Crossing the line
Where has that lazybones Auntie Ruth been the last couple of weeks, you ask? Basking in the sun on some exotic tropical isle? Shacked up with Shaq? Sleeping it off? Sadly, no to all three. Your humble servant has been hard at work, her nose buried deep in the Stockholm Resilience Centre’s latest report, “Planetary Boundaries: Exploring the Safe Operating Space for Humanity.” What the heck does that mean? “We propose a new approach to global sustainability in which we define planetary boundaries within which we expect that humanity can operate safely,” the wily Swedes state. “Transgressing one or more planetary boundaries may be deleterious or even catastrophic due to the risk of crossing thresholds that will trigger non-linear, abrupt environmental change within continental- to planetary-scale systems.” Believe it or not, that was in English.
Fortunately, not much was lost in the translation. The scientists from holey cheese land identify nine planetary boundaries which if transgressed could result in environmental Armageddon. The nine categories are climate change, stratospheric ozone, land-use change, freshwater use, biological diversity, ocean acidification, nitrogen and phosphorus inputs to the biosphere and oceans, aerosol loading, and chemical pollution. The good news is we’re inside the boundaries in six categories. The bad news is that we’ve already exceeded the threshold in three. Or, as the Yes Men recently put it in their spoof on the New York Post, “We’re screwed!”
Naturally, you’re wondering what the three thresholds we’ve crossed are. No. 1, we’ve already crossed the line when it comes to climate change, which was what the Yes Men were referring to in their spoof. No. 2, we’ve pumped so much nitrogen from fertilizers into the ecosystem, you can practically walk across the thick sheets of algae that cover many of our lakes, rivers and streams. Finally, up to 27,000 species of animals and plants are going extinct each year—there goes your biodiversity. It’s fine to point fingers at global corporations and corrupt governments for all of this mess, as the Yes Men do, but if you really find it necessary to assign blame, you need merely look into the mirror. Sad, but true.