There is some cause for optimism in From ocean to ozone: Earth’s nine life-support systems, a New Scientist special feature.
That leaves one piece of good news. Having come close to destroying the ozone layer, exposing both ourselves and ecosystems to dangerous ultraviolet radiation, we have successfully stepped back from the brink. The ozone hole is gradually healing. That lifeline has been grabbed. At least it shows action is possible – and can be successful.
But it is very much a qualified optimism.
UP TO now, the Earth has been very kind to us. Most of our achievements in the past 10,000 years – farming, culture, cities, industrialisation and the raising of our numbers from a million or so to almost 7 billion – happened during an unusually benign period when Earth’s natural regulatory systems kept everything from the climate to the supply of fresh water inside narrow, comfortable boundaries.
This balmy springtime for humanity is known as the Holocene. But we are now in a new era, the Anthropocene, defined by human domination of the key systems that maintain the conditions of the planet. We have grabbed the controls of spaceship Earth, but in our reckless desire to "boldly go", we may have forgotten the importance of maintaining its life-support systems…
Last year, Johan Rockström, director of the Stockholm Environment Institute in Sweden, sat down with a team of 28 luminaries from environmental and earth-systems science to answer those questions. The team included Nobel laureate Paul Crutzen, NASA climate scientist James Hansen, Gaia researcher and "tipping point" specialist Tim Lenton, and the German chancellor’s chief climate adviser Hans Joachim Schellnhuber.
They identified nine "planetary life-support systems" that are vital for human survival. They then quantified how far we have pushed them already, and estimated how much further we can go without threatening our own survival. Beyond certain boundaries, they warned, we risk causing "irreversible and abrupt environmental change" that could make the Earth a much less hospitable place (Ecology and Society**, vol 14, p 32).
The boundaries, Rockström stresses, are "rough, first estimates only, surrounded by large uncertainties and knowledge gaps". They also interact with one another in complex and poorly understood ways. But he says the concept of boundaries is an advance on the usual approach taken by environmentalists, who simply aim to minimise all human impacts on the planet. Instead, he says, boundaries give us some breathing space. They define a "safe space for human development". And here they are.
See Ecology and Society Planetary Boundaries — Exploring the Safe Operating Space for Humanity (PDF, opens same window) for the full table. The article is linked in the New Scientist extract above at **.
Update on related matters
You wouldn’t read about it, would you? I mean this has to be a joke:
Senator James Inhofe, ranking Republican on the Environment and Public Works Committee, has gone a step beyond promoting his long-notorious global warming denialist propaganda. He is now using the resources of the Senate committee to seek opportunities to criminalize the actions of 17 leading scientists who have been associated with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change assessment reports. A report released by Inhofe’s staff on February 23 outlines this classic Joe McCarthyite witch-hunt: page after page of incorrect and misleading statements, a list of federal laws that allegedly may make scientists subject to prosecution by the U.S. Justice Department, and a list of names and affiliations of 17 “key players” in the “CRU Controversy” over stolen e-mails and their connections with IPCC reports.
Unfortunately while Inhofe does seem to BE a joke, he is not joking: Sen. Inhofe inquisition seeking ways to criminalize and prosecute 17 leading climate scientists.***
A commenter on another post, Close Encounters of the Absurd Kind, has this to say:
24 February 2010 at 5:48 PM
You need to read George Lakoff’s work on framing a political argument. You should never repeat a derogatory allegation in an effort to refute it. Repeating the allegation reinforces it.
The attacks on climate scientists are political, not scientific. Attempts to respond to political attacks by a scientific approach will not be successful in the public arena. The public in the U.K. is losing trust in climate scientists because scientists are responding in a way that reinforces the negative framing of the attackers.
One can only sympathise with Clive Hamilton’s* somewhat conspiratorial view of these matters. If it looks and smells like a concerted propaganda campaign against mainstream climate science, then that is probably what it is. The chorus is so uniform that it bears all the hallmarks of the “groupthink” the denialists purport to oppose.
*Stories by Clive Hamilton
- 26 February 2010: Who’s defending science?
- 25 February 2010: Manufacturing a scientific scandal
- 24 February 2010: Think tanks, oil money and black ops
- 23 February 2010: Who is orchestrating the cyber-bullying?
- 22 February 2010: Bullying, lies and the rise of right-wing climate denial
Reading the comment threads on those stories is an education in itself!
I see The Wall Street Journal ran with the furphy that Phil Jones had “changed his mind” – the one trotted out last Monday by John Roskam on Q&A. See WSJ column falsely claims Phil Jones "said there was more warming in the medieval period".
*** Update on Senator Laughing Stock
So he is known on both sides of the aisle, according to Dan’s Wild Wild Science Journal. Dan contacted me via Twitter.
… James Inhofe, the senior Senator from Oklahoma has spent the last several years trying to convince his fellow Senators and his fellow Oklahomans that the scientists are all wrong. He knows, you see, that it’s all a gigantic hoax.
The next thing you know, we will be told that pro wrestling is real and landing a man on the Moon was faked! This of course has nothing to do with the fact that he made is millions in oil.
Nothing at all. He really believes it! …