The Changing Face of Our Planet

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The changing face of our planet

It is easy to take our World for granted. Here we are, held by an invisible force onto this planet that is spinning through the Universe. There is water, oxygen and food available and the planet is hospitable to us, providing virtually everything that we require to survive.

But many of us are starting to wake up to the fact that this human-friendly environment is not something that we can take for granted. In fact we are shaking the very foundations of the structure of our World. This has been the focus of 2 studies that have been published recently. They have painted a very worrying picture of how life on Earth is changing. Scientists from across the world collated the data and the findings have just been presented in seminars at the World Economic Forum.

The unsurprising claim is that humans are damaging the essential processes that underpin life on Earth, and at a rate that has never before been seen. We are literally “eating away at our own life support systems”. The video clip below gives an insight into the studies.

The study is quoted here:

The planetary boundaries framework defines a safe operating space for humanity based on the intrinsic biophysical processes that regulate the stability of the Earth System. Here, we revise and update the planetary boundaries framework, with a focus on the underpinning biophysical science, based on targeted input from expert research communities and on more general scientific advances over the past 5 years. Several of the boundaries now have a two-tier approach, reflecting the importance of cross-scale interactions and the regional-level heterogeneity of the processes that underpin the boundaries. Two core boundaries—climate change and biosphere integrity—have been identified, each of which has the potential on its own to drive the Earth System into a new state should they be substantially and persistently transgressed.

The researchers identified nine key elements that provide a liveable environment for humans here on Earth over the course of five years. Four of these nine have now been classified as ‘exceeding safe levels’. This is al due to human behaviour, including polluting the land and water systems, greenhouse gas emissions and the extensive use of chemicals for agriculture.planetary-boundaries-credit

The four elements are highlighted below.

Human-driven climate change – This is something that we see in the news constantly, and is a point that brings controversy with it. The fact is that levels of carbon dioxide levels are at reaching all time highs, at 395.5 parts per million. The temperature of the World is changing, with 2014 being the hottest year on record. It is impossible to deny that there are no consequences to this.

Loss of biosphere integrity – The natural hierarchies seen in nature are being disrupted, many apex predators are close to extinction and this is having an unimaginable impact on the whole structure of the biosphere. The rate of extinction is increasing rapidly, up to 1000x more quickly than we have seen previously. Overfishing is also devastating the oceans. It is time we realised that everything is interconnected. Disrupting small areas of an eco-system can snowball into mass extinction and irreparable damage to the environment.

Land system change – Populations have increased seven-fold since the 1950s, and the demand for food is higher than ever. Land is being used intensively to farm, going against the natural wisdom of the Earth. Too much space is used for single crops, animals are reared in terrible conditions and chemicals are used in almost every aspect of the process.

High level of phosphorus and nitrogen in the ocean – This is the result of wash off from fertiliser, which is used in consistently higher quantities year on year.

As seen in the quote above, cross-scale interactions are required to reach a solution. We need to work together across the globe to support the systems that underpin our quality of life. The current rate of change in the environment seen over the last 60 years is unmatched by the previous 10,000 years. The question that we should be asking is why we think humans can evolve to match this unprecedented rate.

The ‘new state’ that has been mentioned is not going to be as accommodating to human life, and the sole reason for this is precisely that…..human life. Professor Will Steffen, lead author of the studies said the following:

“When economic systems went into overdrive, there was a massive increase in resource use and pollution. It used to be confined to local and regional areas but we’re now seeing this occurring on a global scale. These changes are down to human activity, not natural variability.”

Unknown-3It is down to humans that we are seeing a “loss in pollination and a disruption in the provision of nutrients and fresh water”.

What we are doing to our planet has been likened to “death by a thousand cuts

Until we realise that we are vulnerable here perched on this planet, that we are biting the hand that feeds us, on every single finger tip, we will continue hurtling towards a dystopian future. The results could be that technology is required to replace nature’s current processes. I doubt we will be able to replicate what the planet does so effortlessly. The eco-system is connected in so many intricate ways that we are only beginning to understand.

Hopefully enough people will recognise that it is time to stop the damage and allow the planet to recover! What are your thoughts on the studies?

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