Please be ready to copy and forward this on to your friends – try and engage them in discussion. We can all get engaged in waking people up to how serious the situation is so they will accept and work for change.
At the instigation of the authors of THE FUTURE WE CHOOSE (Figueres amd Rivett-Carnac. Summary attached) who organised a webinar I watched on Zoom, I have now watched and commend for you a quite exceptionally important video entitled:
The Science of Our Planet
and have bought and read the excellent book with the same title.
Presented by David Attenborough and Professor Johan Rockstrom using the most arresting films and diagrams, it introduces you to the latest findings of scientists across a range of areas as they catalogue and explain how biodiversity is collapsing in the face of climate change and global warming.
NOT MORE GLOOM AND DOOM! I hear you cry. No, because their emphasis is that we already have the scientific answers and are developing the technologies that will enable us to move away from dependence on a fossil fuel based economy and move to a sustainable economy based on the abundant and inexhaustible sources of energy that are available. The film also points out ways in which we can reverse many of the terrible effects of collapsing biodiversity in favour of a greener, more fulfilling and more equitable world, provided we move fast and back change now.
Both Attenborough and Rockstrom emphasise that we are living through the most crucial time in all human history and that we all have a part to play in what happens. THIS DECADE is crucial.
BREAKING BOUDARIES is available in two versions. The full version with scientific details is on NETFLIX, and a ten mnute introduction by Attenborough on UTUBE.
I have now watched the video several times and have made the following summary of the contents of the NETFLIX documentary. It may be useful to print out after you have watched the video or to set off a post watch discussion.
No sooner had I done this than I discovered that there is now an excellent book out which I strongly recommend. Entitled BREAKING BOUNDARIES by Rockstrom and Gaffney. It has been produced by them to spell out the science that lies behind the documentary in a more detailed but very readable way. This means it has been written both to amplify and extend the points made in the NETFLIX documentary and to be accessible to the non-scientist “general reader” while at the same time pulling no punches. In particular, because it takes the route of looking at what is happening by exploring the nine interlinked but distinct boundaries where the effects of human activity on the environment are to be seen unequivocally, rather than just CO2, This I think presents climate change deniers with an unanswerable case that things are not going well because of what homo sapiens is doing. 2021 Publisher Dorling Kindersley. July 2021. Amazon £10.50 Here is the diagram illustrating the boundaries.
The Science of Our Planet
This is my summary of facts, figures and quotations from this 1hr 14min NETFLIX documentary to aid discussion. Introduced by David Attenborough and Professor Johan Rockstrom. (Former head of Stockholm University Resilience Centre, now Director at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research
Also I commend the book BREAKING BOUNDARIES by Rockstrom and Gaffney. It has been produced to spell out the science that lies behind the documentary in a more detailed but very readable way. 2021 Dorling Kindersley. July 2021 John Baxter.
The basic theme of the film is that while the evidence shows that biodiversity is collapsing, we still have a chance of reversing the worst of the consequences and there are reasons for hope if we act globally and quickly. We also now see that life’s infinite complexity is vital for our own survival.
A graph of climate temperature based on archaeological evidence since humans evolved shows for most of human hunter-gatherer history the climate has changed radically and several times violently as average global temperatures have varied up and down by several degrees.
There has been a change however, with the arrival of a period called THE HOLOSCENE. For the last 11,700 years, since the last major ice age, average temp has stabilised at plus or minus one degree Celsius giving us a remarkably stable interglacial period. This has seen the use of rice, wheat, spelt, oats and sorghum and the development of all the major forms of civilisation around the world. This period has given us stable seasons and broadly predictable weather as humanity learnt to farm , urbanise, civilise and exploit the biosphere with its forests, fresh water and arable land. This has led to the point where man no longer depends on nature, but nature falls under the control of man.
THE ANTHROPOSCENE. For the last 200 years human population has increased exponentially with huge changes in the last 100 years. Now half of habitable land is used for cities, land crops and livestock. Half of the oceans are actively fished. 9/10ths of us breathe unhealthy air. In a single life-time the earth has warmed by more than 1%. In the past 50 years we have placed ourselves at risk of destabilising the whole planet and the future of the planet is dependent on human action. This is something which has never happened before.
The Potsdam Institute has identified the systems that regulate the planet (see Intro) and has identified the boundaries that should not be crossed if there is not to be a catastrophe. They also provide us with a roadmap for survival.
- Temperature. Having ice caps at both poles is the precondition for temperature stability. Polar sea ice, Greenland and the northern glaciers are all melting. It is now too late to reverse this. The Tipping Point (TP) has been reached Ice reflects 95% of the sun’s heat. Ten cubic metres of ice are being lost every second in Greenland. Antarctica is now also melting. Lose the ice caps and the sea will rise 7 metres, flooding coastal cities – keys to civilisation – by 2.100.
Greenhouse Gases (CO2. Methane) Carbon Dioxide was 300 parts per million in1988. Now 350 – 450 ppm. This places us at high risk. Now we may be over the edge of a TP (when there is no way back) TPs are linked like dominoes to the other systems.
CO2. We are at 1.1% of warming above pre-industrial levels and moving rapidly towards 1.5. Our only chance of evading a TP is a fossil fuel free economy within the next 30 years.
Biosphere Boundaries or Biomes. Forests, grasslands and wetlands are all under threat.
Species. A huge number driven to extinction. Loss accelerating.
Fresh Water. Desertification and water shortages increasing.
Nutrients. Fertiliser over use. Phosphorus and Nitrogen.
The Amazon. Prof. Carlos Nobre’s studies show Deforestation, replaced by 50-60% savannisation and cattle ranching. What is left of the forests is drying out. 20% of forests already lost. Trees dying. 200 billion tons will be gone in next 30 years as they expel vast quantities of CO2. Very close here to the TP. Bolsenaro and Brazil is seeing a loss of 25% of the world’s forest cover. Globally 40% has been cleared placing us into the danger zone near the TP. Nobre thinks the TP may have already been reached.
Loss of Biodiversity. Dr Lariqauderie heads the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services. Of 8 million species, 1 million are threatened with extinction. We are close to a 6th Mass Extinction. In the past 50 years, 68% of the global wildlife populations have been lost. (Pix of Bisons in traffic jam) This is threatening our whole life on earth. UK imported bumble bee queens from Sweden in the 90s! 70% of crops rely on insect pollinators. Expansion of monoculture is destroying them. “Our food production method is wiping out the very thing our production relies on” Biodiversity is the toolbox for the functioning of our society. Food production, clean air, clean water, carbon sequestration, recycling, all depend on it to work. “The insects provide subtle support not fully understood until suddenly they are gone.” A planet without insects is not a functioning planet. Of all the birds on the earth today, only 30% are wild. The wild species of mammals by weight make up only 4%. Where is the TP for Biodiversity? We are already deep in the red danger zone. We should aim for 0%loss of nature now.
Fresh Water. We consume individually 3,000 litres per person every day. 150 personal use. 2,500 spent on food. The rest on hygiene and drinking and industry we use. We are now in the safe zone but rapidly moving into the danger zone as we dam and use more and rivers run dry. Fresh water is an essential component of all living things.
Flow of Nutrients. Nitrogen and Phosphorus fertilisers. Baltic now poisoned by them. Entire planet is losing its resilience and becoming weaker and weaker. Much sea now polluted. Prof Elena Bennett McGill U. Montreal. Agricultural misuse of these fertilizers huge, double triple quadruple what is needed. The result is run-offs into rivers and sea. Rotting algae, huge lakes and sea dead zones. This was a cause of earlier mass extinctions. “Our overuse of phosphorous and nitrogen is one of the least known but most critical impacts we are having on the biosphere. Called eutrophication huge areas of large rivers and lakes and the sea are filled with rotting weed. We are already deep into the danger zone.
Oceans. This could outplay ALL the others. 1/3 more ocean acidification with CO2 plus sea making carbonic acid. Now 26% more. Molluscs, oysters, mussels dying. Much mass extinctions. Still in the safe zone but deteriorating.
9 systems. (All only listed in wiki article: Climate CO2,Chemical Pollution, Particles in atmosphere, (aerosols),Biodiversity loss, Deforestation, Fresh Water, Nitrogen/phosphorus, Ozone depletion, Ocean acidification.)
Novel Entities. Results of human inventions. Plastics, 100,000 new materials. Consequences often unknown. Nuclear waste, heavy metals, etc.
Aerosols. Professor Veerabhadran Ramanatham U. of California. Vast quantities of tinyparticles in the air. 75% from internal combustion engines – petrol and diesel. These cool the air and mask the effects of CO2 and global worming BUT Air pollution is killing 7 million per year. We lose 3yrs life expectancy
In the 70’s woke up to the Ozone layer being destroyed by chemical pollutants (CFCs) to allow ultra-violet radiation in to cause cancers. This was Stopped by the first world act of scientific co-operation. It is now not a problem.
.4 Boundaries Now in the Danger Zone 1.Climate Change, 2.Forest loss, 3. Nutrients and 4. Biodiversity.
We do not know where the TP is for air pollution or novel entities is but we are already deep in the red concerning them
Professor Kerry Hughes reports on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef after 20 years work surveying it. He has watched the growth of summer marine heatwaves as they have become much more frequent, 3 in 5 years, and so severe the heat cooks the coral leaving it dead, white and bleached. Already half of the reef is dead. He weeps. It has passed the TP.
Dr Daniella Teixeira walks and weeps through a blackened Australian landscape where she was working to conserve endangered glossy black cockatoos. She reports the 2020 fires destroyed. 3 billion animals, 1.4 million mammals, 2.46 million reptiles, 180 million birds, and 51 million frogs.
Greta Thunberg says “Act as if the house is on fire, for it is!
Covid 19 shows humankind overstepping the boundary. Maria Neira of WHO’ Sees health services at risk because we are, destroying nature, agricultural methods and population density are all linked. Covid shows us how interconnected we all are.
“Now we see we need build the entire “growth model” around sustainability and have the planet’s well being guide everything we do.”
The window is open for us to avoid passing 2%. We just may make 1.5% We must reduce carbon emissions to zero and stabilise global temperature as low as we can.
Since start of the Industrial revolution we have emitted 2,400 billion tons of CO2. To stay below 1.5% we must emit less than 300 billion tons more. If we continue to emit 40 billion tons each year, our budget will run out within seven years.
We cannot just shut down. We need to reduce by 6-7% per year. This means cutting by half within a decade, an exponential rate of change. Zero emissions are not enough. We need to draw down the CO2 in the air.
TREES, Billions more trees – can transform Africa, transform world, Agric etc. Stabilises climate, increases water. Single most important move is to change the food we eat. Reduce meat.
WASTE All waste should be recycled as part of developing a circular economy.
“Humanity is now the dominant force on the planet and our hyperconnectivity covers the planet. The UN Security Council needs to face up to this.” Rockstrom.
Planetary boundaries from Wikipedia.
In 2009, Rockström led an international group of 28 leading academics, who proposed a new Earth system framework for government and management agencies as a precondition for sustainable development. The framework posits that Earth system processes on the planet have boundaries or thresholds that should not be crossed. The extent to which these boundaries are not crossed marks what the group calls the safe operating space for humanity.
The group identified nine “planetary life support systems” essential for human survival and attempted to quantify just how far seven of these systems have been pushed already. They then estimated how much further we could go before our survival is threatened.
Beyond these boundaries, there is a risk of Tipping Points (TPs) “irreversible and abrupt environmental change” which could make Earth less habitable. Boundaries can help identify where there is room and define a “safe space for human development”, which is an improvement on approaches that aim to minimize human impacts on the planet.
According to critics of Rockstrom, some of the areas are seen as inexact and so capable of being used by politicians to give them more wriggle room for not acting. In addition In 2012 Kate Raworth (author of Doughnut Economics and tutor Environmental Change Institute Oxford U.) noted the Rockstrom concept does not take human population growth into account. She suggested social boundaries should be incorporated into the planetary boundary structure, such as jobs, education, food, access to water, health services and energy and to accommodate an environmentally safe space compatible with poverty eradication and “rights for all”. Within planetary limits and an equitable social foundation lies a doughnut shaped area which is the area where there is a “safe and just space for humanity to thrive in”(quotation ends with Raworth image)