Rachel Carson wrote Silent Spring in 1962. I discovered the book in my college years (1970-1974) when I first became aware of the looming climate crisis. I promptly went into our shared dream of work and family.
I dreamed for the next 47 years until I awakened during the pandemic and became aware of how critical the climate crisis became during my slumber.
Professor Johan Rockström is the Director of the Stockholm Resilience Center. Rockström has an article entitled Ground Control in the book Imaginal Cells: Visions of Transformation, by Kim Polman (Author), Stephen Vasconcellos-Sharpe, et al; published by Reboot the Future; Southall, United Kingdom; 2017. This reflection is based on his article.
Let’s take one giant step backwards. Twelve-thousand years ago, the Earth entered the Holocene epoch following the Glacial epoch. The Holocene was generally good for humans. Climate was predictable and humans became farmers. This made our modern civilizations possible. It created the nature we love. It also allowed our species to become powerful; food became plentiful (for some), education thrived (for some), industry began, technology grew. Our population grew from thousands to billions.
Many of us now realize the Earth is in trouble and humanity has a crisis. Our home is a living biosphere with forests, grasslands, coral reefs, wetlands and living species. Over half of the CO2 emitted by humans is absorbed by forests and oceans and over 90% of the heat caused by human is absorbed by oceans. However, the temperature is rising, and we have damaged the Earth so severely it’s at a tipping point.
Humanity has caused more damage than any other natural changes in the Earth’s history. We have entered a new epoch, the Anthropocene. We now live in the sixth mass extinction of species, the first caused by the human species. This moment in time is called the “Great Acceleration” because our growth rate has surged. In the Anthropocene, we pose unprecedented pressure on all life-support systems on Earth.
We are at a tipping point. When a rainforest crosses a tipping point, it becomes a savanna. When a savanna reaches a tipping point, it becomes a desert. Consider Greenland, a large biome. It functions as a planetary cooling system because its white surface reflects sunlight. But now frozen Greenland has become a melting landmass. When enough snow has melted, it tips to a self-warming area that no longer helps cool the planet.
The Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC) is a large system of ocean currents which transports warm water from the tropics northwards into the North Atlantic. Climate models have shown that the AMOC is at its weakest in more than a thousand years. The Atlantic Ocean is also reaching a tipping point. A study, published in the journal Nature Climate Change, said the difference is crucial. The findings support the assessment that the AMOC decline is not just a fluctuation but likely means the critical threshold beyond which the circulation system could collapse. If the AMOC collapsed, it would probably increase cooling of the Northern Hemisphere, cause sea level rise in the Atlantic, an overall fall in precipitation over Europe and North America, and perhaps a shift in monsoons in South America and Africa. Global climate changes can result in conflicting and unpredictable interactions. The Earth could shift away from a stable and resilient state that can support humanity.
Over the past generation, we have shifted from being a small world on a big planet, to being a large world on a small planet. In the past twenty-five years, we have started to see we’re hitting the ceiling of planetary capacity to support humanity. We assumed Earth could support us at no cost. We now see there is a cost. Our land, water, and air are polluted.
The world needs leaders that will guide us to a rapid change towards removing carbon from the atmosphere, toward regenerative agriculture, and toward saving the remaining species on the Earth. I don’t see that happening…yet.
Now the encouraging possibilities. Universal compassion can be a tipping factor toward world prosperity within our planetary boundaries. Rockström states, “Our relationship to nature may be a ‘collective unconsciousness’, undeveloped as a global force, a Golden Rule for humanity.” The Pareto Principle, named after economist Vilfredo Pareto, states that a groundswell of 20% of people can cause an 80% change in an event. Margaret Mead said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” I disagree when Rockström said that world leadership recognizes the problem. We need to convince them. But I do agree that the rise in climate solutions and “…an awakened collective unconsciousness…may have a global transformation to a sustainable future for humanity.” Pachamama Alliance states, “We are here to inspire and galvanize the human family to generate a critical mass of conscious commitment to a thriving, just and sustainable way of life on Earth.”
Stop dreaming and help change our world!
RON HEIDEMAN / Indianola