This press release on 13 March followed a UN Environmental Protection Agency meeting in Nairobi. It starts with three points:
Even if Paris Agreement goals met, Arctic winter temperatures will increase 3-5°C by 2050 compared to 1986-2005 levels.
Thawing permafrost could wake ‘sleeping giant’ of more greenhouse gases, potentially derailing global climate goals.
Ocean acidification and pollution also posing major threats to Arctic
This locked-in heating that threatens a tipping point that will release stored greenhouse gases will not be prevented even if Paris Climate Agreement targets for curbing emissions are achieved which seems highly unlikely. Despite the hope expressed in my last post, this is but one tipping point of many now possible due to the exponentially growing impact of human activity on the natural world. Rockstrom’s presentation “Beyond the Anthropocene” sets out a range of 12 other tipping points which are linked to heating of the planet (Spaceship Earth). His brilliant presentation given in January 2017 to the World Economic Forum is itself a matter for hope in educating world leaders. Two years on it appears that school strikers are, however, learning faster than government representatives at COP24 who followed-up the Paris Agreement, or indeed all those corporate leaders who are still committed to growing GDP and private wealth as fast as possible irrespective of the planetary consequences for our children’s future.
UNDP (United Nations
Development Program) Strategy:
Make sure everyone is sufficiently alarmed, and knows how desperate and urgent the crisis is — so that they act.
Give people a sense of hope so that they know what actions to take that will have a strong impact — so that they act.
there is hope:
Technological and industrial innovations, such as cheap renewable energy, are coming faster and faster.
Local, city and national governments are committing to cut carbon, ban pollutants, protect species and replant forests.
People are rising up in popular protests to pressure policymakers and companies to change direction.
Humans have not, since 1945 in Japan, used the nuclear weapons that have been available.
The CFC chemicals causing a hole in the ozone layer (discovered in 1973) were banned when nations agreed to cooperate (Montreal Protocol, 1987).
Slavery that was once seen as normal is now seen as immoral, so maybe growth economics can be replaced by circular regenerative economics.
The scientific evidence of the effects on health of smoking were recognised despite 40 years of denial and delay by the tobacco industry, so maybe the same will happen in relation to greenhouse gas emission from human activity.
School pupils are starting protest to thanks to Greta Thunberg, who started this, and is still inspiring our youth to take action around the world.
A political movement for a “Green New Deal” is emerging in the USA.
There are powerful obstacles to change – e.g. Deep
vested interests are resisting climate action: those are the economies,
businesses and political systems dependent on fossil fuels, polluting
industries, or biodiversity destruction. We must speak truth to power. “Power concedes nothing without a demand.”
The Norwegian Sovereign Fund which comprises 1% of global investment capital is divesting from pure oil and gas companies. Jeremy Leggett sets out in this blog the importance of this decision as an indicator of how investors everywhere will now start to doubt the wisdom of investing in ‘unburnable carbon’ and ‘stranded assets’. The reason for leaving these energy sources underground is that climate heating may indeed lead to oil and gas, not to mention coal, being eliminated as energy sources in order to keep the earth’s atmosphere within a temperature range that will sustain civilised life. The desire to keep the temperature of the life support systems (air, land and sea) of Spaceship Earth within a liveable range may well radically determine future business investment. For 10000 years during the Holocene geological period the planet maintained a very stable global average temperature that allowed human cicilisations to flourish. Now global heating that is now rising in a dangerous way, faster than ever before – hence we live in a new geological epoch now called the Anthropocene. In this human-made geological age, temperature rise is being accelerated by human activity primarily by burning vast amounts of fossil fuels.
Monbiot in this opinion piece from the Guardian makes a strong case about the negative effects of many kinds on both human life and the environment. He connects the explosion of private transport to oil extraction and related conflicts, deteriorating health due to emissions and lack of exercise, the effects of nitrogen emissions on ecosystems, the spread of concrete over the planet’s surface, the replacement of open space with parking lots, the psychological aggression that drivers exhibit, and so on.
Three remarkable statistics show how rapidly road vehicles have been, and are projected to be, added to the technosphere created by humans that is now dominating the natural world:
•1970 250,000,000 •2016 1,200,000,000 •2050 2,500,000,000 (10x since 1970)
Margaret Atwood wrote this article in 2015 “Its not climate change – its everything change” . It has many fascinating pictures as well as her eloquent text. I found it in a comment on this very short article with the title “Why the “Anthropocene” Is Not “Climate Change”. The latter is one of the best reminders of the dangers of focusing only on climate change as opposed to the entire Earth System that is now being devastated by the weight of exponentially growing human impact. The author from Notre Dame University is currently co-authoring a book on the Anthropocene and makes the point that problems have solutions but predicaments (sometimes referred to as ‘wicked problems’?) are not amenable to solutions, especially ‘techno-fix’ solutions
The Anthropocene is a multidimensional challenge. Our future is more unpredictable than ever, with new phenomena like Category 5 megastorms, rapid species extinction, and the loss of polar ice. This change is irreversible. NASA says that levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) are higher than they have been at any time in the past 400,000 years—well before our species evolved—causing the atmosphere to warm.
The climate has certainly changed, but so too have other aspects of the planetary system. Take the lithosphere: 193,000 human-made “inorganic crystalline compounds,” or what you and I might call “rocks,” now vastly outnumber Earth’s ~5,000 natural minerals, while 8.3 billion tons of plastics coat the land, water, and our internal organs. Due to modern agribusiness techniques, so much topsoil is washing away that England has only about 60 more harvests left.
The biosphere is equally altered. Never has the planet been so crowded with human beings. In 1900, there were around 1.5 billion of us; in the 1960s, around 3 billion; today there are upwards of 7.4 billion. Human beings and our domesticated animals comprise an astounding 97% of the total zoomass of terrestrial mammals, meaning that wild creatures make up a miserly 3%. Humans and our companion species occupy considerably more than half of the planet’s habitable land surface. Concerning the hydrosphere, fresh water renews itself at the rate of about 1% a year, but currently 21 out of 37 of the world’s major aquifers are being drawn down faster—in some cases much faster—than they can be replenished.
Alarming as each factor is on its own, the concept of the Anthropocene brings all these factors and others together.
The planet’s chemistry has changed too. Warmer oceans interfere with the production of oxygen by phytoplankton, and some scientists predict that with a rise of 6oC—which could happen as soon as 2100—this oxygen production could cease. Our production of fixed nitrogen is five times higher than it was 60 years ago; in fact, Earth has never had so much fixed nitrogen in its entire ~4.5-billion-year history. Since World War II, synthetic chemical production has increased more than thirtyfold. Of the more than 80,000 new chemicals, the United States Environmental Protection Agency has tested only about 200 for human health risks.
Alarming as each factor is on its own, the concept of the Anthropocene brings all these factors and others together. This is the only way that we can understand Earth as a single reverberating system with feedback loops and tipping points that we can’t yet predict.
Meanwhile, the plans for more school student strikes on 15 May to pressure politicians to act on climate disruption are advancing around the world as this report with maps outlines. Margaret Atwood must certainly approve, unlike the UK government who condemned the strikes as ‘truancy‘.