The End of Being: Abrupt Climate Change One of Many Ecological Crises Threatening to Collapse the Biosphere

More old-growth forests have been lost than the biosphere can bear

At least 10 planetary boundaries exist that threaten to make the biosphere uninhabitable

As industrial human growth continues its relentless assault upon nature, at least ten unfolding global ecological catastrophes including deadly climate change have the potential to destroy the biosphere. Any number of other environmental planetary boundaries besides climate change such as biodiversity, water, soil, and ecosystem loss and diminishment has the potential to end being. The already substantial climate change movement must embrace a richer ecology ethic, morphing into a concerted effort to more broadly achieve global ecological sustainability.

“We could solve climate change tomorrow, and soil and water loss – or any number of combinations of surpassed planetary ecological boundaries – would still destroy civilization, potentially killing the living biosphere, and ending being.” – Dr. Glen Barry

Earth Meanders, Deep Ecology Essays by Dr. Glen Barry

Human industrial growth is systematically dismantling the natural ecosystems which constitute our life support system. Rightly so, there has been an enormous amount of attention given to climate change (though action to rapidly reduce emissions still lags far beyond what is required). Climate change  is becoming abrupt and runaway; and threatens just by itself to collapse societies, economies, and ultimately the biosphere.

Yet climate change is only one of at least ten global ecological catastrophes which threaten to destroy the global ecological system and portend an end to human beings, and perhaps all life. Ranging from nitrogen deposition to ocean acidification, and including such basics as soil, water, and air; virtually every ecological system upon which life depends is failing. Gaia is dying.

The threat to global ecological sustainability goes well beyond climate change, and represents a more systematic failing of current political and economic models. Namely, the commodification of natural ecosystems – that are our and all life’s habitat – and their unsustainable industrial clearance for short-term profit, is sheer ecocidal madness.

Old-growth forests are alive too

The author has hypothesized that more old-growth forests have been lost than the biosphere can bear

A branch of ecological science known as Planetary Boundary science knows much regarding ecological thresholds whereby Earth and her life may collapse and die. Planetary boundaries have been identified for ten global-scale processes including climate change, rate of biodiversity loss (terrestrial and marine), nitrogen and phosphorus cycles, ozone depletion, ocean acidification, freshwater, land use change, chemical pollution, and atmospheric aerosol loading (and others clearly exist). For each scientists have set thresholds beyond which the global ecological system’s integrity as a whole is threatened.

At least three thresholds – climate change, biodiversity loss, and nitrogen deposition in ecosystems – are generally considered to already have been surpassed, meaning the planet is already in a state of ecological overshoot.

Recently I proposed in a peer reviewed scientific paper a tenth Planetary Boundary, adding a threshold for terrestrial ecosystem loss: hypothesizing that 2/3 of Earth’s land base must remain ensconced within natural and semi-natural ecosystems to avoid biosphere collapse (see Terrestrial ecosystem loss and biosphere collapse at http://ecointernet.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/MEQ-Terrestrial-Ecosystem-Loss-and-Biosphere-Collapse.pdf). Already some 50% of natural ecosystems have been cleared, meaning yet another planetary ecological limit has been exceeded. My identification of a terrestrial ecosystem boundary was the first published science proposing a planetary boundary based upon terrestrial ecosystem loss and connectivity, and has since been validated in other studies by scientific luminaries.

The point is that while abrupt climate change may well become runaway, collapsing society, the economy, and the biosphere; it is but one of nearly a dozen means whereby humanity has overshot the carrying capacity of the Earth System. Consider this: nearly half of all topsoil has eroded, 90% of large fish are gone, 4,500 kids die from bad water a day, nearly a billion human-beings live in abject poverty, and daily an unknown numbers of species disappear forever.

Highly inequitable, unjust, and unsustainable industrial human growth is systematically dismantling the ecological systems that make Earth livable.

We could solve climate change tomorrow, and soil and water loss – or any number of combinations of surpassed planetary ecological boundaries – would still destroy civilization, potentially killing the living biosphere, and ending being.

Gaia

Gaia is dying as planetary ecological boundaries are crossed

Achieving just and equitable global ecological sustainability depends upon the human family becoming more aware of the numerous ecological threats facing our shared survival and well-being. Together we must commit to the radical, science-based social change necessary to sustain Earth and all her life. This will certainly require a shared “ecology ethic” which universally values nature – the plants, wildlife, and  ecological processes that make life possible. Ecology is the meaning of life.

Clearly much more research remains to be done on Planetary Boundaries and threats to the biosphere in sum, as well as communication of dangerous thresholds, and policy development to pull back from the precipice. I hope to look further at lag times in regard to when exceeding planetary boundary’s thresholds become dangerous, and to use what is known regarding Pacific Islands’ sustainability as a test case for terrestrial ecosystem loss, and to publish further ecological science. Most importantly, much more effort must be made to act with urgency and resolve upon the science that indicates we face mortal danger.

The way forward on a potentially terminally-ill planet include 1) transitioning to a steady state economy, 2) slowing population growth and then justly reducing human numbers, 3) committing to equitably meeting all of humanity’s basic human needs, 4) ending all natural ecosystem destruction and assisting remnants to naturally regenerate and spread, 5) ending the use of fossil fuels, 6) embracing organic, non-industrial, perma-culture based agriculture less dependent upon animal husbandry, 7) ending industrial clearance of natural ecosystems such as old-growth forest logging and factory fishing, and 8) demobilizing standing armies and diverting these resources to meeting humanity’s and nature’s needs.

Only such comprehensive, ecological-science based policies can prove sufficient to end climate change and all threats to global ecological sustainability, averting mass human suffering and death as the Earth collapses and dies.

As long as seeds and organisms exist, the propagules to regenerate Earth remain. It is vital that the diminution of Earth’s biotic diversity across scales – from the gene, to plants and animals, through the communities and ecosystems they come together to form, right up to our one shared biosphere – be halted immediately. We must not further squander humanity’s biological inheritance upon the altar of frivolous over-consumption by some. And together we must usher in an era of natural ecosystem protection and restoration.

There are many righteous livelihoods – that go far beyond the benefits provided by a slave-like debt economy – to be found in rewilding and pulling humanity back from the ruin of usurping planetary boundaries. But profiteering upon the systematic ecocide of our one living Earth will have to be banished, and strictly enforced for the common good, by a much reduced government.

There is much joy to be found in nature. Rediscovering wild places and clear waters in communities embraced by nature provides for a far richer life than shopping malls and highways. As we rediscover a sense of place there are multitudes of pleasures to be found as well in human literature, music, drama, sexuality, and community. Urban centers can be reclaimed from automobiles and once again become re-natured centers of commerce, culture, and civilization.

It is time to come together and choose life over death, truth over ignorance, beauty over industry, flowers rather than electronics. It is time to return to the land and embrace nature and ecology as the meaning of life. And to address with sufficient policies climate change and all threats to global ecological sustainability at once. Or being ends.

You may also like...

26 Responses

  1. wildthang says:

    In general complex systems resist all change unless a super-pearl harbor like event precipitates super-system change.

    • Kevin Schmidt says:

      That “super-pearl harbor like event” is the extraction, transport, refining, burning and dumping of fossil fuels, which create the pollution that causes global warming and the sixth great die-off on Earth.

  2. This essay should fill me with hope, but just fills me with despair. I am 58 and with all probability will not see the end of being in my life time, but I am so sorry for my children and my unborn grandchildren. With the powerful men in charge of the world things will never change only get worse. I have been to China and seen the millions of people on the streets and cities in Vietnam. The world is teaming with people, the demand for products is increasing every second. We are using up the world like we’ve got another one in stock!
    It’s very difficult to make an impact ! I try to reuse plastic bags, but we have to use them for rubbish, mostly excessive plastic packaging!

  3. David says:

    Excellent. Well done!

  4. Peter says:

    Superb essay Barry
    Best regards
    Peter

  5. David Emery says:

    I work at a community development NGO in rural Cambodia. I have been here for 10 years, married a Cambodian woman, bought a home, started a permaculture farm, and recently celebrated the birth of our son. My soul is in the current day and in the collective future that my son will know.
    In Cambodia, on billboards, in tv commercials, on internet advertising and in the proposals of “development” projects, consumerism, materialism and industrialization are being promoted to people who mostly still know how to care for themselves: grow/gather food, collect water, build & repair homes from local materials, and generally provide for their basic needs. These same people are being told that they are in possession of low-value knowledge and their children need to gain high value knowledge in order to “succeed.” With “agricultural modernization,” rural livelihoods are disrupted, leaving people no choice but to migrate to Thailand, Malaysia, South Korea and urban areas within Cambodia to find work (nothing new here). Culture and social/natural communities are broken. Deforestation is rampant. Soil damage with increased use of synthetic agricultural inputs and soil loss with more intense rainfalls combined with loss of ecosystem protection in the form of plants. Water systems degraded and polluted (older people say they used to drink from their streams without worry; not now). Climate change bringing droughts and stronger storms (villagers say they mostly fear the rain now, where they used to love it), hotter weather and changing general patterns of food production/gathering.
    Ravaged natural systems
    Loss of traditional culture
    Destruction of biological and social communities
    = Development
    This is the madness being promoted—quite successfully—all over the most populated region of the planet by the UN, Asia Development Bank, World Bank, China Development Bank, International Development NGOs, etc.
    It is heart breaking and soul crushing watching the most destructive and violent way of being ever practiced by humanity being PROMOTED as superior and in-line with “social/human evolution.”
    Looking at my 9-month-old son I think: it’s time to stop trying to stop industrial civilization and time to start preparing for and instigating its demise. The sooner we humans stop this madness, the better for life and the varied communities of the world.
    My apologies for the deep negativity, but watching what has been going on in South and Southeast Asia over the past 13 years in terms of social, cultural and ecological destruction in the name of development, has been hard on my mind, body and spirit. I do community development work because there is so much I love about humans and being human. But I cannot and will not lie to myself and say that what we are doing to the world is nothing less than global-scale murder.

    • Adam says:

      Well said David. Couldn’t agree more with you.
      Congrats on the great work you’ve been doing. If interested, take a look at http://www.naturalhabitats.com.au
      It’s a network I run and potentially your skills and experience could be well suited to some jobs and projects as they come up. Although, like you, I have a self reliant permaculture farm and like you, I’ve lost confidence and faith about our systemic, global crises being solved and resolved and my attention now is less on endlessly trying to encourage more sustainable ways of doing things, education etc and now is more focused on building resilience to face the gargantuan challenges of what lies ahead. Wishing you well,
      Adam

  6. Richard says:

    glen.. thanks for this..

  7. Maribel says:

    It is too late now and the human population continues to grow and contaminate. The climate change can only be reduced by controlling and reducing stongly the human overpopulation.

  8. Robert says:

    Dear Glen

    I continue to value and appreciate your thoughtful articles and efforts.
    Thank you for your distributions.

    Robert

  9. Steve Overton says:

    I long ago accepted the inevitability of Humanity destroying the planet as I came to understand that the greatest enemy we face is ourselves. The Demons of Greed, Selfishness, Lust, Envy, Hate and Self Interest which infest our souls are the main drivers of Human Activity, couple that with an Intelligence that surpasses by far any other animal on the planet and you have created the Perfect Destroyer. I have lost all hope in humanity , although I know there are some compassionate souls out there, and figure the best we can do is to try to bring a little light into the darkness of Greed, Brutality and Destruction that stalks the earth. I find my strength in the hope that there’s a God of Compassion and Justice that will bring this hell to an end and institute a reign of Love and Peace on a New Earth ,…… yeh I know,. its a hope I have, a dream, but when reality is so fucked up then holding to your dreams ain’t such a bad place to be!!.

  10. Craig Downer says:

    Amazing essay and call for conscience and so pertinent to what is going on today and is of vital importance. It is vitally important that we change now to avert catatrophe for Life on Earth. I have faith this is still possible with God’s help.

  11. Peter Hirst says:

    It comes down to designing a global respect for nature and the natural environment so it becomes the cultural norm to protect all the various factors that maintain our life on this planet.

  12. one way I enjoy viewing this world is to see it as though it is all our creation. We have the power to be the director of our world. To hire/fire actors, to write the script, to decide on the scenes we view. If we collectively change our minds to accept this power we could have prosperity and end environmental degradation. It is up to each one of us to teach these principle of peace & connectedness, understanding that every person we meet is Buddha awaiting the glow of love we can radiate vs. fear and doubt.

  13. Adrian Appley says:

    We can only save the planet IF groups like Friends of the Earth and the Green Party dealt with the IMPORTANT issues like overpopulation and IVF instead of just tinkering round the edges.

  14. Charles says:

    Dear Dr. Barry,
    You new essay “The End of Being: Abrupt Climate Change, One of Many Ecological Crises Threatening to Collapse the Biosphere” is a powerful wake-up call. You mince no words when you speak of a “potentially terminally-ill planet” and how our global commercial culture is “profiteering off the systemic ecocide of our one living Earth.” If we would just emphasize “beauty over industry, flowers over electronics.” (Love the phrases…)
    Unfortunately, such strong words ring uncomfortably true. I think at a deep, unconscious level, many people know the danger is real, but the pain of overt acknowledgement is just too much to bear. Because then what? How do you deal with the guilt, the shame, the inevitable sense of heartbreaking loss and bottomless grief when confronting the inevitable extinction not only of the countless species that bear no responsibility for the planetary debacle but the human species as well.
    Earth without the comforting calls of songbirds, flitterings of small mammals, silver flashes of fish in water and dramatic glances from tiger eyes will seem a much lonelier and desolate place to live. Not to mention life-threating blistering temperatures and the inevitable convulsions of a desperate world population forced to cannibalize itself. Not a pretty picture.
    I mourn every time I see a toddler on my street as I see no livable future for him or her.
    I, too, have struggled with attempting to make sense of what seems to be happening all around us. We appear to be headed over the proverbial cliff, but those with the resources and the power to alter course apparently are in denial, too distracted by the profits to be made, find the necessary changes not politically advantageous, or have concluded it’s game over anyway, so make “contingency plans” to get out of Dodge.
    I’ve spent most of my adult life thinking about this and mulling over what could be done to at least slow the dissolution down enough to buy time to develop effective remedial actions. I sense you’ve also thought deeply about this – which is apparent in your 8-step “way forward on a potentially terminally-ill planet.” And kudos for including the critical need for “justly reducing human numbers,” without which any attempt to deal with planetary ecocide will result in dismal failure.
    Having become terminally frustrated with the half-hearted prescriptions for remedial actions by governments and environmental groups, I decided to try an create a “new story” in the form a trilogy that would describe the full range of issues that need addressing and how, if we truly put to work the best of our human creativity and technological and financial resources, an otherwise guaranteed outcome of planetary collapse might be averted.
    So I took the past 4 years and developed my People of the Change trilogy and more recently created a short PowerPoint in pdf form (attached) that expresses in visuals the core concepts and storylines of the trilogy. Thought you might like to take a look at it, as I think it echoes many of the critical action steps you mention in your essay.
    Thank you for your important work to bring attention to what needs to be done to save some of what’s left.
    Best Wishes,
    Charles

  15. Charles says:

    Dear Dr. Barry: I was struck by the similarity of proportions of land use (for crops) that I found associated with environmental tipping points into negative trophic flows during fieldwork in West Africa. This analysis of horticultural farming systems indicated that they were sustainable at about 20% crops and 80% land in various stages of fallow and forest succession in any given village territory. Approaching 30% land use for crops indicated a tipping point was being reached, 40% long passed that tipping point – and led to overall collapse of the local wild plant and animal species diversity. I have attached a copy of the paper here. It is in review for publication and by no means finished, and I would appreciate comments if you have the time.

    Regards, Helga

  16. Farooque says:

    thanks a lot for the article. best. farooque

  17. Julianne Jaz says:

    Sorry, but this -> “We could solve climate change tomorrow” is a LIE. You walked right by all the dozens of IRREVERSIBLE feedback loops currently operant as a result of climate change. There is NO solving it at this point. We’re on track for Near-Term Human Extinction, and I’m sick to death that virtually all the mainstream articles about climate change make it sound like there’s still time, we can do this, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. WE FUCKED UP. Period. And as a consequence, we’re taking out all the species, including ourselves, and leaving behind a horrifically poisoned, and likely dead for at least many millions of years, planet. If you want to understand something about how these feedback loops are operating, I suggest watching this, The Arctic Methane Monster’s Rapid Rise:

    • Dr. Glen Barry says:

      You totally misread the quotation. It was trying to say EVEN if we could solve climate change tomorrow, making the point that if climate was solved there are other ecological emergencies. It does not suggest that climate change is in fact immediately solvable. I think a more careful read of the essay in total would make this clear it was the point being made.

  18. Lynn Faulkner says:

    In what galaxy far, far away did Dr. Barry say that the climate emergency could be solved tomorrow? There IS no tomorrow, even if every action was in force today.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.