September 20, 2023

Earth is “really pretty sick right now” and in a danger zone in almost every ecological sense, research says

According to a new study, Earth has passed seven of eight scientifically established safety limits and entered “the danger zone” not only for an overheated planet losing its natural habitats, but also for the well-being of the people living on it.

The study not only looks at guardrails for the planetary ecosystem, but for the first time also includes measures of “justice”, which is mainly about preventing harm to countries, ethnicities and genders.

The study by the international scientists group Earth Commission, published in Wednesday’s journal Nature, looks at climate, air pollution, phosphorus and nitrogen pollution of water from overuse of fertilizers, groundwater resources, fresh surface water, the undeveloped natural environment and the overall natural and human built environment. Only air pollution worldwide was not quite at the dangerous point.

Air pollution is dangerous on a local and regional level, while the climate exceeded harmful levels for people in groups, but not quite beyond the safety guideline for the planet as a system, the Swedish group’s study said.

The study found “hot spots” of problem areas throughout Eastern Europe, South Asia, the Middle East, Southeast Asia, parts of Africa and much of Brazil, Mexico, China and part of the western US – largely due to climate change. About two-thirds of the Earth does not meet freshwater safety criteria, scientists said as an example.

“We’re in a danger zone for most of Earth’s system boundaries,” said study co-author Kristie Ebi, a professor of climate and public health at the University of Washington.

If planet Earth were just to have an annual checkup similar to someone’s physical, “our doctor would say that the Earth is really quite sick right now and it’s sick in terms of many different areas or systems and that this disease is affecting people as well.” strikes that life.” on Earth,” said Earth Commission co-chair Joyeeta Gupta, a professor of the environment at the University of Amsterdam, at a news conference.

It is not a terminal diagnosis. The planet can recover as it changes, including its use of coal, oil and natural gas and the way it treats land and water, the scientists said.

But “we’re actually all going in the wrong direction,” said lead author Johan Rockstrom, director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany.

“This is a compelling and provocative paper – scientifically sound in methodology and important for identifying the dimensions in which the planet is approaching the boundary that would push us into irreversible states,” said Indy Burke, dean of the Yale School of the Environment. in an email. She was not part of the study.

The team of about 40 scientists created measurable boundaries for each environmental category, both for what is safe for the planet and for the point at which it becomes harmful to groups of people, which the researchers called an issue of justice.

Rockstrom said he sees those points as setting up “a safety fence,” beyond which the risks increase, but not necessarily fatal.

Rockstrom and other scientists have tried in the past to make this kind of holistic measurement of Earth’s various interlocking ecosystems. The big difference in this attempt is that scientists also looked at the local and regional level and added the element of justice.

The justice part includes fairness between young and old generations, different nations and even different species. Often it applies to circumstances that harm people more than the planet.

An example of this is climate change.

The report uses the same limit of 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) of warming since pre-industrial times that international leaders agreed to in the 2015 Paris climate agreement. The world has so far been about 1.1 degrees Celsius ( 2 degrees Fahrenheit) warmed up, so it hasn’t passed that safety fence, Rockstrom and Gupta said, but that doesn’t mean people aren’t getting hurt.

“What we’re trying to show through our paper is that even at 1 degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit), there’s a tremendous amount of damage,” Gupta said, pointing to tens of millions of people exposed to extremely high temperatures.

The planetary guardrail of 1.5 degrees has not been broken, but the “correct” limit where people are injured of 1 degree has been broken.

“Sustainability and equity are inextricably linked,” said Chris Field, Stanford’s chief of environmental studies, who was not part of the study. He said he would like even tighter limits. “Unsafe conditions need not cover a large portion of the Earth’s surface to be unacceptable, especially if the unsafe conditions are concentrated in and near poor and vulnerable communities.”

Another outside expert, Dr. Lynn Goldman, an environmental health professor and dean of George Washington University’s public health school, said the study was “quite bold,” but she wasn’t optimistic it would lead to much action.


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