify the boundaries for different nations and for different sectors and in society. That is a challenge, definitely. It is possible, scientifically, to define, for example, that 10 million tonnes of phosphorous maximum are allowed to flow into the oceans each year. That's a global boundary number.
'Now the question is, how do you distribute that between Germany and the US and China in a scientific but also in a transparent and equitable way - i.e. how is the global phosphorus budget to be distributed in quantitative budgets between nations?'Here's Rockstrom giving a TED Talk from way back in 2010 or, as I like to call it, "the good old days".