In DepthEnvironment

Can a dire ecological warning lead to action?

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Science  10 May 2019:
Vol. 364, Issue 6440, pp. 517-518
DOI: 10.1126/science.364.6440.517

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  • The future of global environmental assessments
    • Noel Castree, Professor of Geography, Manchester University, England

    As Stockstad reports, the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) recently trailed a major report on the current condition of the living world.1 Based on thousands of published studies and years of work by hundreds of experts, the report will confirm the now familiar idea that humans are causing a ‘sixth mass extinction’ on Earth. The report will be the latest in a line of general, regional and topic-specific assessments produced, for the most part, by experts in various areas of STEM. Unlike many assessments, though, its normative implications are especially graphic. The scale, scope and magnitude of ecological loss documented in the report are such as to imply the need for radical change to human uses of the biosphere.

    Though undoubtedly authoritative, the report will beg a profound question about its own utility. While evidence-based analysis of anthropogenic environmental change is essential, assessments of root causes and possible cures are as important as knowledge of symptoms. Yet expertise in STEM only gets us so far in comprehending causes and cures. More than most organisations responsible for producing environmental assessments, the IPBES recognises this. For instance, it has a commendable commitment to engage with local communities, to take seriously non-Western forms of knowledge, and to thereby accept that a universal approach to understanding and managing biodiversity is inappropriate. Key participants want to explor...

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    Competing Interests: None declared.
  • RE: Can a dire ecological warning lead to action

    No. As long as the requirement is to redesign entire world economic system within 3 decades, all warnings are useless. Apparently article requires worldwide Great Leap Forward to save the planet. Everyone back to the collective farm to recycle phosphates from human waste. Parasites and all.
    Slash-and-burn agriculture drops phosphates from trees on ground. After a few crops, move on. Only solution is to mine 200 megatonnes phosphate rock and use dwindling sulfur supplies to convert phosphate rock to 0-54-0 fertilizer. After sulfur is used up, perhaps half a tarawatt power will be needed to convert phosphate rock to elemental phosphate. Another 7 tarawatts will be needed to pump 17,000 km^3/a south from Canada and Russia, ultimately feeding 12 billions. Good news is that 100 ppm uranium form the phosphate rock will generate 20 tarawatts and convert 5 billion year half-life uranium to fission products. After ~1000 years, fission-product curies falls below curies uranium consumed, presently goin on the ground in a thin layer. Nukes consume radioactive waste.

    Competing Interests: None declared.