SOCIETAL ADAPTATION TO A BADLY DAMAGED BIOSPHERE John Cairns, Jr. University Distinguished Professor of Environmental Biology Emeritus Department of Biological Sciences Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University Blacksburg, Virginia 24061, U.S.A. October 2010
MOTHER NATURE DOES NOT DO BAILOUTS.Glenn Prickett Conservation International
HUMANKIND’S PLAN ECONOMIC GROWTH IS DAMAGING THE BIOSPHERE. A DETAILED PLAN IS NEEDED TO REDUCE RISKS TO HUMAN HEALTH AND THE ENVIRONMENT. • The human economy is based on resources obtained from the biosphere, but the list of US national priorities does not acknowledge this fact. • Humankind’s lifestyle, coupled with nearly 7 billion people, is simply not sustainable. • Damage to the present biospheric life support system is evident, and, if it continues even for another decade, one or more tipping points probably will be passed, followed by irreversible climate or ecological changes.
THE MOST POWERFUL FORCES ON EARTH ARE THE UNIVERSAL LAWS OF PHYSICS, CHEMISTRY, AND BIOLOGY. • Ignoring or violating the universal laws of physics, chemistry, and biology will result in severe consequences for both individuals and nations. • Conforming to these universal laws must be humankind’s top priority, not economic growth, war, or ideologies. • If some nations refuse to take these universal laws seriously, Homo sapiens will have an increased mortality and might well become extinct. • If humankind cannot follow these universal laws, it will have to adapt to many new conditions, some that are predictable and some that are not.
THE EVENTS IN THE BIOSPHERE ARE PRIMARILY NONLINEAR AND WILL BE DRAMATICALLY MORE RAPID THAN MOST PEOPLE EXPECT. • If humankind is going to adapt successfully, it must learn to think and plan in terms of exponential change. • Early warning monitoring systems to detect the onset of exponential change must be developed in various components of the biosphere. • The early warning systems must have the capability of identifying false positive and false negative signals. • The information from the monitoring systems must be responded to expeditiously and not blocked politically or ideologically.
HUMANKIND’S PRIMARY GOAL SHOULD BE SAVING THE BIOSPHERE, WHICH PROVIDES CONDITIONS FAVORABLE TO HOMO SAPIENS. • As resources per capita decrease, conflict will increase staying within the biospheric carrying capacity for the human populationis a superb way to diminish conflict. • Only a small percentage of the species (approximately 1-2%) that have ever lived on Earth are now alive. • Survival of the fittest has protected life through five major extinctions, but such adaptation is very hard on individual species.
IRONICALLY, BLOCKING ACTION ON SCIENTIFIC EVIDENCE IN THE UNITED STATES BECAUSE OF UNCERTAINTY HAS RESULTED IN AN ERA OF HIGH GLOBLAL UNCERTAINTY ABOUT THE FUTURE. • Unsustainable human practices have ended “a ‘long summer’ of unusual (climatic) stability over the past 11,700 years.”1 • At present, humankind needs to return to “school” and learn how the biosphere works before a point of no return is passed. • Recognition is long overdue that uncertainty is a fact of life in politics, financial markets, sports, marriage, fishing, and the future.
MANY IMPORTANT BIOSPHERIC CHANGES ARE IRREVERSIBLE, BUT MANY PEOPLE ASSUME THE CHANGES ARE REVERSIBLE.2 • “Hail Mary” geoengineering may lower Earth’s temperature but will not restore the present biosphere to its predisturbance condition. • If anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise, the need to adapt rapidly will increase. • Those individuals and nations that fail to adapt or adapt poorly will almost certainly not survive.
IF ADAPTATION TO GLOBAL CHANGE IS NOT GLOBALIZED, ESPECIALLY IN THE POPULOUS NATIONS, CHANGES WILL WORSEN AND FUTURE ADAPTATIONS WILL BE NEEDED. • Perpetual growth on a finite planet is an oxymoronic goal. • Economic growth requires resources, and humankind is already using 150% of the resources the biosphere can regenerate annually. • The failure to reduce anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions or even to agree on a date and limitingnumbers is one of the major causes of climate change!
GLOBAL CLIMATE CHANGE HAS USHERED IN A NEW ERA OF GROUP SELECTION FOR HOMO SAPIENS. • Individual selection will continue to be operative for diseases, drunken driving, nutrition, and so on, but the eight interactive global crises3 affect humans as a species. • With numerous hostilities, including wars, the present is hardly a propitious time to make decisions as a global community, but the global crises will not wait until conditions improve.
FINANCIAL GLOBALIZATION AND COMMERCE HAVE NOT BEEN ACCOMPANIED BY SOCIAL GLOBALIZATION, WHICH IS NEEDED TO COUNTERACT HARM TO THE BIOSPHERE CAUSED BY ECONOMIC GROWTH. • The stalled negotiations on decreasing anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions is positive proof that efforts are lacking at the global level to diminish the risks of global warming. • Severe consequences are already happening, and time for action is short. • Runaway climate change is increasingly probable.
Acknowledgments: I am indebted to Darla Donald for transcribing the handwritten first draft of this Power Point and for preparing it for publication. References1Dumanoski, D. 2009. The End of the Long Summer. Crown Publishers, Random House, New York, NY. 2 Solomon, S., G-K Plattner, R. Knutti, and P. Friedlingstein. 2009. Irreversible climate change due to carbon dioxide emissions. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 106:1704-1709.3Cairns, J., Jr. 2010. Threats to the biosphere: eight interactive global crises. Journal of Cosmology 8:1906-1915.