Is humanity in the danger zone?
(and where is Tom Cruise when you really need him, hey?? Anyway…)
A recent article published in the esteemed Science journal has suggested that delegates attending the December 2015 UN’s Conference of the Parties (the supreme body of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change which meets once a year to review the Convention’s progress) should be focussing their attention on how far we are driving the climate, and other planetary processes, beyond any safe operating space. Sound intense? Read on (but you can find more detailed info on this subject at The Conservation)!
Some very intelligent Dr. pants/skirts from the Australian National University and Stockholm Resilience Centre have defined nine processes that they argue must be kept stable if we want to keep all the biophysical systems we need to eat/drink/breathe/sleep/dance going (that is, a hospitable place to live!). This includes the obvious and bandied-about climate change, but also recognises that changes to ‘Biosphere integrity’ (biodiversity loss and species extinctions) is just as important.
The other seven systems that have been defined as key to our continued existence are:
- Land-system change (taking away a few ovals of forests and replacing them with fields of wheat, potatoes or carparks);
- Freshwater use (water we take from our rivers, groundwater to water our herbs and access iron ore) ;
- Biogeochemical flows (movement of water, nitrogen, phosphorus, sulphur, carbon etc.);
- Ocean acidification (decrease in pH in our oceans due the uptake of CO2 from our atmosphere);
- Atmospheric aerosol loading (dust, smoke, haze made up of any number/types of chemicals/substances);
- Stratospheric ozone depletion (that pesky hole in the ozone layer sitting somewhere between Bunbury and the Antarctic); and
- Novel entities (new things that we invented which are not so good like CFCs).
The research behind the development of this methodology has been undertaken to define boundaries and risk for these systems to determine whether we will remain within the Holocene epoch (i.e. the period defined as the last 11,000 years of relatively stable climate) and not a ‘danger zone’ which could lead us into unstable times, and possibly on the road to mass extinctions of life (the research looks scary enough).
In summary, the research described here indicates that biosphere integrity as well as climate change are our two core planetary processes, and if they are impacted too much, then the rest of Earth’s systems will also be stressed and lead to increased extinction rates (as the Baiji River Dolphin and the little Bramble Cay melomys found out recently).
So, it will be interesting to see what happens at the end of this year when individual nations submit their proposals for carbon emission reduction targets for the first time, and whether they have considered such research, or at least have taken notice of the fact that NASA declared the year 2014 to be the hottest year recorded in modern times. Some of us will be waiting with bated breath…