Skip to main content

From ocean to ozone, the limits of our planet (hindu)

Transformative changes must be considered to keep Earth safe for the future

The population of vertebrate species on Earth in the wild saw a dramatic fall of about 30% between 1970 and 2006, with the worst effects being in the tropics and in freshwater ecosystems. Destruction of species’ habitats by pollutants and land-use change are obliterating flora and fauna at unprecedented rates. In fact, the ecological footprint of humanity — the natural habitats, such as water and land, transformed or destroyed as a result of human activity — far exceeds the biological capacity of the earth.

In an attempt to understand the natural world, its relationships with human societies and limits, in 2009, Johan Rockström and others from the Stockholm Environment Institute described elements of the biophysical world that link us together. Often regarded as a “safe operating space for humanity”, these planetary boundaries include loss of biodiversity, land-use change, changes to nitrogen and phosphorus cycles, ocean acidification, atmospheric aerosols loading, ozone depletion, chemical production, freshwater use and, of course, climate change.

In the course of 12,000 or so years after the last ice age, the Holocene epoch has offered a stable climate, a period of grace for humanity to grow and to flourish, with settlements, agriculture and, more recently, economic and population expansion. This epoch has since given way to the Anthropocene, the exact beginnings of which are debated, but which has led to over-reliance on fossil fuels, industrial agriculture, pollution in water, soils and air, loss of species and so on, which are devastating for many life forms and connected ecosystems throughout the planet.

Biophysical considerations
Many of these conditions respond in a non-linear manner to changes. This means, for instance, that ecosystems that are stressed by their exposure to pollutants may not recover once the pollutants are removed. Or, some systems may collapse precipitously under conditions referred to as thresholds. We understand many of these thresholds and how they interact with each other, but not all.

When ecological thresholds or tipping points are crossed, significant large-scale changes may occur, such as breakdown of glaciers in Greenland and the Antarctica, the dieback of rainforests in the Amazon, or failure of the Indian monsoons. Since these boundaries interact with one another and cause changes across scales, crossing a threshold in one domain can speed up or undermine processes in another subsystem. For instance, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions increase ocean acidification, land-use change often increases GHG emissions, and increasing nitrogen and phosphorus deplete species biodiversity and freshwater resources and increase warming from climate change.

Boundaries and limits
According to Mr. Rockström and others, we are already at critical levels of concern for climate change, fresh water, species biodiversity and changes to nitrogen and phosphorus cycles, which are reaching tipping points. For example, GHG emissions have led to average atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations being about 410 ppm. This is well above the 350 ppm level considered a ‘safe’ limit, and the earth is already about a degree Celsius warmer than average pre-industrial temperatures.

Since publication of these studies by Mr. Rockstrom and others, there has been plenty of discussion, even strong disagreement, regarding the boundaries. Some scientists, such as Kate Raworth, have expanded them to reflect and include several social dimensions such as equity and gender justice that were subsequently placed in the centre of a schematic representation of the boundaries as a circle with a hole or as a doughnut.

One may regard planetary boundaries as support systems for life on Earth or view them as expressing “carrying capacity” and defining “limits to growth”. The latter is a thesis that was originally published nearly half a century ago by the Club of Rome as a book in 1972. It described the situation we would find ourselves in with exponential population and economic growth. While the “limits to growth” argument was challenged for good analytical reasons, it still provided a lens through which to view the changing world of the 21st century. It also offered the idea of thinking about a system as a whole — systems thinking — not just as separate parts and feedback mechanisms as valuable processes in considering long-term change.

On sustainability
The idea of sustainability has been embedded in the human imagination for a very long time and is expressed through our ideas of nature, society, economy, environment and future generations. But it became formally a part of international agreements and discourse when it was recognised at the Earth Summit of 1992 in Rio de Janeiro.

This systems view and the recognition of interlinkages among the social, environmental, and economic pillars of sustainability, and between biophysical planetary boundaries and social conditions, are essential to have a chance of keeping the world safe for future generations. It is telling that scholars who work on planetary boundaries regard climate change as one of the easiest to manage and contain.

In thinking about these planetary limits then, researchers and policymakers should reflect on multiple systems and the linkages among them, and whether step-by-step or transformative changes must be considered to keep the planet safe for the future.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Khar’s experimentation with Himalayan nettle brings recognition (downtoearth)

Nature never fails to surprise us. In many parts of the world, natural resources are the only source of livelihood opportunities available to people. They can be in the form of wild shrubs like Daphne papyracea and Daphne bholua (paper plant) that are used to make paper or Gossypium spp (cotton) that forms the backbone of the textile industry.

Nothing can compete with the dynamism of biological resources. Recently, Girardinia diversifolia (Himalayan nettle), a fibre-yielding plant, has become an important livelihood option for people living in the remote mountainous villages of the Hindu Kush Himalaya.

There is a community in Khar, a hamlet in Darchula district in far-western Nepal, which produces fabrics from Himalayan nettle. The fabric and the things made from it are sold in local as well as national and international markets as high-end products.

A Himalayan nettle value chain development initiative implemented by the Kailash Sacred Landscape Conservation and Development Initiati…

SC asks Centre to strike a balance on Rohingya issue (.hindu)

Supreme Court orally indicates that the government should not deport Rohingya “now” as the Centre prevails over it to not record any such views in its formal order, citing “international ramifications”.

The Supreme Court on Friday came close to ordering the government not to deport the Rohingya.

It finally settled on merely observing that a balance should be struck between humanitarian concern for the community and the country's national security and economic interests.

The court was hearing a bunch of petitions, one filed by persons within the Rohingya community, against a proposed move to deport over 40,000 Rohingya refugees. A three-judge Bench, led by Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra, began by orally indicating that the government should not deport Rohingya “now”, but the government prevailed on the court to not pass any formal order, citing “international ramifications”. With this, the status quo continues even though the court gave the community liberty to approach it in …

New passport application rules add options for single parents, sadhus(Livemint)

Sadhus/sanyasis (Hindu ascetics) can apply for a passport with the name of their spiritual guru in lieu of their biological parents.
 New Delhi: Acknowledging a changing social milieu and its reflection in paperwork, the ministry of external affairs on Friday unveiled a series of changes in the passport application process.

The online passport application form now requires the applicant to provide the name of only one parent as opposed to both in order to enable those with single parents to apply for passports.

This comes on the heel of reports over the past two years of passport offices insisting on the father’s name in the form even if the mother is a single parent.

“A three-member committee comprising of officials of the ministry of external affairs and the ministry of women and child development was constituted to examine various issues pertaining to passport applications. These pertain to single parents, parents with adopted children and instances where they did not want the in…