Photo: Arctic Studies
Human-generated pressures, at their current pace, will likely drive our planet’s ecosystems to an irreversible collapse in the coming decades, according to a new paper in the journal Nature.The paper, titled “Approaching a state-shift in Earth’s biosphere,” is the work of 18 scientists from Chile, Canada, Finland, the U.K., Spain and the United States.
Based on a review of scientific theories, ecosystem modelling and fossils, the researchers concluded that accelerating loss of biodiversity, extreme climate fluctuations and a radically changing total energy budget are precursors to reaching a planetary tipping point that would be followed by an irreversible collapse of our planet’s ecosystems.
The paper echoes the most recent scientific research on the adverse effects of overpopulation, over-consumption, biodiversity loss, energy scarcity and climate change on the environment.
- The UN just published its Global Environmental Outlook, which states that humanity’s path is unsustainable because of over-logging, over-fishing, water scarcity and lack of action on climate change.
- An April report by the Royal Society found that the combination of population growth in the least developed countries and over-consumption in developed countries is threatening the natural environment and human well-being.
- World Wildlife Fund’s Living Planet 2012 Report found that there was a 28 per cent reduction in global biodiversity between 1970 and 2008, and the world needs 1.5 years to replenish the natural resources that we consume in a single year. (WWF notes that by 2030 two earths won’t even be enough to sustain human consumption and that if everyone in the world lived like an average resident of the USA, a total of four Earths would be required to regenerate humanity’s annual demand on nature).
- A recent study found that 90 per cent of mammal species will lose habitat because of climate change in the coming decades.
Here is a chart from the WWF report about our ecological footprint:
“In a nutshell, humans have not done anything really important to stave off the worst because the social structures for doing something just aren’t there,” researcher Arne Mooers said in a press release.”My colleagues who study climate-induced changes through the earth’s history are more than pretty worried. In fact, some are terrified.”The study notes that the current rate of climate change exceeds the rate during the last extreme planetary state change that ended the last Ice Age, 12,000 years ago. The last time the rate of climate change was this high was at the end of the dinosaur era.
The authors recommend that world governments undertake five actions immediately to have any hope of delaying or minimising the shift of the planetary state. According to Mooers:
Society globally has to collectively decide that we need to drastically lower our population very quickly. More of us need to move to optimal areas at higher density and let parts of the planet recover. Folks like us have to be forced to be materially poorer, at least in the short term. We also need to invest a lot more in creating technologies to produce and distribute food without eating up more land and wild species. It’s a very tall order.
The researchers conclude that we will reach a point of no return if we exceed the 50 per cent mark of wholesale transformation of Earth’s surface; we’ve already reached 43 per cent through our conversion of landscapes into agricultural and urban areas.
With the human population set to grow by a further two billion by 2050, we are set to exceed the 50 per cent threshold much sooner than we’d like.
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