Tag Archives: environment

9 Environmental Boundaries We Don’t Want to Cross

9 Environmental Boundaries We Don’t Want to Cross | Wired Science | Wired.com.The Lego Batman Movie (2017)

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Climate change threatens to turn the planet into a stormy, overheated mess: That much we know. But according to 28 leading scientists, greenhouse gas pollution is but one of nine environmental factors critical to humanity’s future. If their boundaries are stretched too far, Earth’s environment could be catastrophically altered — and three have already been broken, with several others soon to follow.

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This grim diagnosis, published Wednesday in Nature, is the most ambitious assessment of planetary health to date. It’s a first-draft users’ manual for an era that scientists dub the “anthropocene,” in which nearly seven billion resource-hungry humans have come to dominate ecological change on Earth. The scientists’ quantifications are open to argument, but not the necessity of their perspective.

“It’s a crude attempt to map the environmental space in which we can operate,” said Jon Foley, director of the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment and one of the paper’s lead authors. “We need to keep our activities in a certain range, or the planet could tip into a state we haven’t seen in the history of our civilization.”

Thresholds for atmospheric carbon dioxide and ozone have already been described, and are widely known to the public. But the scientists say five other factors are just as important: ocean acidification, nitrogen and phosphorus pollution, land use, freshwater use and biodiversity. They say chemical pollution and atmospheric aerosols may also be essential, but can’t yet be quantified.

Values for the proposed boundaries are still just estimates, and don’t account for how pushing one could affect another — how, for example, acidification that kills plankton could make it harder for the ocean to absorb CO2 and rebound from nitrogen pollution. Ecological models still can’t capture the entirety of Earth’s biological, geological and chemical processes, and it’s impossible to run whole-Earth experiments — except, arguably, for the experiment that’s going on now.

 

Despite those uncertainties, one aspect of Earth’s behavior is becoming clear. Records of global transitions between geological ages, and of regional changes between environmental stages, suggest that planet-wide change could happen relatively quickly. It might not take thousands or millions of years for Earth’s environment to be altered. It could happen in centuries, perhaps even decades.

Exactly what Earth would look like is difficult to predict in detail, but it could be radically different from the mild environment that has prevailed for the last 10,000 years. It was temperate stability that nurtured the rise of civilization, and it should continue for thousands of years to come, unless humanity keeps pushing the limits.

“The Earth of the last 10,000 years has been more recognizable than the Earth we may have 100 years from now. It won’t be Mars, but it won’t be the Earth that you and I know,” said Foley. “This is the single most defining problem of our time. Will we have the wisdom to be stewards of a world we’ve come to dominate?”

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Foley’s team put the atmospheric carbon dioxide threshold at 350 parts per million, a level the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change says should keep Earth’s average temperature from rising by more than four degrees Fahrenheit. Current atmospheric CO2 levels are already approaching 400 parts per million.

Also exceeded are limits for species loss, which the scientists set at 10 per year per million species, and nitrogen use, pegged at 35 million tons per year. The current extinction rate is ten times higher than advised, ostensibly compromising the ability of ecosystems to process nutrients. The use of nitrogen — which is needed for fertilizer, but causes oxygen-choking algae blooms — is nearly four times higher than recommended.

On the positive side, atmospheric levels of ultraviolet radiation-blocking ozone are safe, thanks to a 1987 ban on ozone-destroying chemicals. Total rates of ocean acidification, freshwater consumption and land use are also acceptable, but those thresholds are expected to be exceeded in coming decades.

The seven boundary points are certain to be controversial, and Nature commissioned seven separate critiques by leading experts in each field.

William Schlesinger, president of the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, said the recommended nitrogen limit “seems arbitrary.” Echoing his words was Steve Bass of the International Institute for Environment and Development, who said the 15 percent cap on land devoted to agriculture could as easily be 10 or 20 percent.

International Water Management Institute researcher David Molden said the 4,000 cubic kilometer ceiling on freshwater use — roughly one-third of all freshwater — “may be too high.” Myles Allen, an Oxford University climatologist, argued that CO2 emissions should be counted in a different way. Cristian Samper, director of the U.S. Natural History Museum, said that taxonomic family loss is a more relevant measure than species loss.

According to Foley, who called his team’s threshold values a “cave painting” version of the true limits, the paper is less important for its details than its approach. And though the critics argued over the numbers, all agreed that exceeding them will be disastrous.

“Planetary boundaries are a welcome new approach,” wrote Molden. “It is imperative that we act now on several fronts to avert a calamity far greater than what we envision from climate change.”

Peter Brewer, an ocean chemist at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, criticized the paper’s lack of proposed solutions. Given the ongoing failure of governments and citizens to follow their scientists’ advice on climate change, more than dire warnings is clearly needed.

“Is it truly useful to create a list of environmental limits without serious plans for how they may be achieved?” Brewer wrote. “Without recognition of what would be needed economically and politically to enforce such limits, they may become just another stick to beat citizens with.”

“It’s unsatisfactory, I agree. We don’t answer the question of how to keep humanity from crossing the boundaries,” said Johan Rockstrom, director of the Stockholm Environment Institute and a lead author of the Nature paper. “That’s the next challenge. To stay within planetary boundaries, we need tremendous social transformation.”

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Note: The Nature paper is an edited version of the full article, which is available from the Stockholm Resilience Institute.

Citations: “A safe operating space for humanity.” By Johan Rockström, Will Steffen, Kevin Noone, Åsa Persson, F. Stuart Chapin, III, Eric F. Lambin, Timothy M. Lenton, Marten Scheffer, Carl Folke, Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, Björn Nykvist, Cynthia A. de Wit, Terry Hughes, Sander van der Leeuw, Henning Rodhe, Sverker Sörlin, Peter K. Snyder, Robert Costanza, Uno Svedin, Malin Falkenmark, Louise Karlberg, Robert W. Corell, Victoria J. Fabry, James Hansen, Brian Walker, Diana Liverman, Katherine Richardson, Paul Crutzen, Jonathan A. Foley. Nature, Vol. 461 No. 7263, September 24, 2009.

“Thresholds risk prolonged degradation.” By William Schlesinger. Nature, Vol. 461 No. 7263, September 24, 2009.

“Keep off the grass.” By Steve Bass. Nature, Vol. 461 No. 7263, September 24, 2009.

“Tangible targets are critical.” By Myles Allen. Nature, Vol. 461 No. 7263, September 24, 2009.

“Identifying abrupt change.” By Mario J. Molina. Nature, Vol. 461 No. 7263, September 24, 2009.

“The devil is in the detail.” By David Molden. Nature, Vol. 461 No. 7263, September 24, 2009.

“Consider all consequences.” By Peter Brewer. Nature, Vol. 461 No. 7263, September 24, 2009.

“Rethinking biodiversity.” By Cristian Samper. Nature, Vol. 461 No. 7263, September 24, 2009.

Exxon screws up Yellowstone river with pipeline leak

Ruptured Pipeline Spills Oil Into Yellowstone River: is this the height of stupidity or what? Run a pipeline under a crucial and protected river, especially when there is tectonic activity??

“An ExxonMobil pipeline running under the Yellowstone River in south central Montana ruptured late Friday, spilling crude oil into the river and forcing evacuations.
The pipeline burst about 10 miles west of Billings, coating parts of the Yellowstone River that run past Laurel — a town of about 6,500 people downstream from the rupture — with shiny patches of oil. Precisely how much oil leaked into the river was still unclear. But throughout the day Saturday, cleanup crews in Laurel worked to lessen the impact of the spill, laying down absorbent sheets along the banks of the river to mop up some of the escaped oil, and measuring fumes to determine the health threat.

Fearing a possible explosion, officials in Laurel evacuated about 140 people on Saturday just after midnight, then allowed them to return at 4 a.m. after tests showed fumes from the leaked oil had dissipated, The Associated Press reported. While the cause of the rupture was not immediately known, Brent Peters, the fire chief for Laurel, told The A.P. that it may have been caused by high waters eroding parts of the river bed and exposing the pipeline to debris.

The pipeline is 12 inches wide and runs from Silver Tip, Mont., to Billings, an area with three refineries, ExxonMobil said. All three were shut down after the spill. ExxonMobil said it had summoned its North American Regional Response Team to help clean up the spill, and a fire spokesman in Laurel said more than 100 people, including officials with the Environmental Protection Agency, were expected to arrive at the scene by Sunday morning.

In a statement, the company said it “deeply regrets this release and is working hard with local emergency authorities to mitigate the impacts of this release on the surrounding communities and to the environment.”

“The pipeline has been shut down and the segment where the release occurred has been isolated,” the statement added. “All appropriate state and federal authorities have been alerted.”

The rupture occurred sometime around 11:30 p.m. Friday. Duane Winslow, a disaster and emergency services coordinator for Yellowstone County, told a local television station, KTVQ, that all oil companies with pipelines near the river were told to immediately shut them down, and that the damaged pipe was off within half an hour. He said drinking water in the surrounding area was being monitored and so far was determined safe. Officials in Billings initially shut down water intake but later reopened it, KTVQ reported.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: July 2, 2011

An earlier version of this article said that the pipeline burst 10 miles east, rather than west, of Billings, Mont.

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/03/us/03oilspill.html

Can Regions Rather than Nations Lead on Climate Change?

Can Regions Rather than Nations Lead on Climate Change?: Scientific American.

what’s with the nobody quoted at bottom?

DAVIS, Calif. — California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) and three international regional leaders signed a memorandum of understanding today in a bid to assert regional authority on climate change policy.

The “R20 Charter” establishes “regions of climate action” that will share best practices and technologies and form public-private partnerships to execute clean energy pilot projects. Along with Schwarzenegger, signatories included Île-de-France President Jean Paul Huchon of France; Nigerian Delta State Gov. Emmanuel Uduaghan; and Association of Regions of Europe President Michele Sabban.

Officials said they had already received interest from more than 20 regions in Brazil, China, Canada, Germany, Indonesia, Senegal and Spain. Current actions in the vein of the “R20” concept include a workshop in Nigeria’s Delta State on green business, put on by the International Chamber of Commerce. Another one has the International Energy Agency working with General Electric Co., Veolia Environment and others on a small-scale renewable energy plant in Morocco.

“We can’t afford to wait for national and international movement,” Schwarzenegger said, speaking at the close of his third Governors’ Climate Action Summit. “The role of subnational governments is more important than ever, and California has shown that state and regional governments can institute policies that will grow the green economy, create jobs and clean our environment.”

Schwarzenegger also signed an agreement to work with state governments in Brazil and Mexico on linking California’s cap-and-trade program to the United Nations’ nascent Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation program (REDD), which provides incentives to rainforest owners to preserve their trees. Govs. Binho Marques of Acre, Brazil, and Juan Sabines Guerrero of Chiapas, Mexico, were co-signers.

‘Remove the blinkers’
The REDD agreement builds off another pact Schwarzenegger brokered at his first climate conference, in 2008. That year saw the creation of the Governor’s Climate and Forests Task Force, consisting of 14 states and provinces in the United States, Brazil, Indonesia, Mexico and Nigeria.

Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and director-general of the Energy and Resources Institute, encouraged the agreements, saying that governments should think bigger. “I think worldwide what we really need to do is somehow remove the blinkers that have constrained the initiatives that businesses and governments have taken in recent decades,” he said.

“We have become too preoccupied with short-term gains, mergers and acquisitions. The U.S. has the ability to innovate, looking at market possibilities 25 years down the road; we need to somehow restore that kind of vision,” he added

But some attendees were wary of an overreaching government and skeptical of Schwarzenegger’s motives.

“I think he wants a legacy; he wants to be remembered,” said Marcia Battershell, a health care consultant from Placerville, Calif. She cited the effect of air pollution control laws on independent truckers and small farmers. “I’m not sure whether it’s good for the people and businesses of California. I don’t think that was a priority for him.”

Battershell said she voted for Proposition 23, which would have postponed California’s global warming law, A.B. 32, until unemployment fell to 5.5 percent for four consecutive quarters. “I think timing is everything, and possibly the government and all the regulations should be less involved,” she said. “If you allow businesses to find their way, people will be behind it.”

Reprinted from Climatewire with permission from Environment & Energy Publishing, LLC. www.eenews.net, 202-628-6500