Humanity’s life support

The recently published Scientific Consensus on Maintaining Humanity’s Life Support Systems in the 21st Century is a sobering read. Drafted by Anthony D. Barnofsky, Professor and Curator, Depertment of Integrative Biology and Museum of Paleontology at University California, Berkeley and signed by more than 200 leading scientists, it is a siren call to attend to and repair the ecological life-support systems of our planet before it’s too late.

Recognising that ‘Earth is rapidly approaching a tipping point,’ and ‘human impacts are causing an alarming level of harm to our planet,’ it warns that we must begin to address these harms if we hope to continue living on this earth past the end of this century. The statement cites five global problems that must be improved: climate disruption from the increase in greenhouse gases; loss of diverse ecosystems, as land is ‘ploughed, paved, or otherwise transformed;’ mass extinction of our flora and fauna on land and sea; pollution; population growth and consumption patterns – there are too many of us consuming far too much. If we don’t start reducing these impacts soon, the earth, in the not too distant future, will become a profoundly inhospitable place for humans to live.

“Ensuring a future for our children and grandchildren that is at least as desirable as the life we live now will require accepting that we have already inadvertently pushed the global ecosystem in dangerous directions, and that we have the knowledge and power to steer it back on course – if we act now.”

Sustainable food systems are an incredibly important part of turning things around, particularly in relation to ecosystem transformation. The degradation of our ‘natural capital’ has been at the root of both mass extinctions and ecosystem collapse. The report asserts that we will need to find ways to feed our increasing global population without increasing either our agricultural or fisheries footprint. There are a variety of ways to do this through shifting our diets (eating less meat), wasting less, using resources more efficiently, and improving crop yields in environmentally sound ways.

The statement asserts that the point of irretrievability is not far off. The next generation – our children and grandchildren – will live in a hostile world, and the health and prosperity that humans have benefitted from in the last half-century will decline significantly. However, there is still time to turn this around with concrete and immediate action. The statement is directed at policy makers – that’s government in particular, those with the power to legislate and agree global changes in how we live on the earth. However, it also clearly notes that all of us as individuals must actively work to find solutions to these problems and raise awareness of the critical need to repair the damage that humanity has done to the earth and its ecosystems. It maps out what needs to be done, most of which we know but can’t seem to do effectively – reduce greenhouse gases; develop carbon-neutral energy technologies to replace fossil fuels; stop dumping toxic substances into the environment; stem population growth by increasing education, health and human rights; repair our endangered ecosystems and protect our healthy ones; stop consuming more than we need and forego the luxury of waste. It’s so much common sense. Rise to the challenge. It’s time to act.

Photograph by Amit Rawat

 

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