Critical State of the Planet

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Summary of the Critical State of Our Mother Earth

Phil Lane Jr., January 23rd, 2013:

"Forests: Humanity has leveled over half the world’s once-great forests. Over 6-billion hectares (15-billion acres) of mature forests once stood on Mother Earth, and now we have about 3-billion hectares left. But it is worse: We have taken the best wood first and left behind degraded forests. We have taken 80% of the original, ancient, frontier forests. We are losing about 15-million hectares (37.5-million acres) of forest every year, an area about the size of Nepal. The remaining wood quality has declined.

Deserts: Because of industrial agriculture, global warming, logging, draining aquifers, and redirecting river water, some 6-million hectares (15-million acres) of productive land turns into desert every year. The Sahara desert, once productive grassland, grows at about 48km (almost 30 miles) per year. The Syrian Desert was once a beautiful cedar forest. The once great Aral Sea, full of fish and able to support many communities, is now mostly desert.

Soils: Industrial agriculture destroys soils. Throughout our Mother Earth, we have depleted over half the carbon and nutrients from the soils, polluted soils with toxins, and washed topsoil into the sea. In North America, for example, industrial agriculture has mined over half the carbon from the soils, from 6% carbon to under 3% carbon. In the past century, we have lost some 500-billion tons of topsoil. Meanwhile, we now lose about 26-billion tons of soil every year. Species: Humanity is now causing the fastest rate of species collapse in 64-million years, since an asteroid hit our Mother Earth, wiping out the dinosaurs and over 3/4 of all species on Mother Earth. Today, we are the asteroid, causing some 100 species extinctions every single day. Since 1974, terrestrial species biodiversity has dropped by 40% and since 1990, in twenty years; the marine species index has declined by 21%. Today, over 30% of all remaining mammals, and 20% of all birds, are endangered with extinction. Since we are destroying natural habitats, new species development has collapsed, except for micro-organisms and bacteria. Humanity is causing an Earth-changing species extinction disaster. With each lost species we lose a magnificent gift of our natural world that has been entrusted to all of us by our Creator.

Fish: The world’s fish are in crisis from over-fishing and pollution. We have depleted most of the large commercial species by 60-80% and some species by 90%, including the tuna, marlin, swordfish, cod, and halibut. We destroyed the North Atlantic cod fishery and now face the demise of west coast salmon. We have destroyed fishing communities around the world, in Africa, Asia, Europe, and throughout the Western Hemisphere.

Bees Colony Collapse: Bees pollinate most of the world’s food crops and other flowering plants, but world bee populations are plummeting. Since 1960, the United States has lost half its bee population. Bee colonies are dying off in Europe, Central America, Asia, and elsewhere around Mother Earth. The die-off has been occurring for a long time and results from multiple causes, including pesticides, industrial gases, urbanization, and habitat and food destruction.

Global heating from industrial gases: The amount of carbon-dioxide in our Mother Earth’s atmosphere has increased by 43% since preindustrial days, from 280 parts-per-million (ppm) to nearly 400 ppm. During that same period, methane – a more powerful, shorter-lived greenhouse gas – has more than doubled (from 0.78 ppm to 1.76 ppm, +125%). Other industrial greenhouse gases include carbon-monoxide, halocarbons, volatile gases, and the black carbon from burning wood and diesel. After 20 years of climate conferences, including the1992 UN Earth Summit, with 255 governments participating, 144 sending their heads of state or government, along with some 2,400 representatives of NGOs and 17,000 people at the parallel NGO "Global Forum", who had UN Consultative Status; annual gas emissions have been greater and greater every year, not less.

Almost half the summer arctic ice is gone. The oceans are 30% more acidic because of these industrial gases in the atmosphere. Mother Earth now experiences land, air and water temperature increases, drought, deluge, flooding, forest fires, desertification, insect migrations, dying forests, and violent storms caused and aggravated by global heating from industrial activity. With Hurricane Sandy simply being the latest demonstration of the growing impact of global warming, with many more yet to come.

Runaway global heating: Meanwhile, the heating is now creating system feedbacks that cause more heating.

The warmer atmosphere is now melting the polar permafrost, which releases methane, causing more warming.

Receding forests store less carbon, reduced ocean algae stores less carbon, disappearing ice fails to reflect as much heat, and added water vapor increases the greenhouse effect. We now face the real threat of runaway global heating beyond anything that human actions could reverse. Scientists now warn of “irreversible” changes to our Mother Earth’s climate.

Coral reefs: We have lost over a third of Mother Earth’s coral, and most of the remaining coral reefs are in danger of complete destruction over the next few decades. Because of hotter and more acidic oceans caused by industrial CO2, destructive drag net fishing, and pollution, our world’s coral is dying. In 1998, in a single year, we lost 16% of the ocean’s coral reefs, which are the oceans nursery. By killing the coral reefs, we destroy ocean biodiversity and productivity.

Material Limits: We have depleted virtually every non-renewable industrial and economic natural material in the world including wood, aluminum, copper, phosphorus, nickel, tin, zinc, platinum, and so forth. Humanity took the best, cheapest, easiest materials first, so the remaining stores are more expensive to extract, with greater energy, human, and ecological cost.

Energy limits: For the first time in our human history, humanity can no longer increase its energy output. We have reached the peak of net energy input into society. More and more energy is drained away in efforts to retrieve the deeper, more expensive, dwindling energy stores. Conventional oil production has peaked and is in decline.

In one century, humanity used up the best of our Mother Earth’s store of easily accessible hydrocarbons – representing 500-million years of solar energy stored as biomass and oil in our Mother Earth’s crust. This energy storehouse has been squandered on wars, over-heated buildings, unneeded lighting and many other forms of wasteful consumption. The oil left is dirty and expensive. Today, when we invest one barrel of oil energy into getting new energy, we retrieve 30-times or 50-times less energy in return. The net energy available to our human society from one-barrel invested has dropped from 100 barrels in the early 1930s oil fields to 1:3 in today’s tar sands and 1:2 in deep oil wells.

Humanity has high-graded everything. We took the best land, best trees, best oil, best fish, and so forth. We now have to make do with the lower-quality materials, energy, and natural bounty.

Water: Over 1.2-billion members of our Human Family lack adequate water every day. Over 2.3-billion people, 1/3 of our human population, lack fresh, clean drinking water. We have polluted and drained our Mother Earth’s aquifers and rivers. Water tables have dropped by 50 meters (more than 164 feet) drops in Mexico City, Beijing, and Madras. Over half the lakes are gone in Qinghai China, some 2,000 lakes. Since glaciers are melting from global heating, many rivers don’t reach the sea. The Aral Sea has been drained to water cotton plantations, and former fishing fleets sit idle in growing deserts.

Human Population: There are now over 7-billion members of our Human Family and we add 75 million every year. Over 1 billion of our human relatives go hungry every year and 30,000 actually starve to death every single day.

Social Injustice: About 1 billion members of our Human Family consume 85% of our Mother Earth’s material and energy bounty. The poorer 6 billion of our Human Family must make due with 15% of the materials and energy. The richest 2% of our Human Family owns half the world’s wealth, while a billion of our relatives live on the edge of starvation. This growing scale of injustice and failure to practice common human decency is leading to greater and greater human conflict.

Warfare: The wealthy industrial nations spend some $2-trillion each year on weapons and military destruction, at the cost of millions of lives, destroyed communities and devastated ecosystems. Imagine if these resources were instead expended on uplifting our Human Family." (

Annotated bibliography

In recent decades we have heard repeatedly, from the best of our world`s scientific, educational, social and environmental institutions, that our collective human activity is increasingly threatening the future generations of our children and rapidly destroying our Mother Earth. Here are some of the urgent warnings over the last decade:

2002, Business Council for Sustainable Development report

"A decade ago the Business Council for Sustainable Development in Antwerp, Belgium, calculated: “Reductions in the Industrialized World – in material output, energy use, and environmental degradation - of over 90% -will be required by 2040 to fairly meet the needs of a growing world population within Mother Earth`s ecological means.”

2005 United Nations Millennium Ecosystem Assessment

Prepared by 1,360 scientists and UN contributors; reviewed by UN member governments and independent scientists, determined that:

Nearly two thirds of all natural services that our Mother Earth provides to humankind are in decline. The world’s fish stocks are depleted and in dire condition.

Some 2 billion people living in dry regions are vulnerable to the loss of ecosystem services, including fuel, food, and water supplies.

Our Mother Earth faces a growing threat to ecosystems from climate change and nutrient pollution. Human activities have caused massive species extinctions, threatening the well-being of all members of the Human Family.

The pressures on ecosystems will increase globally in coming decades unless human attitudes and actions change dramatically.

To restore and protect our Mother Earth’s natural systems will require coordinated efforts across all sections of governments, businesses, international institutions, and communities.

2009 Planetary Boundaries

A report by 28 international scientists – including Johan Rockström from the Stockholm Resilience Centre, Will Steffen from the Australian National University, Nobel laureate Paul Crutzen, Goddard Institute climatologist James Hansen, and German Chancellor's climate adviser Hans Joachim Schellnhuber – in the science journal Nature, showed that human activity has pushed nine critical systems – biodiversity, temperature, ocean acidification, nitrogen and phosphorus cycles, land use, fresh water, ozone depletion, atmospheric aerosols, and chemical pollution – near or beyond critical tipping points. The report warned that natural system feedbacks drive additional change and endanger other limits. The scientists warned that when human ecological impact passes certain thresholds – tipping points – we risk “irreversible and abrupt environmental change,” and that these changes risk human communities and all life on our Mother Earth. Their scientific research shows that since the Industrial Revolution, human actions have become the main driver of global environmental destruction.

They found that four critical systems – climate change, species loss, nitrogen removed from the atmosphere, and phosphorus washed into the oceans – have already crossed the safe boundaries.

2012, State Shift in Earth’s Biosphere

Last year, 2012, Nature published “Approaching a State Shift in Earth’s Biosphere,” by 22 international scientists led by bio-paleoecologist Anthony Barnosky from the University of California. This international scientific team warned that human activity is likely forcing a planetary-scale transition, far beyond simple global heating, “with the potential to transform Mother Earth rapidly and irreversibly into a state unknown in human experience.” Averting a planetary ecological crisis, they warn, now requires unprecedented effort of our Human Family. Canadian co-author, biologist Arne Mooers, said: “humans have not done anything really important to stave off the worst. My colleagues … are terrified.”

2012, Planetary Overshoot

Dr. William Rees, creator of “ecological footprint” analysis at the University of British Columbia, has compiled data to show that humanity has overshot the productive capacity of Earth. We now use about 50% more resources each year than the Earth can replenish. In “the Way Forward” in Solutions Journal, Rees warns: “Climate change is just one symptom of generalized human ecological dysfunction. A virtual tsunami of evidence suggests that the global community is living beyond its ecological means. … The human enterprise has already overshot global carrying capacity,” says Rees, “and is living, in part, by depleting natural capital and overfilling waste sinks,” including our Mother Earth’s atmosphere. “Solutions,” writes Rees, require that we “rewrite global society’s cultural narrative” to replace a “culturally constructed economic growth fetish.” (