Strong – and ongoing – Increase in atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide. Greenhouse gases “trap” heat that would otherwise leave the Earth by radiation. This has led to rapid increases in global air and water temperatures, which, in turn, causes glaciers and polar ice caps to melt, raises sea levels, and alters weather patterns globally. Consequences are more frequent and longer droughts and heat waves, stronger downpours, and large-scale changes in species habitats. This also directly impacts the productivity of modern agriculture.
Carbon dioxide is released from burning fossil fuels in power plants and engines, methane is, e.g., released from natural gas production and agriculture.
All national economies strongly rely on continuous growth of the gross domestic product, GDP. GDP growth is generally seen as a panacea to nearly all economic, social and environmental problems modern states are facing. However, often this focus on GDP growth even exacerbates the problems that it is intended to solve.
“Economic growth is the most powerful instrument for reducing poverty and improving the quality of life in developing countries. Both cross-country research and country case studies provide overwhelming evidence that rapid and sustained growth is critical to making faster progress towards the Millennium Development Goals – and not just the first goal of halving the global proportion of people living on less than $1 a day. Growth can generate virtuous circles of prosperity and opportunity. Strong growth and employment opportunities improve incentives for parents to invest in their children’s education by sending them to school. This may lead to the emergence of a strong and growing group of entrepreneurs, which should generate pressure for improved governance. Strong economic growth therefore advances human development, which, in turn, promotes economic growth.”
GDP growth over the last decades:
Strong – and ongoing – increase in fossil fuel consumption. Fossil fuels still represent by far the largest source of energy used by human activities. Forecasts indicate that the demand for fossil fuels may further increase over the next decades. The growth in energy consumption per capita has been strongly linked with growth of the gross domestic product and the current economic system strongly relies on the availability of virtually unlimited and cheap energy.
https://www.bp.com/content/dam/bp/en/corporate/pdf/energy-economics/statistical-review/bp-stats-review-2018-full-report.pdf – then p. 10, top (my favorite)
Top soil loss, depletion, salinization,
The amount of the world’s fertile soils is decreasing at about 1% per year. Some of these losses are caused by direct conversion of arable land into developed areas where the soil is covered by roads, buildings and other infrastructure. Additional factors are soil erosion by wind and water, desertification because of groundwater depletion and increasing soil salinity, and loss of soil fertility by overharvesting. As a result of these processes, it will be increasingly difficult – and at some point impossible – to grow enough food for the world’s growing population. This point may be as close as 50 years from today.
Acidification, oxygen loss,
change of currents, warming,
overfishing, dead zones
The world’s oceans are impacted in many different ways by human activities. This includes acidification by CO2 taken up from the atmosphere; increasing water temperature, which causes, for example, bleaching of coral reefs; loss of oxygen causing so-called “dead zones”; accumulation of huge amount of waste plastic, pollution by synthetic chemicals, and overfishing.
Several tens of thousands of synthetic chemicals are on the market, including pesticides, pharmaceuticals, flame retardants, plastic softeners, impregnation agents and many more.
Synthetic chemicals are present in the environment all over the world, including the bottom of the Mariana Trench, and in the bodies of every human being on earth. They cause a wide range of impacts such as neurotoxic effects, allergies, cancer, immunosuppression, and they interfere with the hormonal signaling system of the body. Toxic effects of chemicals also contribute to marked declines of bird and insect populations. Because many chemicals are degraded only slowly in the environment, the toxification of the environment is long-lasting and in some cases irreversible.
Obese mouse where the obesity was caused by exposure to low levels of a hormon-like chemical (diethylstilbestrol, DES):
Diminishing returns on
democracy, failed states`
in bygone era
In many countries, there are growing tendencies to dismiss the contributions to political stability and good governance that are brought about by democratic institutions and the fundamental concept of division of powers. This is in connection with increasing support of “strong leaders” and the hope that such leaders will be able to solve the looming problems, be it political, economic or social problems. Effects that are increasingly visible are cutbacks on civil rights such as the freedom of speech and expanding surveillance of citizens, for example by video observation, face recognition, and tracking of internet activities. Given the increasing severity and magnitude of many of the current problems and their dangerous interactions, these trends toward “simplified” governance relying on top-down control and concentration of power actually decrease the problem-solving capacities of countries.
Human brain adapted to
very small societies and
slowly changing environment
of our history we lived
in small tribes
Many typical ways of human behavior originate from much earlier times in human history when populations were much smaller and their environment was stable or changing only slowly. Humans often focus on immediate needs and desires and threats, tend to lapse into group-thinking, and are not good at long-term planning and dealing with exceptional and unexpected events (“black swans”). This makes it difficult for many people and institutions to develop an adequate understanding of the nature, the causes, and the size of the current problems and to translate this understanding into effective action. The fact that the kind of action that is needed would imply that many established patterns of leading one’s life, doing business and consuming goods and services would have to be abandoned makes the problems appear intractable to many.
In many areas of the world, in particular in the mid-latitudes, groundwater is depleted and freshwater reservoirs are shrinking because of water use for agriculture, but also because of decreasing rainfalls and stronger water evaporation as a consequence of climate change. Water evaporation is also increased by large dams. A drastic example of freshwater loss is the Aral Sea, which was one of the largest lakes in the world, but lost more than 90% of its initial size from the 1960s to 2000. Freshwater loss is an increasing threat for agriculture and drinking water supplies.
Maps of the Aral Sea in the 1980s and today
Global map of changes in freshwater availability: http://www.futuredirections.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/GRACE-study.jpg
Extinction pace exceeding
any previous die-offs;
times faster than
Human activities contribute to the extinction of species worldwide. The rate of species extinction is currently 1000 times higher (or even more) than the natural background, i.e. the rate at which species die out by natural processes. Endangered species include many forms of wildlife, such as orangutans or blue whales, but also agricultural plants. The most important factors contributing to the extinction of species include habitat loss, pollution, climate change, over-exploitation, and invasive alien species. Species extinction is irreversible.
The global population of humans, which has reached 7.5 billion in 2018, is still growing and may reach 9.8 billion in 2050. Globally, the growth rate is decreasing, but in some regions of the world, in particular in some regions of Africa and South-East Asia, strong population growth is still expected. Increasing human population leads to increasing environmental pressure and social and political instability, in particular in combination with increasing per-capita resource consumption. In combination with the impacts of climate change on agriculture, it is one of the gravest fundamental concerns.
Global human population from 1800 to 2100:
Pandemic of chronic,
potential for exotic epidemics
in typical young man
Although health status has generally improved worldwide since 1960, in the last two decades, there has been a steady increase in the occurrence of non-communicable diseases as infectious disease becomes controlled and populations grow older. This includes, for example, diabetes and obesity; certain types of cancer such as breast and testicular cancer; cardiovascular diseases; and asthma and allergies. The presence of synthetic chemicals in the human body, in particular so-called endocrine disrupting chemicals, may be one of the factors that trigger these diseases. Another factor is air pollution, both ambient and in households from use of traditional fuels, which is a cause of respiratory and cardiovascular diseases and substantially increased mortality in many regions of the world. In addition, in regions experiencing climate warming and stronger heat waves, people suffer increasingly from heat-induced stress. Another impact on human health is the spreading of vector-borne diseases such as dengue fever, malaria, and tick-borne diseases. Population growth and modern transport are likely leading to greater risk of impacts from widespread flu and other pandemics.
Grantham’s recent report “The Race of Our Lives Revisited” www.gmo.com, offers two graphs that could be used here (would we have to redo them from the original data?) Kirk Smith’s suggestion: plenty of good graphs available from the Global Burden of Disease databases.
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Studies of religions