What Environmental Crisis?

We are wounding the biosphere.  We need to stop, and then heal

My use of the terms “Environmental Crisis” and “Environmental Healing” needs further explanation.

The subject of Environmental Crisis / Healing is huge.  Trying to write short, sharp, accessible stories becomes very tough.  Maybe I am trying to do too much? 

But then that is exactly the point of “1biosphere” – not to reexamine the underlying research, or to once again produce another report, nor to rewrite an article about what we can expect and what needs to be done. Others, far more qualified, more eloquent and with far greater resources have done that valuable work.

What this site is about are 2 things: 

  • First;  find those very short stories that can capture the imagination of the currently silent majority and create a political, social and economic environment that will allow Environmental Healing, and
  • Second; underpin those stories by chains of fact – through those articles, reports and research – to show 1bio stories to be verifiably “true”.

And it needs your help.

In “The Idea” for 1bio I define the biosphere as being that closed system where all life occurs:

We humans are injuring every part of this system.  Many of these cuts, burns and poisonings are beyond the capacity of the biosphere to repair. Some will set off a cascade of further problems if we do not stop making the wounds bigger every day. That is why it is a crisis.

The biosphere does not care.  It will go on in one way or another.  But we need to care, because each injury to the system will rebound on us – biologically, economically, socially and spiritually.  The more we wound the system, the more we will be hurt in return.

We can’t escape that reality.  There is no alternate biosphere. We are physically part of it.  We are all inside it, together.

Of course there are deniers and vacillators.  They are not stupid.  They are intelligent, quick witted and can see where this is going.  There will be costs!  Costs not just in money terms, but in comfort, luxury, entitlements, rights. They can see these costs and are unwilling to pay the price. So they develop their own stories – sharp, compelling, vivid stories – promising an easy road to the future. Taken at face value their stories are more attractive than ours.  But they lack the supporting chain of facts.  And that is something we need to tackle as well.

By Environmental Healing I simply mean, first, stop harming the biosphere and, second, reverse the harm done – if that is even possible.

Practically every part of the biosphere is undergoing its own crisis.  Each one of these interacts with the others, compounding the difficulty of description, analysis and prediction.

With that said here are some “bullet points” of the  Environmental Crisis:

GLOBAL WARMING

Global Warming with all the consequences; Climate Change, Sea Level Rise, Intensity of Weather Events and so forth, captures most attention.  It is first because of the many negative effects and the size of the potential economic harm.  

I also believe that this is top of the list because it can be treated as a technical problem.  We speak of Gigatons of CO2, trapping of solar radiation, feedback loops, albedo and global average temperature changes in fractions of a degree.  We speak of the remedies in equally technological terms; carbon dioxide sequestration, solar PV, pumped storage, electric vehicles, advanced SMRs, shoreline protection, disaster resilience, ESG, geoengineering. 

MINING of MINERALS and COAL

Destruction of environment, pollution from the mining operation, tailing dumps and waste lagoons of toxic materials. Pollution of streams and groundwater.  Health effects on the workers and the surrounding communities.  Destruction of significant sites – biological, archeological and spiritual.

Phosphorus mining tailings and pond.  Riverview, Florida
Juukan Gorge, Western Australia. Site of human occupation for 46,000 years.  Before and after mining activity.

LIQUID and GAS FOSSIL FUELS

Quite apart from the CO2 released when these fuels are burnt (Really – we unearth these million year old treasures and burn them?) we have accidental releases of gas and/or oil during production, transport and refining. We have negative effects on all the living things near these sites.  Fracking chemicals.

SOIL

Agricultural practices, Deforestation, Salt pans when farming marginal land, Monocultures.

OCEANS 

Currents, Reefs, Aquatic life, Fishing, Acidification, Plastics.

FRESH WATER

Falling aquifers, Changing rainfall patterns, Pollution from personal, industrial and agricultural sources.

AIR

Pollution, Greenhouse Gases, More intense weather, Changed weather patterns.

PLANTS

Deforestation, Monocultures, Loss of diversity, Species loss, Invasive species, Insect infestations, Wildfires.

ANIMALS

Loss of diversity, Loss of species, Loss of habitat, Insect “collapse”. 

Wild land animals exist only at our pleasure.  Whales as well.  

Diagram from xkcd, Used under CCANC license and may be copied from here

HUMANS

Too many of us – we have tripled since I went to school.  It’s a hugely difficult subject but has to be discussed.  We consume too much.  We waste too much. We already have climate wars and climate refugees.  There will be more.  We cling to artificial concepts like nations, religions and politics.  The biosphere does not recognize any of those things.

The biosphere has gone through crises before.  Many in the long history of the planet, some within one human generation.  

The ancient crises; climate change, ice ages, meteorites, did massively change the biosphere and cause vast destruction.  But the repairs and adjustments were made over time spans we can barely imagine.  We, with our frantic lives, do not have the luxury of evolutionary or geologic time.

Two recent examples are the acid rain problem of the 1970 to 1990’s and the ozone holes, which came to public attention at much the same time.  Both were overcome, against resistance of course, but nevertheless with reasonable success and without huge economic impact.  

For acid rain the answer was scrubbing the exhaust gases of coal fired plants to reduce the emissions of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide.  

The ozone holes over each pole were tackled by an international agreement to phase out CFCs and Halons. The task is not over yet; NASA predicts the ozone holes will not return to 1980 levels until 2075.

There are lasting scars from both crises; eroded stone ornaments, disrupted plant and animal life, health issues such as skin cancers, breathing difficulties etc.  

If we could so “easily” resolve those crises why can’t we do the same for the current Environmental Crisis?  Because:

  • The problems were essentially technical and had known technical solutions
  • The problem could be solved by a relatively small number of corporations acting under public and government pressure and in their own self interest
  • The problems, although widespread, were not global
  • Most people did not have to change their way of life (except in some trivial ways; e.g. if you had an old car and could not obtain CFC to recharge the AC then the repair was very pricey)
  • Politics was simpler; governments made binding decisions and enforced them

Sadly none of those conditions apply to what we face today.

We are wounding the biosphere.  We need to stop, and then heal

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