Planetary Boundaries

I came across these articles in the recent weeks and felt I needed to write something about them as they are all very much in the news. Not too long ago I was on the fence about climate change and global warming. To me there was so much back and forth that I did not know what to believe, as I would imagine I am sure there were a lot of people in that same boat. However after talking to my friend who is a real life meteorologist he has more or less convinced me that it is real and it is happening now. Where I am still up in the air is that is this 100% our fault. If I had to guess I would say yes, but I do not think it is as clear as that. Our global ecosystem is very complex, and we are finding out every day just how complex it really is. Do I think we are a major player in what is going on absolutely!

I found this first article the other day and was a little shocked at first but then not so much as it was basically saying everything that I have been hearing for the past few years. What I did not know is that some very smart people got together and came up with 9 Planetary Boundaries that basically say that once we exceed them we don’t know how our ecosystem will respond. They include:  Climate Change, Biodiversity Loss, Biogeochemical, Ocean Acidification, Land use, Freshwater, Ozone Depletion, Atmospheric Aerosols, and Chemical Pollution. According to the below article we have already surpassed 4 of these into unknown territory.

http://www.msn.com/en-us/weather/topstories/scientists-human-activity-has-pushed-earth-beyond-four-of-nine-%e2%80%98planetary-boundaries%e2%80%99/ar-AA8ddtt

 

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/16/science/earth/study-raises-alarm-for-health-of-ocean-life.html?_r=0

Pretty scary stuff. Although there is one bright spot in the article when they discuss the ban of CFC’s in the 1980’s because of the depleting ozone layer. Believe it or not it actually worked and the ozone has shown some healing if you will, as the holes have shrunk to some degree. Despite the small win there is a larger more depressing picture to look at here.

I do not like being chicken little saying the sky is falling, nor am I going to be the one that stops driving my SUV to work every day. As I have always said I like my lifestyle and would be hard-pressed to give it up. With that being said I know that I am helping in the destruction of the planet, and I still sleep fine at night. Yeah I know I’m a terrible person. I do recycle though, that counts for something right? RIGHT?

I have often thought that what MR. Anderson says in the Matrix to Morpheus is true and accurate when it comes to classifying humans, we are a plague, a disease upon the planet. While I don’t like to think of our species in that way, I am inclined to agree with him. We are pretty much the only species that will consume every resource in an area then move to the next to do the same. Most organisms eventually create an equilibrium with their ecosystem, not humans. We consume and consume, then when there is nothing left we move on to the next place with available resources. The only thing that comes close to mimicking that sort of behavior is a bacteria or a virus. I am not condemning our behavior although that is very easy to do, but I think something has to change. The next article states that we need to drastically curb and eliminate our fossil fuel usage by 2100.

http://io9.com/un-we-must-eliminate-fossil-fuels-by-2100-to-avoid-wo-1653983820

I am the forever pessimist and think that there is no way this will happen. OPEC is way too powerful to let this happen in the near future. What I think will have to happen is that some new CHEAPER energy source will have to come about in the next 20-40 years to start to curb our usage of fossil fuels. I don’t think there is any way we can just slowly wean our dependence off them over time, the problem is that, as I have already mentioned, OPEC is very powerful and regardless of what scientist say they would do whatever they can to keep everyone using fossil fuels. I think it will take a monumental effort from the private sector as well as the governments of the world to make this happen.

The real win here will be if scientist can come up with a safe, reliable, and cheap form of energy, that is the major battle. If we can figure that out then limiting our fossil fuels will be a no brainer and so much easier. I would be ignorant not to believe that oil runs the global economy. I do not know of a time in human history where a the backbone of all economic commerce falls on a single black sticky substance extracted from deep within the earth.  I am sure at one time spice or silk or salt ran some sort of economy way back when in antiquity. Never has it been like this to where the rise or fall of oil prices literally effects everyone on the planet one way or the other.

So what could this new energy source be? I think the first answer is solar, and I did read that recently this source of energy has finally become efficient enough to consider. Although I still think it is impractical and many years away from the energy source that will get us away from oil. Nuclear is too dangerous, and I really don’t know what else is out there. I would also say that more efficient cars are probably not the answer either. Your hybrid uses less gas, ok that is good, but it also uses electricity which is most likely created using coal, which still puts lots of CO2 in the air. There are some states that use water or nuclear energy to create electricity but where I live most electricity is created from coal. I don’t have a viable solution to this problem, I can only hope there are many people who are smarter than me trying to figure it out.

For all the negativity in this post I will try to end on a positive note, and a word of caution to go along with it. This last articles focuses on the potential to create modified organisms to help maintain or clean up our ecosystem from all the pollution and garbage we have introduced. I don’t think this technology exist in the terms you are thinking, but still something neat to think about.

http://www.wired.com/2015/01/save-ecosystems-will-design-synthetic-creatures

The article talks about how genetically modified creatures could help us in the future. What I think is also important to keep in mind here is that despite what, and or if, we create these creatures for we do not know how they will evolve and what will happen to them 10, 20, 50, even hundreds of years down the road. The article does talk about a bacteria that helps certain plants grow deeper roots as a way to battle desertification. While I don’t think the long term repercussions of this type of modification would be potentially harmful, we still don’t know. I was thinking more in terms of creating or genetically modifying a slug or some sort of other creature. That I think would cause way too many unknowns. This is very dangerous for so many reasons and one day our creations could become part of the problem.

The article also makes a very good point about technology. I have often said, can we hang on long enough for our technology to save us, that is the real question. What I did not consider was that this will not necessarily be a good thing. The article says we could become dependent on a certain technology and that could also be a very bad thing. The other side is that we would still continue burning fossil fuels, so we would not really be helping anything in the long run. I would argue that there is almost no technology that if we lost tomorrow would cause a collapse of our society and our species. Whereas if we created a machine that sucked all the CO2 out of the air, if it was destroyed I think then we would be in trouble. Same with some kind of water purifying device if in the future freshwater became too contaminated to drink. Both those things are vital to our survival, yes the computer is very convenient as well as the internet, but despite your best argument I don’t think we would die off because all the computers in the world broke down or the internet went kaput. It would be a major inconvenience, but I don’t think we would last very long with no fresh drinking water or polluted air, believe it or not I think you would be ok without the internet.

Maybe technology is not the answer, but I certainly think it can’t hurt. That prediction of Hawking is looking more and more likely, here is to the next (100-15) 85 years!

Manik

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