Earth’s Nine Lives
It is as if we are waking from a long, drugged sleep, from a dream we’ve perpetuated by will because the waking truth was both beyond our grasp to understand and beyond our willingness to accept. Now, we can no longer plead ignorance. And there is no going back to a numb unconsciousness.
Mankind has touched and mostly despoiled every living system on Earth, even as, in an increasing number of areas, we become able to measure that change and project how close we are to the edge. [yesterday’s post about European overfishing was a case in point.] The planet is not infinitely resilient, and we are pushing our limits dangerously close on many fronts.
We can now go a long way towards quantifying the planet’s health, and nine tipping points beyond which we must not go have been developed over a number of years by ecologist-economists like Robert Costanza. Here are the recommended planetary “boundaries” we must not exceed: climate change, biodiversity loss, excess nitrogen and phosphorus production, stratospheric ozone depletion, ocean acidification, global consumption of freshwater, change in land use for agriculture, air pollution, and chemical pollution. See also NewScientist
You come back from the doctor with complete blood work. There are parameters that say one blood chemical or other measure is outside of healthy limits. You cut back on cholesterol, reduce salt intake, get more exercise. You want to live a healthy life. These planetary boundaries are like your doctor’s report telling all of us we had better change our ways–or at least be knowledgeable of approaching limits–if we want to pass on a healthy planet to those who come after us.
My hope is that, with this growing ability to gauge our impact on specific life support systems of Earth, we will do the right thing in time to prevent the activities of ONE species–our own–from doing irrevocable harm to the biosphere.
My concern is that we cannot do this without collaboration at the largest levels–including governments, non-profits, state agencies and a broad swath of human communities acting as if our lives depended on it. Given we are operating in a time such that we can’t ruin one place and move to a new one, the unrestrained freedoms of a pioneer society are necessarily past.
This desperate need for working for the common good comes at a time when there is strident opposition to anything that diminishes individual rights. While we might understand the fears of change, we can’t let our focus be diverted from the measurable givens of the best tools we have at our disposal. We can’t let the received wisdom of conspiracy therorists take precedent over the most accurate measures of the real threats we face.
I’ll be focusing more on the eco-economic realities we are finally beginning to confront on a broad front and in ways that can make a difference. There is light up ahead. That’s where I’ll be putting my energy, even if others chose to spend theirs cursing the darkness.
- Are Humans Reshaping the Earth? (alternet.org)
- UN calls for technological revolution or ‘major planetary catastrophe’ (talesfromthelou.wordpress.com)