In the State of the Planet report, climate scientists described human’s global impact as “The Great Acceleration” and offered an ominous outlook for an uncertain future in a much hotter world.
2,800 climate science experts are meeting at the 4 day Planet under Pressure conference in London, and the Day 1 analysis of the current condition of Earth kicked off the week long review of vital signs, obstacles, and how to proceed forward.
According to the experts in the fields, time is running out rapidly to minimize the risk of setting in motion a series of events which could mean irreversible, long-term climate change and other dramatic changes to Earth’s life support systems, according to climate change scientists speaking at the Planet Under Pressure conference. This unequivocal warning was delivered on the first day of the conference giving the latest readings on the planets vital signs.
Planet Under Pressure Conference Video:
In the following days at the conference, the nearly 3,000 climate change science experts will proceed to examine solutions, obstacles, and various ways to break down the current barriers to progress. The conference is the largest gathering of experts in development and global environmental changes in advance of the upcoming ‘Rio+20‘ summit coming June 20-22 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
According to speaker Will Steffen, a global change expert from the Australian National University,
“The last 50 years have without a doubt seen one of the most rapid transformations of the human relationship with the natural world. Many human activities reached take-off points sometime in the 20th Century and sharply accelerated towards the end of the century. We saw a ‘Great Acceleration’.
It is the scale and speed of the ‘Great Acceleration’ that is truly remarkable. This has largely happened within on human lifetime.”
Keys indicators of the current state of the planet according to the speakers:
According to Professor Steffen, at a planetary level, humanity is altering the global carbon cycle, water cycle and nitrogen cycle. Indeed, humans now produce more reactive nitrogen artificially than all natural processes on land combined.
- Higher Levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere
- Phosphorus extraction and fertilizer production causing many large dead zones in coastal areas
- Rising air and ocean temperatures
- Melting sea ice, polar ice sheets and Arctic permafrost
- Rising sea levels and ocean acidification
- Biodiversity loss
- Land use changes
- Growing consumption of freshwater supplies and energy by a growing population, of which billions of people still lack even the most basic elements of well-being
“Where are we going?” he inquisitively asked, underlining several potentially dangerous environmental “tipping points” foreseen, some of which are the melting of polar ice sheets and the thawing of perennially frozen northern permafrost soils, which by the way contain a big supply of methane and CO², a gas at least 20 times more potent than CO².Current climate change science research estimates that the permafrost alone stores the equivalent of roughly twice the carbon in the atmosphere, he says. Under a “high warming scenario,” projected releases of greenhouse gas emissions from melting Arctic permafrost are the equivalent of 30-63 gigatonnes (Gt) of carbon dioxide by 2040, 232-380 Gt by 2100, and 549-865 Gt by 2300. By comparison, fossil fuel emissions today are roughly 10 Gt per year.
Fellow speaker Diana Liverman, co_director of the Institute of the Environment at the University of Arizona and visiting Oxford University Academic pointed out;
“The key point is: Either we turn around a lot of these trends – the carbon dioxide trend, deforestation and so on – or we allow them to continue and push beyond critical thresholds. There are signs that some drivers of global change are slowing or changing.
Population growth is slowing and will level off; the intensity of energy and carbon required for a unit of production is declining; agricultural intensification is slowing and forests are starting to expand in some regions.
On the other hand, average resource consumption per person, already high in some regions, is growing steeply in emerging economies even as many poor people cannot meet basic human needs. In some countries people are consuming far too much, including carbon, water and other resources embodied in trade. We have a long way to go to turn things around.”
Liverman also noted a time lapse animation offering vivid evidence that Earth has entered a new geological epoch hallmarked by the profound ecosystem impacts of one species – humans – so much so that it marks an entirely new geological time-span: the “Anthropocene.”
The embedded video follows just below this paragraph, and in the video, it illustrates the dramatic growth of carbon dioxide emissions from the start of the industrial revolution and spreading from the UK in 1750 across Europe, North America and to Japan by 1900.
According to Liverman, “By the end of the 20th Century we have high emissions in China, India, Europe and eastern North America but relatively little across Latin America and Africa. Here lies the core of the debate about responsibilities for climate change in relation to historical and per capita emissions.”She also referred to a recent UK study showing the highest income earners are responsible for three times the level of emissions compared with their lowest income earner counterparts.
“In countries with high income inequality, the richest 10% of the population may be responsible for more than 50% of the greenhouse gas emissions – and the growing middle classes of many developing or transitional countries are developing consumption habits that add to the burden on the earth system.”
Conference co-chair and UNESCO director of the science policy division Dr. Lidia Brito stated;
“If you, like our presenters today are akin to doctors saying ‘look, you may not feel too sick at the moment, but you’ve got high blood pressure, your cholesterol is going up, and your lifestyle is not conducive to good health.’
There is time to turn these trends around and promising, more positive messages will be delivered by colleagues in days to come. We look forward to discussions of our most promising options, the barriers to change and to a prescription for the future.”
Planet Under Pressure 2012 Activities:
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The Planet Under Pressure Conference and the State of the Planet report are part of the biggest gathering of global environmental change specialists in climate change science and other categories in advance of the United Nations RIO+20 Summit June 20-22, 2012 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.