Malthus wasn’t warning of this.
I don’t think Malthus imagined we’d be taking the whole biosphere of the planet with us when he warned of the dangers of overpopulation. We hadn’t discovered how to exploit oil yet at that point. It was the energy cheapness and the extreme portability and versatility of the liquid energy source that truly uncorked the human technical genius that’s made us into Gaia’s supreme planetary virus.
May 26, 2012 I posted a blog about some dire predictions related to Limits to Growth by a group of researchers from MIT who’d revisited that prediction way back in 1972. Yesterday (June 7,2012) a study was published that I suspect may have even worse news for us.
The above title is to an article that links to a study in a professional science journal, Nature, which I can’t afford at the moment so I’ll go by the article’s summary (written by one of its authors, Arne Mooers) for now:
In Approaching a state-shift in Earth’s biosphere, a paper just published in Nature, the authors, whose expertise spans a multitude of disciplines, suggest our planet’s ecosystems are careering towards an imminent, irreversible collapse.
Earth’s accelerating loss of biodiversity, its climate’s increasingly extreme fluctuations, its ecosystems’ growing connectedness and its radically changing total energy budget are precursors to reaching a planetary state threshold or tipping point.
Once that happens, which the authors predict could be reached this century, the planet’s ecosystems, as we know them, could irreversibly collapse in the proverbial blink of an eye.
As to the causes, the article sums them up as follows:
They reviewed scores of theoretical and conceptual bodies of work in various biological disciplines in search of new ways to cope with the historically unprecedented changes now occurring on Earth.
In the process they discovered that:
Human-generated pressures, known as global-scale forcing mechanisms, are modifying Earth’s atmosphere, oceans and climate so rapidly that they are likely forcing ecosystems and biodiversity to reach a critical threshold of existence in our lifetime.
“Global-scale forcing mechanisms today “include unprecedented rates and magnitudes of human population growth with attendant resource consumption, habitat transformation and fragmentation, energy production and consumption, and climate change,” says the study.
Human activity drives today’s global-scale forcing mechanisms more than ever before. As a result, the rate of climate change we are seeing now exceeds the rate that occurred during the extreme planetary state change that tipped Earth from being in a glacial to an interglacial state 12,000 years ago. You have to go back to the end of the cataclysmic falling star, which ended the age of dinosaurs, to find a previous precedent.
While these are by no means fringe environmental radical ravings, I’m guessing the authors of the study are likely to have as much influence now as Limits to Growth has had starting in 1972 and through each revision up to the MIT research results in my blog post of last week, or this Global Environmental Outlook from the UN:
The authors recommend governments undertake five actions immediately if we are to have any hope of delaying or minimizing a planetary-state-shift. Arne Mooers, an SFU biodiversity professor and a co-author of this study, summarizes them as follows.
“Society globally has to collectively decide that we need to drastically lower our population very quickly. More of us need to move to optimal areas at higher density and let parts of the planet recover. Folks like us have to be forced to be materially poorer, at least in the short term. We also need to invest a lot more in creating technologies to produce and distribute food without eating up more land and wild species. It’s a very tall order.”
I can’t express how badly that makes me feel for all life on this planet. Except maybe for the intentional denialists who won’t wake up to their arrogant, self-centered selves as the primary malignant cause of our collective demise, and will belligerently stand in the way of any efforts the rest of us might take to save the planet. I don’t feel this deep sadness is going to pass. I’ll survive it to continue my witness, of course. But my observations of humans at the moment don’t make me hopeful we can collectively do what these dire warnings coming from around the globe suggest we need to do. All of us. We have found the enemy, Gaia.