Boundaries of Earth

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Organisms have certain optimal functioning conditions. Often they get sick, get healed. But after a certain threshold, the self-healing does not occur. Neither do then any interventions be of any help to reverse the blight. Human bodies function best at a certain body temperature range. Cross the extremes and it no longer lives. So is the case with our only habitable planet, to date, Earth. Her organs; oceans, forests, atmosphere, etc.; have optimal functioning boundaries. For much of the history of humans, these boundaries were never challenged. However, recently, humans have started to push the boundaries of Earth’s systems.

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The first and most severe of them is climate change. Unprecedented levels of carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, methane and other gases have entered our atmosphere which is upsetting the natural cycles and levels of earth’s climate. This has been accelerated since industrialization and has not been any lower since then, despite numerous international efforts and accords. (The only success story so far has been the reduction of Chlorofluorocarbons CFCs). Temperature rise at one location of the earth is not a problem. In fact, it might just be a benefit. The crises begin when the average temperature begins to rise. It has been estimated that only a 2-degree Celsius rise in average temperature would bring havoc for life on earth. All climate change efforts are aimed at stopping the average temperature from rising beyond 2-degrees Celsius.

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Another is biodiversity. It is the sum of all living species in the biosphere and all the nature covering the planet. All species are inter-dependent on other species for their survival. Any disturbance in the balance of any species negatively affects the whole biodiversity cycle. Climate change is in-turn directly dependent on biodiversity. Less forest means fewer trees to store the carbon dioxide. Moreover, the rates at which species are getting extinct are extraordinary today.

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Forests are disappearing faster than they are being replanted. They directly support and maintain the life on earth. Other than the gases, mainly nitrogen and phosphorus, entering the escaping outwards through chimneys, they are also being added downwards in the form of fertilisers and pesticides. That is affecting our internal organs too through the food we eat and the water we drink. Too much of these gases choke the system, too little of them does not help either. It’s the balance that is needed and currently, the balance is surely off the limits.

In some other areas, although we have not yet crossed the boundaries, we are very close to doing that. Freshwater reservoirs are rapidly drying out. Oceans are getting acidified more and more. More and more waste is being generated today.

A study by a team of scientists (called “The trajectory of the Anthropocene: The great acceleration”) has observed different socio-economic and earth-system trends over the past 25 decades. It is no surprise that all these trends have accelerated unstoppably post-Industrial Revolution. They include but are not restricted to carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, methane, fish capture levels, forest loss, domesticated land, biosphere degradation, etc. The graph for population rise is not any different. It directly strains the capacity of the earth to support life.

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If we continue to stress the earth that it no longer can heal itself, the same mother earth that supports our life today will become a foe threatening to endanger our own survival. To feed the overgrowing population, the meat and dairy industry is big more than ever before. Meat consumption presents multiple challenges in one-pack. Beef is at the top of the list among other kinds. It takes, on average, 1800 gallons of water to produce 1 gram of beef during the lifecycle. More and more land is needed to house these animals. A single cow release, on average, 100 grams of methane, which as discussed earlier effects the climate change adversely. The poor conditions in which these animals are kept is a whole separate discussion. Now is the only time for us to act.

 

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