Sep 17, 2012

Human Boundaries

 Here are selections from a great article in the Economist, June 16th, 2012 that discusses whether or not man should be handcuffed beyond a certain point in his(and her) unceasing desire to touch the entire Earth.

We at Conservastore feel that territorial boundaries should definitely be agreed to by the nations of the World. The UN or an offshoot would be a good designer of such boundaries. Prob is that most of humankind does not see a problem with ever expanding. It will sadly take a series of natural events that previously had not occurred; a Cat 3 hurricane in New York City; a drought worse than the USA drought of 2012 to slap humans in the face a bit and get them thinking about their enormous influence on the Earth and how they should temper this influence via population controls and respect for portions of the Earth that are deemed "Never to Be Inhabited by Man"

Below are selections from the article

PULL a spring, let it go, and it will snap back into shape. Pull it further and yet further and it will go on springing back until, quite suddenly, it won't. What was once a spring has become a useless piece of curly wire. And that, in a nutshell, is what many scientists worry may happen to the Earth if its systems are overstretched like those of an abused spring.

One result of this worry, in the autumn of 2009, was the idea of planetary boundaries. In the run-up to that year's climate conference in Copenhagen a group of concerned scientists working under the auspices of the Stockholm Resilience Centre, in Sweden, defined, in a paper in Nature, what they thought of as a safe operating space for human development—a set of nine limits beyond which people should not push their planet.


The nine areas of concern were: climate change; ocean acidification; the thinning of the ozone layer; intervention in the nitrogen and phosphate cycles (crucial to plant growth); the conversion of wilderness to farms and cities; extinctions; the build up of chemical pollutants; and the level of particulate pollutants in the atmosphere. For seven of these areas the paper's authors felt confident enough to put numbers on where the boundaries actually lay. For chemicals and particulates, they deferred judgment.

Since then, the idea of planetary boundaries has taken root. It crops up repeatedly in GEO-5, the United Nations Environment Programme's new assessment of the world. The High-Level Panel on Global Sustainability, which reported recently to Ban Ki-moon, the UN's secretary-general, gave the idea pride of place. And Planet Under Pressure, a big scientific conference held recently in London, made boundaries central to the message it sent to Rio+20, the UN environmental summit that opens in Brazil on June 20th.

Don't fence me in
Planetary boundaries provide a useful way of thinking about environmental change, because in many cases they give scope for further change that has not already happened..........But the concept has numerous drawbacks. The actual location of the boundaries is, as their proponents acknowledge, somewhat arbitrary. That is partly because of the incomplete state of current knowledge, but it may remain so however much anyone knows. Some boundaries might be transgressed without irreversible harm occurring. Some may have been drawn around the wrong things altogether. And some academic opinion holds that spectacular global change could come about without breaking through any of them.

The latest criticism comes from the Breakthrough Institute, a determinedly heterodox American think-tank that focuses on energy and the environment. Among the points made in a report it published on June 11th, two stand out. The first is that the idea of boundaries does not focus enough on the distinction between things with truly global effects and those that matter primarily at a local or regional level. The second is that the planetary-boundaries group derives most of its limits by looking at conditions during the Holocene—the epoch since the end of the most recent ice age, in which human civilisations have grown up.


Independence declaration
Another problem for the idea of planetary boundaries is the assumption that they are independent of each other. That seems unlikely, and if they are not then a crisis might arise even if no single boundary were transgressed. On June 7th Nature, which likes to get its oar in before big international powwows like the ones in Copenhagen and Rio, published a review of evidence that this may be happening. It suggested that the Earth may be approaching a “tipping point” past which simultaneous changes—to land use, climate and more—driven by an ever larger, ever richer human population, push the system into a very different state from its present one, with climate zones changed permanently, ecosystems functioning differently, and so on.

Here's the entire article

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