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It’s Time to Stop Underestimating Humanity’s Greatest Challenge

 

A recent article published in Frontiers in Conservation Science provides a candid warning regarding the severity of the environmental crisis, and outlines the complexities and obstacles which arise regarding the mitigation of environmental issues.

The paper begins by addressing the staggering biodiversity loss affecting all forms of life on land and in our oceans, providing some harrowing statistics:

  • Since the beginnings of agriculture, the biomass of terrestrial vegetation has halved.
  • The population sizes of monitored vertebrate species have declined by an average of 68% over the last 50 years.
  • One million separate species face risk of extinction in the near future.
  • Approximately 40% of plant species are considered endangered.
  • More than two-thirds of the oceans have been compromised to some extent by human activities.
  • Live coral cover on reefs has halved in <200 years.
  • Seagrass extent has been decreasing by 10% per decade over the last century.
  • Kelp forests have declined by ~40%.
  • The biomass of large predatory fish is now <33% of what it was last century.

Owing to this swift and catastrophic biodiversity loss, many vital ecosystem services have been affected, leading to a magnitude of damning consequences, including: reduced carbon sequestration, soil degradation, poorer water quality, more frequent flooding, reduced pollination, poorer air quality, more frequent forest fires, and dangers to human health.

The authors then explore the ecological overshoot we are facing, due to the ever-increasing human population and our overconsumption of resources. Ecological overshoot occurs when the rate that humans use earth’s resources exceeds the rate in which the earth can replenish said resources. As the human population has increased, so has our ecological overshoot, with humanity, as of 2016, consuming 70% above earth’s regenerative capacity. The cause of this massive overshoot is largely due to the use of fossil fuels, employed to provide an increasing amount of energy, plastics, and food to our expanding population. From an anthropocentric perspective, the impacts of population-related climate change are dire, with consequences including worsened human mortality, morbidity, development, and cognition as well as a decline in agricultural yields and an increase in conflicts.

Next the paper discusses the failures of international goals and targets, and prospects for the future. The authors suggest that, despite the increase in global awareness of the disastrous effects of climate change, and the proposals of scientists for transformative action, there is still a distinct lack of international response In fact, nations in general have failed to meet numerous climate goals including the Paris Agreement and the UN Sustainable Development Goals. However, even if all signatories to climate goals substantiated their commitments, global temperatures would still rise to a catastrophic level without additional and large-scale commitments. The authors argue that the reasons for the global lack of action to prevent catastrophic temperature increases are largely political. In fact, environmentalism is now commonly regarded as a political ideology, as opposed to “a universal mode of self-preservation and planetary protection that ought to transcend political tribalism”. Furthermore, many countries fear the short-term sacrifices and potential public backlash that may incur as a result of implementing significant climate change mitigating measures, making action politically unpalatable, despite the catastrophically unpalatable consequences that inaction will incur.

The authors suggest that, regarding the mitigation of the environmental disasters facing humanity, it is not a question of what to do, but a question of how we do it, reporting a myriad of issues that must be addressed in order to prevent said disasters:

“The gravity of the situation requires fundamental changes to global capitalism, education, and equality, which include inter alia the abolition of perpetual economic growth, properly pricing externalities, a rapid exit from fossil-fuel use, strict regulation of markets and property acquisition, reigning in corporate lobbying, and the empowerment of women. These choices will necessarily entail difficult conversations about population growth and the necessity of dwindling but more equitable standards of living.”

The paper concludes with a strong message to experts in human well-being and the future of the biosphere to avoid “sugar-coating” the cataclysmic dangers that environmental issues pose and the immense challenges humanity will have to face in order to overcome them.

At ESI Monitor, we share the sentiments expressed by the authors of this piece. However, we understand that, in light of such dire warnings of a grim future, individuals can feel helpless, overwhelmed, and frustrated. The marginal ways we can reduce our own environmental footprints seem insignificant when countries around the world, and even our own, show little interest in taking significant action to mitigate environmental issues. However, at ESI Monitor we want to assure you that your actions and your voice are not insignificant. Your actions inspire others and, if enough people begin to take individual action, real change can be seen. Your voice can put pressure on governments and companies to make real changes to their practices, which will inspire more companies and more governments to follow suit. Preventing environmental issues from becoming catastrophic is not an easy task, but it is possible.

 

 

Source:

Bradshaw C. J. A., Ehrlich P. R., Beattie A., Ceballos G., Crist E., Diamond J., Dirzo R., Ehrlich A. H., Harte J., Harte M. E., Pyke G., Raven P. H., Ripple W. J., Saltré F., Turnbull C., Wackernagel M., Blumstein D. T. (2021). Underestimating the Challenges of Avoiding a Ghastly Future. Frontiers in Conservation Science, 1. https://www.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/fcosc.2020.615419

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