Leaders around the world must stand up to meet the enormous challenges of achieving a sustainable future, as environmental issues add stresses to human health, wealth and well-being. According to experts from institutions such as Stanford University, UCLA and Flinders University, the loss of biodiversity and the acceleration of climate change over the coming decades – associated with ignorance and inaction – threaten the survival of all species, including our own. Stressors will perversely diminish the political capacity to mitigate the erosion of ecosystem services on which society depends.
It is the thesis of a comprehensive but concise assessment of the state of civilization by an international group of 17 leading scientists. They issued a warning that the outlook is more dire and dangerous than is commonly thought, saying world leaders need a “cold shower” in the state of our environment, both for planning and act to avoid a “horrible” future.
The science behind these issues is strong, but awareness is low. Without fully appreciating and disseminating the scale of the problems and the enormity of the solutions required, society will fail to meet even modest sustainability goals, experts say.
A mass extinction is defined as a loss of about 75% of all species on the planet over a geologically short interval – typically less than 3 million years, and that “we are already on the path to a sixth extinction. major is now scientifically undeniable. “, According to the authors of”Underestimate the challenges of avoiding a horrible future. “Posted on January 13, 2021 in the Frontiers of conservation science, the perspective article summarizes predictions of mass extinction, declining health, and disruption related to climate disruption – including the massive migrations and resource conflicts looming this century.
Think about it: Major environmental issues haven’t received the proper attention lately, with the U.S. Capitol insurgency attack and the covid-19 health emergency. Yet 3 environmental issues require urgent action, according to the authors.
- First of all, future environmental conditions will be much more dangerous than people think or commonly say. The magnitude of the threats to the biosphere and all of its life forms, including humanity, is in fact so great that it is difficult to grasp even for knowledgeable experts.
- Second, political and economic leaders are not prepared to deal with predicted and impending environmental disasters – they are not even able to engage in appropriate actions.
- Third, scientists must speak out frankly and accurately when engaging with government, business and the public.
Senior author Corey Bradshaw of Flinders University in Australia says he and his colleagues have summed up the state of the natural world in brutal form to help clarify the gravity of the human situation.
“Humanity is causing a rapid loss of biodiversity and, with it, of the Earth’s ability to support complex life. But the general public is struggling to grasp the magnitude of this loss, “Bradshaw continues,” despite the constant erosion of the fabric of human civilization. Environmental problems are compounded by “ignorance and short-term self-interest, the pursuit of wealth and political interests standing in the way of action which is crucial for survival.”
The state of the natural world
The perspective article describes the state of the natural world “in brutal form” to help clarify the severity of environmental problems and the resulting human situation. The authors describe the likely future trends of declining biodiversity, climate change, human consumption and population growth to demonstrate the “virtual certainty that these problems will worsen over the next few decades, with negative impacts for people. centuries to come ”.
Decline in biodiversity: Major changes in the biosphere are directly linked to the growth of human systems. While the rapid loss of species and populations differs by regional intensity and most species have not been properly assessed for extinction risk, some global trends are evident.
- Since agriculture began about 11,000 years ago, the biomass of terrestrial vegetation has been halved, with a corresponding loss of> 20% of its original biodiversity, indicating that> 70% of the earth’s surface has been altered by Homo sapiens.
- There have been over 700 documented extinctions of vertebrates and around 600 plant species over the past 500 years, and many more have clearly gone unrecorded.
- The sizes of populations of vertebrate species tracked over the years have declined by an average of 68% over the past five decades, with some population groups in extreme decline, presaging the imminent extinction of their species.
Overall, perhaps 1 million species are threatened with extinction in the near future out of around 7-10 million eukaryotic species on the planet, with around 40% of plants alone considered endangered. Today, the global biomass of wild mammals is less than 25% of that estimated for the Upper Pleistocene, while insects are also rapidly disappearing in many regions.
Climate deregulation: The dangerous effects of climate change are much more obvious to people than those of biodiversity loss, but society still struggles to cope effectively.
- Civilization has already exceeded global warming of about 1.0 ° C above pre-industrial conditions and is on track to cause warming of at least 1.5 ° C between 2030 and 2052.
- The current concentration of greenhouse gases is> 500 ppm CO2-e, while according to the IPCC, 450 ppm CO2-e would give the Earth only a 66% chance of not exceeding a warming of 2 ° C.
- The concentration of greenhouse gases will continue to increase (via positive feedbacks such as melting permafrost and the release of stored methane), causing further delay in temperature reduction responses, even if humanity ceases altogether. to use fossil fuels well before 2030.
- The expected warming would still reach 2.6 to 3.1 ° C by 2100, unless significant additional commitments are made and honored.
The latest climate models show more warming than expected in the future, even if society is on the path necessary to reduce emissions over the next decades. Nations have generally failed to meet the targets of the 5-year-old Paris Agreement and, as global awareness and concern grew and scientists proposed major changes in production energy, pollution reduction, nature protection, food production, economics and population policies, an effective international response has yet to emerge.
The Paris Agreement unanimously set the target of 1.5 to 2 ° C. But since then, progress in proposing, let alone tracking, “planned national determined contributions” (voluntary) for post-2020 climate action has been insufficient.
Human consumption and population growth: The impact of population growth, combined with an imperfect distribution of resources, leads to massive food insecurity.
- According to some estimates, 700 to 800 million people are starving and 1 to 2 billion suffer from micronutrient malnutrition and are unable to function fully, with the prospect of many more food problems in the near future.
- Large populations and their continued growth are also factors in soil degradation and biodiversity loss.
- More people mean more man-made compounds and dangerous disposable plastics are being made, many of which are adding to the growing toxicity of the Earth.
- Population growth increases the risks of pandemics which increase the ever more desperate hunts for scarce resources.
- Population growth is also a factor in many social ills, from overcrowding and unemployment to deteriorating infrastructure and poor governance.
It is increasingly evident that when populations are large and growing rapidly, they can be the sparks of internal and international conflicts that lead to war. The multiple and interrelated causes of civil war in particular are varied, including poverty, inequality, weak institutions, political grievances, ethnic divisions and environmental stressors such as drought, deforestation and land degradation. land.
Final thoughts on the world’s pressing environmental problems
These scientists offer many examples of successful interventions to prevent extinctions, restore ecosystems and encourage more sustainable economic activity at local and regional scales. They argue that only a realistic appreciation of the colossal challenges facing the international community could enable it to chart a less ravaged future.
Acknowledging recent calls for the scientific community in particular to speak out more on its warnings to humanity, the authors say the warnings were “insufficiently anticipated to match the scale of the crisis.” They describe that the existence of a human “optimism bias” causes some to underestimate the severity of a crisis and ignore warnings from experts. Thus, a good communication strategy should ideally reduce this bias without inducing disproportionate feelings of fear and hopelessness.
“It is therefore incumbent on experts in any discipline that deals with the future of the biosphere and human well-being to avoid reluctance, to avoid watering down the overwhelming challenges ahead and to” put it like that. they are “”, the authors implore. “Everything else is misleading at best, or neglectful and potentially fatal to human enterprise at worst. “
Paul Ehrlich of Stanford University asserts that no political or economic system or leadership is ready to handle the foreseen disasters or is even capable of such action to deal with looming environmental problems. “Stopping biodiversity loss is nowhere high on a country’s agenda, far behind other concerns such as jobs, healthcare, economic growth or monetary stability. While it’s good news that President-elect Biden intends to re-engage the United States in the Paris Climate Agreement during his first 100 days in office, it’s a tiny move considering the scale of the challenge.
Do you appreciate the originality of CleanTechnica? Consider becoming a CleanTechnica Member, Supporter, Technician or Ambassador – or Patron on Patreon.