Sunday, July 29, 2012

The idea of planet-wide environmental boundaries is gaining ground

PULL a spring, let it go, and it will snap back into shape. Pull it further and yet further and it will go on springing back until, quite suddenly, it won't. What was once a spring has become a useless piece of curly wire. And that, in a nutshell, is what many scientists worry may happen to the Earth if its systems are overstretched like those of an abused spring.
The nine areas of concern were: climate change; ocean acidification; the thinning of the ozone layer; intervention in the nitrogen and phosphate cycles (crucial to plant growth); the conversion of wilderness to farms and cities; extinctions; the build up of chemical pollutants; and the level of particulate pollutants in the atmosphere. For seven of these areas the paper's authors felt confident enough to put numbers on where the boundaries actually lay. For chemicals and particulates, they deferred judgment.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

NASA puts Warming Tipping Point within 10 years

In a startling article from, author Bill Blakemore brings to light NASA and Columbia University Earth Institute’s recently conducted study that verifiably asserts that “with just 10 more years of ‘business as usual,’ it becomes impractical to avoid disastrous effects.” The forecast, as articulated by the study’s lead author, James Hansen of NASA, sounds like the worst parts of the Bible, predicting everything from “increasingly rapid sea-level rise, increased frequency of droughts and floods, and increased stress on wildlife and plants due to rapidly shifting climate zones.” The 10-year timeframe shows other recent climate studies to have underestimated the urgency of the window in which we can make significant changes.

The study identifies the “tipping points” as the “points of no return” moments that would quickly turn a dangerous situation into “potentially catastrophic for civilization.” In response to the study’s findings, NASA is endorsing science that places “considerably more urgency on the need to reduce emissions to avoid “disastrous effects” of global warming,” and emphasizing “the danger of ’strong amplifying feedbacks’ pushing Earth past dangerous tipping points.”

The article also points to “uncontrollable feedback loops,” the disappearance of reflective Arctic ice and snow, and dangerous levels of CO2 (450+ parts per million) as catalysts bringing us closer to these tipping points.

NASA: Danger Point Closer Than Thought From Warming

Hansen: Climate Tipping Points: The Threat to the Planet

James Hansen on Wikipedia

James Hansen website

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

McDonough: The wisdom of designing Cradle to Cradle

Friday, November 16, 2007

Urban sprawl may eat up countryside by 2100

Urban growth and the development of roads and airports could swallow up what is left of England's undisturbed countryside by the end of the century, campaigners have warned.

Already 50 per cent of the land in England is disturbed by noise, light and spoiled views from urban areas and major infrastructure, according to maps published by the Campaign to Protect Rural England.

If development continues at current rates, an area of undisturbed countryside the size of Greater London will be affected by urban intrusion every two years.

The South East is all but disappearing under development, with 70 per cent of the region affected and the remaining 30 per cent set to be blighted in just 45 years under current rates of growth, say the CPRE.

The region has lost 840 square miles of undisturbed land since the 1990s - an area larger than the county of West Sussex, according to their maps.

Since the early 1960s, the amount of land across England which is disturbed by noise and visual intrusion has doubled, up from 26 per cent to 50 per cent, the maps show.

More than 12,350 square miles have been blighted since the 1960s and the rest could be affected within 80 years at current rates, according to the CPRE's maps, drawn by Land Use Consultants.

Developments on green field sites cause noise and light in the surrounding countryside, while new roads slice up the landscape and disturb wildlife.

Aviation blights the skies above English landscapes with noise, say the campaigners.

Each year since the early 1990s, another 320 square miles has become overshadowed by urban development, say CPRE. This adds up to the area of Greater London every two years.

Shaun Spiers, chief executive of the CPRE, said: “It is often said that development will take up a small percentage of England's total land surface. But development of all kinds fragments the countryside, undermining the qualities of tranquility, openness and immersion in the rural landscape which people most value about it.”

"An area will no longer be experienced as truly rural long before half its surface is developed ...undisturbed countryside will become a distant memory in their lifetimes.”

In pictures - UK urban sprawl

State of the planet - in graphics

Globally human populations are growing, trade is increasing, and living standards are rising for many. But, according to the UN's latest Global Environment Outlook report, long-term problems including climate change, pollution, access to clean water, and the threat of mass extinctions are being met with "a remarkable lack of urgency".

Over the last 20 years, the human population has increased by a third, global trade has tripled, and per capita income has gone up by 40%. Annual emissions of the main greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide, have also increased by one third.

As the human population grows it has reached the point, the UN says, "where the amount of resources needed to sustain it exceeds what is available".

Sixteen thousand species are threatened with extinction. Habitat loss is a major factor as many forests are cleared for agriculture. The UN estimates the global annual loss of primary forest is 50,000 km2.

The availability of fresh water will decline, according to the UN, who project that by 2025 1.8bn people will be affected by water scarcity. Sanitation is also a major issue, as contaminated water is the greatest single cause of human disease and death. The state of the world's fisheries is also touched on by the report which says many fish stocks are overexploited, while the demand for fish is expected to rise alongside growing populations.

By the end of 2007 it is estimated that more people will live in cities than rural areas for the first time in history. The satellite image of the US city of Las Vegas (left) shows how rapidly metropolitan areas can grow. The city was home to 557,000 people in 1985, by 2004 this had risen to nearly 1.7 million. This rapid growth can put pressure on water resources and infrastructure.

State of the planet, in graphics

Global environmental outlook

IPCC to warn of 'abrupt' warming

Climate change may bring "abrupt and irreversible" impacts, the UN's climate advisory panel is set to announce.

Among its top-line conclusions are that climate change is "unequivocal", that humankind's emissions of greenhouse gases are more than 90% likely to be the main cause, and that impacts can be reduced at reasonable cost.

The synthesis summary strengthens the language of earlier reports with a warning that climate change may bring "abrupt and irreversible" impacts. Such impacts could include the fast melting of glaciers and species extinctions.

Probable temperature rise between 1.8C and 4C
Possible temperature rise between 1.1C and 6.4C
Sea level most likely to rise by 28-43cm
Arctic summer sea ice disappears in second half of century
Increase in heatwaves very likely
Increase in tropical storm intensity likely

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change - Climate Change 2007

Planet's Touger Problems Persist, UN reports warns

The United Nations Environment Programme says that major threats to the planet such as climate change, the rate of extinction of species, and the challenge of feeding a growing population are among the many that remain unresolved, and all of them put humanity at risk.

GEO-4 , the latest in UNEP ’s series of flagship reports, assesses the current state of the global atmosphere, land, water and biodiversity, describes the changes since 1987, and identifies priorities for action. GEO-4 is the most comprehensive UN report on the environment, prepared by about 90 experts and eviewed by more than 1-00 thers across the world.

GEO-4 warns that we are living far beyond our means. The human population is now so large that “the amount of resources needed to sustain it exceeds what is available.... humanity ’s footprint [its environmental demand ] is 21.99 hectares per person while the arth ’s biological capacity is, on average, only 15.77 ha/person.....

GEO-4 is available here

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Earth Day

Join Earth Day Network’s Climate Change Campaign Earth Day 2006 will launch a sustained, three-year campaign to educate consumers, corporations and governments worldwide on the urgent need to take concrete steps on climate change now – before it’s too late. Our Goal For Earth Day ’06 – 10,000 Climate Change Events Worldwide.

Founded by the organizers of the first Earth Day in 1970, Earth Day Network (EDN) promotes environmental citizenship and year round progressive action worldwide.

Earth Day Network is a driving force steering environmental awareness around the world. Through Earth Day Network, activists connect, interact, and impact their communities, and create positive change in local, national, and global policies. EDN's international network reaches over 12,000 organizations in 174 countries, while the domestic program keeps over 3,000 groups and over 100,000 educators coordinating millions of community development and environmental protection activities throughout the year. As a result, Earth Day is the only event celebrated simultaneously around the globe by people of all backgrounds, faiths and nationalities. More than a half billion people participate in our campaigns every year.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Crossroads for Planet Earth: Scientific American Special Edition

The human race is at a unique turning point. Will we choose to create the best of all possible worlds? Can we plan for a bright future beyond 2050? The population peak - Energy solutions - The new face of disease - Water and wealth - How to save species -Ending poverty. Demographically and economically, our era is unique in human history. Depending on how manage the next few decades, we could usher in environmental sustainability--or collapse. Obtain via or Scientific American Digital.

Friday, September 02, 2005

The environment - an atmosphere of increasing concern

There might be debate about the precise extent of the problem, the timescales involved, the most effective solution. On the over-arching issue, however, a clear majority of the world's scientific experts are in agreement: Our natural environment is in trouble. And the trouble is getting worse as each year passes.

The statistics are plentiful, and alarming. According to the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP), 15 million hectares of tropical rainforest - an area the size of England and Wales - is being lost each year to the logging industry. It says 12,000 cubic kilometres of water worldwide are dangerously polluted - more than the total amount of water contained in the world's 10 largest river basins - and 11,000 species of animal and plant are under threat of extinction, a level not seen since the age of the dinosaurs. Most worrying of all, many scientists say the 6.6 billion metric tonnes of carbon dioxide our factories, transport systems and power stations pump into the atmosphere annually are having a potentially catastrophic effect on the earth's climate, increasing global warming and leading to ever more extreme weather events.

"Most scientists agree that we will be experiencing serious environmental problems within the next few decades, and that those problems will need careful management," says Dr. Heike Langenberg, Physical Science Editor for Nature magazine. The question facing the world's governments, businesses and Green groups is thus not simply how best to tackle the world's growing environmental crisis, but how to do so in a manner that does not at the same time hamstring national economies, especially those of the world's poorest nations. In short, as we move into the 21st Century, how - if at all - can the human race achieve the goal of sustainable development?

Rising temperatures, rising concern

Although there are those who maintain that the phenomenon either does not exist or else is not as serious as is being claimed, the majority view - certainly within the scientific community - is that global warming is not only very real, but that it represents the most significant environmental issue of our time. An issue that, if not addressed properly and promptly, could have a profound effect on the future of the Earth and its inhabitants.

IPCC statistics reveal that overall the world's temperature has risen by 1 degree Fahrenheit (0.6 degrees Celsius) over the past century, and is projected to increase by a further 3 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit (1.6 to 5.5 degrees Celsius) by 2100. As Dr. Greg Marland, a climate expert with the U.S. Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Centre, puts it: "I have a mantra - Fix, change, tinker or cope. Fix the current energy system, change the current energy system, tinker with the climate system, or cope with the changes that come about as a result of global warming. "My feeling is that we're going to end up doing a lot of coping."

Copyright © 2005 The Debate's Over