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Beyond Safe Limits Protecting Biodiversity and Ensuring a Sustainable Future for Humanity In a troubling revelation, a recent study conducted by an international team of over 40 scientists has shed light on Earth's deteriorating state.The findings indicate that our planet has already exceeded seven out of the eight scientifically established safe limits for sustaining life. This puts not only the environment but also the well-being of the people inhabiting it in what can be termed as the "danger zone." Published in the prestigious journal Nature by the Earth Commission, the study goes beyond traditional measures and incorporates the concept of justice, which encompasses preventing harm to countries, ethnicities, and genders. This addition acknowledges the importance of equity and fairness in safeguarding our planetary ecosystem.
The study focuses on eight critical boundaries that have been breached: climate, air pollution, phosphorus and nitrogen contamination of water, groundwater supplies, fresh surface water, the unbuilt natural environment, and the overall natural and human-built environment. While air pollution remains the sole limit, slightly below the global danger point but still dangerous at local and regional levels, climate change has surpassed safe levels for human groups. However, it hasn't breached the safety guideline for the planet as a whole. The consequences of these breaches are starkly visible, with problem areas, or "hotspots," emerging in Eastern Europe, South Asia, the Middle East, Southeast Asia, parts of Africa, and significant regions in Brazil, Mexico, China, and the US West. Climate change is identified as a significant contributor to these hotspots, as rising temperatures and environmental disruptions wreak havoc on ecosystems. For instance, nearly two-thirds of Earth's freshwater fails to meet safety criteria, signalling an impending water crisis.
Professor Kristie Ebi, co-author of the study and an expert in climate and public health, warns that we find ourselves in a dangerous position concerning most of Earth's system boundaries. The analogy of Earth's health as being "quite sick right now" is not unfounded, as co-chair Joyeeta Gupta emphasizes. This illness affects both the environment and the people inhabiting it. However, there is a glimmer of hope. Scientists assert that Earth's situation is not yet terminal. The planet has the capacity to recover if we initiate transformative changes in our energy sources, land management practices, and water conservation strategies. It necessitates a shift from reliance on fossil fuels, a greater emphasis on renewable energy, and more sustainable land and water use practices. The magnitude of the challenge is undeniable, but it is essential to reverse the current trajectory.
The study's quantifiable boundaries provide crucial reference points for what is considered safe for both the planet and different groups of people. These boundaries act as safety fences, signifying the thresholds beyond which risks escalate but are not necessarily fatal. The innovative aspect of this research lies in its incorporation of justice considerations. This broader perspective recognises the interconnections between generations, nations, and species and the need for fairness in addressing environmental issues. Climate change, in particular, exemplifies the justice element, as its consequences disproportionately impact vulnerable communities. Although the planetary safety guardrail of 1.5 degrees Celsius warming since pre-industrial times, agreed upon in the Paris climate agreement, remains intact, the study emphasises that significant damage is already occurring even at the current warming level of 1 degree Celsius. Extreme heat exposure is affecting tens of millions of people, demonstrating the urgency of the situation. Sustainability and justice are inseparable, according to Chris Field, chief of Stanford's environmental studies, who advocates for even more stringent boundaries to protect vulnerable communities. Dr Lynn Goldman, an environmental health professor, commends the boldness of the study but remains sceptical about the resulting action. Nevertheless, the findings serve as a clarion call for immediate and concerted efforts.
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Xtinct Magazine is a global collaboration of people dedicating their lives to saving the planet from extinction.