Eco despair

Do we have to spell it out?

Do we have to spell it out?

(Come friend Aunt Ruthie on Facebook and let’s hang out.)

The news, environmentally speaking, is generally just south of awful. Past bad to worse, moving into the cataclysms. As a result—an occupational hazard—environmental columnists are an unpopular lot, and not in some cool, geeky way. Nobody hangs out with them at parties, asks them out to coffee or to join their nudist colonies, or otherwise open their mouths and opine. It’s just too friggin’ depressing. Environmental columnists are better seen and not heard and, should they find themselves in a verbal way, would preferably talk about the Sacramento Kings’ draft picks or fantasize how Mitt Romney will drift back to the center should he win the election.

Nope, we columnists are a huge astral bummer, and there’s no end in sight.

Is this Huge Astral Bummer Principle the same for scientists? Two UC Davis professors made national news for their participation in a study that suggests, according to a UCD release, that “humans may be forcing an irreversible, planetary-scale tipping point that could severely impact fisheries, agriculture, clean water and much of what Earth needs to sustain its inhabitants.” Reported in the June 7 issue of Nature, Dr. Alan Hastings and Dr. Geerat Vermeij joined 20 other authors in a grim consensus: “Localized ecological systems are known to shift abruptly and irreversibly from one state to another when they are forced across critical thresholds. [The study reviews] evidence that the global ecosystem as a whole can react in the same way and is approaching a planetary-scale critical transition as a result of human influence.”

What is to come has happened before—the Big Five mass extinctions, and the last glacial-interglacial transition 14,000 years ago. The difference in future shifts, of course, is the human impact: “[H]uman population growth with attendant resource consumption, habitat transformation and fragmentation, energy production and consumption, and climate change,” all of which “far exceed, in both rate and magnitude, the forcings evident at … the last glacial-interglacial transition.”

Huge Astral Bummer? Yeah.

“Many people who have written about our ecological future have expressed a level of optimism that I simply don’t share,” notes Vermeij. “[P]eople don’t like pessimism, and rightly so. But sometimes you have to say things the way they are.”

Read, digest, despair over the Nature article. Then pick yourself up off the ground and figure out what’s next. Come share on Ruthie’s Facebook page. It’s a start, and nothing more.