WHAT WILL YOU SAY WHEN YOU ARE ASKED, ‘WHAT DID YOU DO ONCE YOU KNEW?’

By februari 2, 2024 Algemeen

Without setting the stage for where we actually are, how can we truly understand where to allocate our energy? By observing the major issues of our time we get to witness what the opportunities are for impactful and useful innovation and design.

To start with an apology. Unintentionally this reflection became longer than intended. But halfway through writing I realized that it is a big story we have to tell and came to terms with it. Unveiling the harsh reality of the state we are in it became a sobering story. Based on personal narratives, experience and expert insights, exposing a serious global crisis and the lack of responsibility and accountability, which include a growing disparity between power and competence.

SEE THE WORLD. IT’S MORE FANTASTIC THAN ANY DREAM.

Earth is, to our knowledge, the only life-bearing body in the Solar System ( part of our galaxy, the Milky Way, a hazy band of light formed from 100 to 400 billon stars. The universe contains perhaps more than 2 trillion galaxies). This extraordinary characteristic dates back almost 4 billion years. Earth is teeming with organisms and that this has lasted for so long.

Our living planet, the dynamic web of organisms and ecosystems, between organisms and several unique aspects of Earth – atmosphere, hospitable environment, long-term climate variations, liquid water, gravitation, natural greenhouse effect, plate tectonics, and magnetic field –  is connected with the Solar System and the whole Universe. For example, the conditions that make the Earth temperature generally suitable for organisms, thus determining the planet’s thermal habitability are connected with the Earth’s distant and motion around the Sun, which governs the seasons. The formation of the Earth-Moon system 4.5 billion years ago and the resulting presence of the Moon favored climatic conditions suitable for organisms as well as the effects on organisms of latitudinal, diurnal and seasonal variations in the solar radiation flux reaching the Earth’s surface. The combined effects of the atmospheric and oceanic circulations on the redistribution of heat on the planet. Most of the Earth water, which is essential to organisms, may have been brought from far away in the Solar System, by impacts between protoplanets during the formation of Earth, and/or later by asteroids and comets. Also, chemical elements such as carbon were forged in faraway stars billions of years before the formation of the Sun and Earth.

The history of the Earth atmosphere began shortly after the formation of the Earth-Moon system, and the composition of the atmosphere underwent profound changes during the following 4.5 billion years.  Planet Earth and other astronomical bodies in the Solar System, notably the Sun, have magnetic fields. Interactions between the magnetic fields of Earth and the Sun contribute to protect the Earth’s atmosphere, and the latter shields the liquid water from loss to space. In addition, organisms on continents are largely protected from direct hits by cosmic rays because the magnetic field both shields the atmosphere from most cosmic rays, and protects the atmosphere whose thickness absorbs most of the cosmic radiation that passes the shield.

HABITABILITY

Overall habitability is connected with geological and astronomical events and processes. The extent of the habitable environments of Earth varied during the planet’s history, but never threatened the presence of organisms. However, there were periods when lower habitability caused mass mortality of species, witnessed by the five mass extinctions of the last 500 million years.

The habitability of a planet is its capacity to allow the emergence of organisms. Astronomical and geological conditions concurred to make Earth habitable 4 billion years ago. The respective roles of non-biological and biological characteristics, the non-living and living components of the planet and the roles of organisms and ecosystems maintained the habitability of Earth. Organisms have progressively occupied all the habitats of the planet, diversifying into countless life forms and developing enormous biomasses over the past 3.6 billion years. In this way, organisms and ecosystems took over the Earth System, and thus became major agents in its regulation and global evolution. There was co-evolution of the different components of the Earth System, leading to a number of feedback mechanisms that regulated long-term Earth conditions.

LIFE, ORGANISMS

Organisms are made of chemical elements assembled into increasingly complex organic molecules,  and the connections between life’s building blocks (amino acids) of organisms and gravitation. The latter had major roles in the availability of key biogenic elements in the Universe and the Earth’s environment, and has largely controlled the distribution of chemical elements on the planet since its early history. Gravitation also favors the circulation of chemical elements between different layers of Earth, thus ensuring their long-term availability for ecosystems.

One major component of organisms is their chemical constituents and physical structures, which includes molecules ranging from very simple (a few atoms) to highly complex DNA (more than one billion atoms). Another major component is the genetic information, which is carried by DNA and other nucleic acids. Gravity contributed to the creation of biological this hardware and software by contributing to the formation of chemical elements in the Universe and controlling their distribution on Earth.

The creation of first life was facilitated by processes such as self-organization and autocatalysis as well as synergistic and symbiotic processes, providing ever growing, novel, information. Further complexity and sophistication was partly realized by genetic mutation, and chromosomal reorganization, combined with the selection pressure of the environment. It should be realized here that classical Darwinism did not take  into account a number of crucial factors in evolution: cooperation and symbioses (not only with  regard  to  species  but  also  being  essential  in  cellular  functions),  horizontal  gene  transfer  between species (for instance by viral elements), the role of quantum processes in evolutionary  information processing, empathy as a crucial factor in individual and group survival and, last  but  not  least,  epigenetic  influences  on  gene  expression  through  interaction  with  the  environment. The complexity of ecosystems, the symbiotic and symphonic process by which life creates conditions conducive to life, include the biotic and abiotic components in forests and oceans to deserts and grasslands, and provide a variety of essential services that are critical to the survival, support and evolution of life.

The Anthropocene is a remarkable result of human cultural evolution. Its deep cultural evolutionary roots can be seen through its connections to past human evolutionary transitions, including the evolution of symbolic language, cognition and social institutions and practices, such as agriculture [2–6]. These transitions have set in motion new trajectories through processes, such as multilevel selection and human niche construction, that can be self-reinforcing and have played important roles in the growing scale of human activities. While this growth has delivered large increases in standard of living in many parts of the World, it also comes with its own new set of problems.

WE LIVE IN A BEWILDERING WORLD.

Today’s globally connected systems are characterized by multiple interacting crises spanning the ecological, social, economic and technological domains [11–13]. The interconnected, global challenges of the Anthropocene lead to the question of whether we as humans could be on the verge of being, or already have become, locked into some form of undesirable trajectory with persistent crises and growing negative impacts on human well-being. For millennia, and especially since the Industrial Revolution nearly 300 years ago, humans have gradually transformed the Earth System. Technological developments combined with the large increase in human population have led, in recent decades, to major changes in the Earth’s climate, soils, biodiversity and quality of air and water. After some successes in the 20th century at preventing internationally environmental disasters, human societies are now facing major challenges arising from climate change. Some of these challenges are short-term and others concern the thousand-year evolution of the Earth’s climate. Humans should become the stewards of Earth.

Since the 1980s, key indicators of economic prosperity and societal well-being have ceased to align closely. For decades, macro-indicators of large economies evolved in parallel. But the mid-1980s labor productivity, family income, real GDP per capita, private employment and measures of societal progress began to diverge. While labor productivity continued to grow, median family income stalled. This stagnation in real income has widened an equity gap, fueling a sense of exclusion and social discontent. The current economy is characterized by a second phenomenon: a divergence between the real gross domestic product—the monetary market value of goods and services produced—and any reasonable measure of societal progress. This divergence signals that the production of goods and services is increasingly reliant on the depletion of natural capital. Consequently, our prosperity is eroding the very natural capital it depends on. This results in a concurrent increase in poverty and inequity.

The international system seems directionless, chaotic, and volatile as international values, rules and institutions are largely ignored. Many countries are plagued by slower economic growth, widening societal divisions, and political paralysis. Prioritizing economic growth and a robust trading relationship created an economic interdependence alongside competition over political influence, governance models, technological dominance, and strategic  advantage. Several global economic trends, including rising national debt, a more complex and fragmented trading environment, the global spread of trade in services, new employment disruptions, and the continued rise of powerful firms, are shaping conditions within and between states. The world is fragmented into several economic and security blocs of varying size and strength, centered on the United States, China, the EU, Russia and a few regional powers and focused on self-sufficiency, resiliency, and defense. Information flows within separate cyber-sovereign enclaves, supply chains are reoriented, and international trade is disrupted. Vulnerable developing countries are caught in the middle.

Convergence of the sciences and -nano-info-bio-cogno- technologies can initiate this new renaissance, embodying a holistic view of technology based on transformative tools, the mathematics of complex systems, and unified cause-and-effect understanding of the physical world from the nanoscale to the planetary scale and may transform society, science, economics and human evolution. The key characteristic of NIBC convergence is the fact that it points to the gradual dissolving of the narrow borders between the physical and the biological sciences.

IF HUMANITY IS TO CONTINUE FOR ANOTHER MILLION YEARS, OUR FUTURE LIES IN BOLDLY GOING WHERE NO ONE ELSE HAS GONE BEFORE.
I HOPE FOR THE BEST. I HAVE TO. WE HAVE NO OTHER OPTION.

― Stephen Hawking, Brief Answers to the Big Questions

The world has entered a new era of rapid and major change. Significant shifts are occurring in global economic power, technology, urban growth and through -global- environmental changes that pose existential threats to humanity, such as climate change and the destabilization of the ecosystems on which human life depends. Given current trajectories, transformation of human societies in some form is inevitable. It is, however, not clear whether global transformations can be navigated to avoid catastrophic environmental change and ensure more desirable trajectories of human and non-human life on our planet. Such navigation requires active stewarding of systemic societal, economic and technological change across diverse sectors of society and challenging deeply held assumptions underpinning unequal and environmentally degenerative patterns. Financing transformations, for example, requires transformations in financial systems, while narratives to support transformations require transformations in the way narratives are conceptualized, produced and applied.

With its unprecedented changes in the earth’s geo-and biosphere, the fundamental and irreversible human imprint and impact on natural systems and processes has turned humankind into a geological agent, which has led to term this epoch and state of affairs, the ‘Anthropocene’. Under the techno human condition, anthropogenic-induced environmental change and the domination of the Earth’s ecosystems have reached a global scope and a permanent geological time-scale. Conceptual disconnection and practical alienation from nature, life, the appropriation of (capitalist) desires, and fantasies of constant growth and repeatable progress have gained increasingly ideological traction and power. The earth bio-spherical and socio-ecological metabolism cannot ‘digest’ human interferences, interventions and outputs.

LET’S TALK ABOUT …..

The Earth System is usually defined as a single, planetary-level complex system, with a multitude of interacting biotic and abiotic components, evolved over 4.54 billion years and which has existed in well-defined, planetary-level states with transitions between them. About 3.8 billion years ago, life appeared on Earth, opening a new chapter in the story of the universe. Biological evolution has been a wondrous adventure of tenacity and inventiveness through titanic episodes of extinction and proliferation. Modern humans (Homo sapiens) have effectively been around in the biosphere for some 250 000 years.

The Earth System is driven primarily by solar radiation and is influenced by other extrinsic factors, including changes in orbital parameters and by its own internal dynamics in which the biosphere is a critical component. The earth System is a dynamic integrated system comprised of geosphere, atmosphere, hydrosphere, cryosphere as well as biosphere components and humansphere and Technosphere forcing with nonlinear interactions and feedback loops between and within them. These components can be also regarded as self-regulating systems in their own right, and further broken down into more specialized subsystems. Organisms progressively occupied most environments of the planet, diversifying into countless life forms and developing enormous biomasses. In this way, organisms and ecosystems and became major agents in its regulation and global evolution.

Across the ocean and the continents, the biosphere integrates all living beings, their diversity, and their relationships. There is a dynamic connection between the living biosphere and the broader Earth system, with, as aforementioned,  the atmosphere, the hydrosphere, the lithosphere, the cryosphere, and the climate system. Life in the biosphere is shaped by the global atmospheric circulation, jet streams, atmospheric rivers, water vapor and precipitation patterns, the spread of ice sheets and glaciers, soil formation, upwelling currents of coastlines, the ocean’s global conveyer belt, the distribution of the ozone layer, movements of the tectonic plates, earthquakes, and volcanic eruptions. Water serves as the bloodstream of the biosphere, and the carbon, nitrogen, and other biogeochemical cycles are essential for all life on Earth. The Earth system contains several biophysical sub-systems that can exist in multiple states and which contribute to the regulation of the state of the planet as a whole.  In ecosystems, diverse life forms interact in complex ways that can contribute to the conditions necessary for sustaining life, although these systems are dynamic and subject to change.

THE ANTHROPOSPHERE HAS BECOME AN ADDITIONAL FUNCTIONAL COMPONENT OF EARTH SYSTEM, CAPABLE OF ALTERING EARTH SYSTEM STATE.

Earth’s biophysical systems, ranging from critical biomes (e.g., tropical forests) to ice sheets, and oceanic and atmospheric circulation systems are particularly at risk. Many of these  systems  show  evidence  of  having  multiple  stable states, separated by tipping points with feedback dynamics and interactions (within and between systems) that deter-mine what state they reside in Human societies influence some the large-scale processes of geological, biological, and anthropogenic forcing factors, the climate and biological evolution of the Earth System.  Contrary to biological evolution, which has influenced Earth System processes over tens to hundreds of millions of years, the current anthropogenic perturbations have timescales of at most a few hundred years but their effects may last thousands of years. Major external and internal abiotic processes affect the evolution of the planet, the main steps of biological evolution  and the emergence of negative feedback loops in the Earth System.

Anthropogenic perturbations of the global environment are primarily addressed as if they were separate issues, e.g., climate change, biodiversity loss, or pollution, zoonotic events, etc. This approach ignores these perturbations’ nonlinear interactions and resulting aggregate effects on the overall state of Earth system. Understanding how biosphere, anthroposphere, and geosphere processes interact with one another is a prerequisite for developing reliable projections of possible future Earth system trajectories. A fully process-based understanding of the interactions between these domains is, however, still only partially available and calls for more deeply integrated modeling of Earth system by bringing together currently available evidence for the relevant processes and their interactions from different disciplines and sources.

Earth’s mean temperature is determined primarily by its energy balance, including the key variables of solar insolation (increasing during Earth history), greenhouse gas forcing (broadly decreasing during Earth history) and albedo. The distribution of heat at the Earth’s surface is modified by orbital variations (shape of Earth’s orbit, Earth’s axis is tilt, Earth’s axis of) and paleogeographic patterns driven by tectonics, which in turn can drive feedbacks that lead to whole-Earth changes in albedo or greenhouse gas forcing. Thus, over multi-million-year timescales, Earth’s climate shifts in response to gradual changes in continental configuration, the opening or closing of ocean gateways, and the plate tectonic, which, together, drive long-term changes to the carbon cycle and the biosphere. These long, slow changes modify the effects of solar forcing, not least by changing the balance between sources of CO2 (from volcanic activity) and its sinks (starting with chemical weathering and progressing through sequestration in sediments).

RADIATIVE EQUILIBRIUM

Earth’s heat engine does more than simply move heat from one part of the surface to another; it also moves heat from the Earth’s surface and lower atmosphere back to space. This flow of incoming and outgoing energy is Earth’s energy budget. For Earth’s temperature to be stable over long periods of time, incoming energy and outgoing energy have to be equal. In other words, the energy budget at the top of the atmosphere must balance.

The climate system is integral to all other components of the Earth system, through heat exchange in the ocean, albedo dynamics of the ice sheets, carbon sinks in terrestrial ecosystems, cycles of nutrients and pollutants, and climate forcing through evapotranspiration flows in the hydrological cycle and greenhouse pollutants. Together these interactions in the Earth system interplay with the heat exchange from the sun and the return flow back to space, but also in significant ways with biosphere-climate feedbacks that either mitigate or amplify global warming. These global dynamics interact with regional environmental systems (like El Niño–Southern Oscillation or the monsoon system) that have innate patterns of climate variability and also interact with one another via teleconnections. The living organisms of the planet’s ecosystems play a significant role in these complex dynamics.

The natural greenhouse effect has kept the Earth temperature suitable for organisms since their appearance on the planet. The suitable temperatures allowed biomasses to build up, and organisms to progressively take over the Earth System. The natural greenhouse effect is connected with the Earth geological activity. Plate tectonics is a very special  characteristic of Earth, which has major effects on the long-term functioning of the Earth System. It affects the recycling and sequestration (long-term storage in natural reservoirs) of carbon and other chemical elements used by organisms. A wide range of organisms help to cycle carbon back to the atmosphere. Plants stabilize the land and limit physical weathering (erosion) from wind and water and simultaneously contribute to chemical weathering of rocks by changing the acidity of the soil. The chemical alteration of continental and seafloor silicate rocks is a key process that controls the concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide in the long-term, and thus the global climate. The latter is also affected by volcanic activity at different timescales. Earth’s habitability depends on the long-term natural greenhouse effect.

CRITICAL THRESSHOLDS

For more than 3 billion years, interactions between the geosphere (energy flow and nonliving materials in Earth and atmosphere) and biosphere (all living organisms/ecosystems) have controlled global environmental conditions. As the Earth system’s state changed in response to forcings generated by external perturbations (e.g., solar energy input and bolide strikes) or internal processes in the geosphere (e.g., plate tectonics and volcanism) or biosphere (e.g., evolution of photosynthesis and rise of vascular plants). These forcings were processed through interactions and feedbacks among processes and systems within Earth system, shaping its often complex overall response. The Earth system components have a critical threshold beyond which a system reorganizes (tipping elements) are critical in maintaining the planet in favorable Holocene-like conditions. To stay within biophysical limits there are the non-negotiable planetary preconditions that humanity needs to respect in order to avoid the risk of deleterious or even catastrophic environmental change at continental to global scales. These thresholds are defined as non-linear transitions in the functioning of coupled human–environmental systems and are intrinsic features of those systems and are often defined by a position along one or more control variables. These are now challenged, threatening to trigger self-reinforcing feedbacks and cascading effects, beyond which changes become self-sustaining — ultimately causing the whole Earth system to shift into a new state possibly hostile to life in its current forms. By example, deforestation in the Amazon Rainforest may have knock-on effects for the climate in distant regions, potentially pushing key elements of the global climate system — on the Tibetan Plateau and the West Antarctic Ice Sheet — closer to climatic tipping points that could be catastrophic for humanity and our planet’s biodiversity.

BOUNDARIES AND TIPPING POINTS

The relatively stable, 11,700-year-long Holocene epoch is the only state of the Earth System that we know for certain can support contemporary human societies. Anthropogenic pressures on the Earth System have reached a scale where abrupt global environmental change can no longer be excluded. Despite some natural environmental fluctuations over the past 10 000 years (e.g., rainfall patterns, vegetation distribution, nitrogen cycling), Earth has remained within the Holocene stability domain. The resilience of the planet has kept it within the range of variation associated with the Holocene state, with key biogeochemical and atmospheric parameters fluctuating within a relatively narrow range. At the same time, marked changes in regional system dynamics have occurred over that period. Although the imprint of early human activities can sometimes be seen at the regional scale (e.g., altered fire regimes, megafauna extinctions), there is no clear evidence that humans have affected the functioning of the Earth System at the global scale until very recently. However, since the industrial revolution (the advent of the Anthropocene), humans are effectively pushing the planet outside the Holocene range of variability for many key Earth System processes.

There are the non-negotiable planetary preconditions that humanity needs to respect in order to avoid the risk of deleterious or even catastrophic environmental change at continental to global scales. These boundaries / thresholds are defined as non-linear transitions in the functioning of coupled human–environmental systems and are intrinsic features of those systems and are often defined by a position along one or more control variables.

Boundaries define the safe operating space identified by. Apart from the climate system, there is scant evidence to support the view that global aggregates like biodiversity, chemical cycles, or resource extraction have planetary thresholds that define the boundaries of a global safe operating space and define the bio-chemophysical realities of critical natural thresholds that need to be respected.

There are planetary boundaries identified that cover the  global biogeochemical cycles of nitrogen, phosphorus, carbon and water; the major physical circulation systems of the planet (climate change, stratosphere, ocean systems);  the biophysical features of Earth that contribute to the underlying resilience of its self-regulatory capacity (marine and terrestrial biodiversity, land systems, genetic diversity, functional integrity); and critical features associated with anthropogenic global change (aerosol loading, Interhemispheric difference; novel entities chemical pollution).

All are presently heavily perturbed by human activities and the majority of boundaries are transgressed.

UNNOTICED, UNSEEN

Special attention is needed for the most abused ecosystem of the planet, used as a global garbage dump. The ocean is a vast three-dimensional environment that is constantly in motion, creating and maintaining differences at different scales. The physical and chemical characteristics of the ocean, specifically the importance of temperature and salinity, but also the influence of Earth’s rotation, which affects ocean circulation carrying heat energy to different parts of the globe and transferring energy to the atmosphere, play an extremely large role in global and respective regional climates. Not to misunderstand the intrinsic value of biodiversity and various biological and physical processes that transfer carbon to the deep ocean where it can be stored. At the surface and beneath these currents, gyres and eddies play a crucial role in physically shaping the coasts and ocean bottom; in transporting and mixing energy, chemicals and other materials within and among ocean basins; and in sustaining countless plants and animals that rely on the oceans for life—including humans.

Also neglected is the Tibetan Plateau -3th Pole- which plays a substantial role in the global climate system by affecting atmospheric circulation and driving weather patterns, such as the Asian summer monsoon, around the planet. And in turn, climate crucially influences the plateau. A projected warmer and wetter climate will affect the region’s glaciers, snow cover, permafrost, runoff, and vegetation, affecting ecosystems locally and globally. The plateau feeds a vast network of rivers, which together make up Asia’s ‘water tower providing water to nearly 40% of the world’s population.

Soil is the top layer of the Earth’s crust and is composed of a mixture of water, gases, minerals and organic matter. It is where 95% of the planet’s food is grown yet it has historically been left out of wider debates about nature protections. Soil organisms mediate unique functions we rely on: It recycles nutrients, sequesters carbon, is fundamental to biodiversity, helps keep our ecosystems in balance and is an essential part for the production of food, fiber, and human and planetary health. Soil is likely home to 59% ± 15% of life including everything from microbes to mammals, making it the singular most biodiverse habitat on Earth. although soil represents the difference between survival and extinction for most terrestrial life, human activities have caused it harm leading to compaction, loss of structure, nutrient degradation, increasing salinity and denuding landscapes. 33% of soil is already degraded around the world, about 3.2 billion people worldwide are currently suffering from degraded soils.

There is more to soil; trees in a forest might look solitary but they are connected underground by a complex network of thread-like strands of fungi. Mycorrhizas are fungi associated with the root systems of many plants including trees, shrubs, groundcovers and grasses. These relationships are mutually symbiotic. The resulting system of interconnected tree roots is called a common mycorrhizal network. Among other things, the fungi can take up from the soil, and transfer to the tree, nutrients that roots could not otherwise access. In return, fungi receive from the roots sugars they need to grow. As fungal filaments spread out through -forest- soil, they will often physically connect and these relationships extend beyond individual trees etc to form a complex network of underground communication and cooperation.

Animal populations and whole species are declining across the tree of life, making the Anthropocene defaunation crisis one of the most alarming syndromes of human impacts on environments globally. Biological annihilation, a mass extinction at the genus level with massive potential harms to human society. Interest -public and scientific- has focused on extinctions of species but recent studies found entire genera (the plural of genus) are vanishing as well, a mutilation of the tree of life putting a big dent in the evolution of life on the planet. When a species dies out, other species in its genus can often fill at least part of its role in the ecosystem. And because those species carry much of their extinct cousin’s genetic material, they also retain much of its evolutionary potential. But when entire genera goes extinct it is a loss of biodiversity that can take tens of millions of years to regrow through the evolutionary process of speciation. Climate disruption is accelerating extinction, and extinction is interacting with the climate, because the nature of the plants, animals, and microbes on the planet is one of the big determinants of what kind of climate we have.

Whether species and their populations can survive the Anthropocene defaunation will depend on their intrinsic traits, their adaptive potential, and also the research and management we dedicate towards preventing their disappearance. Based on the signals of the current biodiversity crisis, the time to recognize this phenomenon as occurring has already passed, and now is the pivotal time to protect the future integrity of biodiversity, and thereby the persistence of humanity.

FUNDAMENTAL STAGE

Regarding the biosphere the Earth may be approaching a fundamental stage of evolution because of a wide range of human pressures. The contemporary biosphere differs significantly from previous stages of evolution due to many anthropogenic modifications and perturbations. These include global homogenization of flora and fauna; human appropriation of 25–40% of net primary production (likely to increase along with population growth); extensive use of fossil fuels to break through photosynthetic energy barriers; human-directed evolution of other species; and increasing interaction of the biosphere with technological systems.

Tipping points exist across the Earth including the cryosphere (ice-bound domains), biosphere (the living world), ocean and atmosphere. Pressure beyond a threshold causes them to shift to a very different state, often abruptly or irreversibly, as a result of self-sustaining feedbacks – they pass a tipping point. Tipping points occur when components of a system change rapidly due an initial forcing that is amplified by positive feedbacks, resulting in a regime shift. This threshold behavior is often based on self-reinforcing processes which, once tipped, can continue without further external forcing. The transition resulting from the exceedance of a system-specific tipping point can be either abrupt or gradual. Crossing single tipping points has severe impacts on the environment and threatens the livelihood of many people. There is also the risk that, through feedback loops, further tipping points in the Earth System are reached and a domino-like chain reaction is initiated.

Complex co-drivers, interactions, and feedbacks are destabilizing tipping points, including climate change for most as well as habitat loss (e.g. deforestation), nutrient pollution and air pollution for some.

Tipping points represent critical thresholds that divide the desirable and undesirable regimes in the Earth system and undermine critical life-support systems with significant societal impact already felt. tipping points.

Several tipping points are likely in the cryosphere, at a large scale in ice sheets and on a more local scale in permafrost and glaciers. In the biosphere, evidence for regime shifts and tipping points exist in many ecosystems such as in tropical forests, savannas, drylands, lakes, coral reefs and fisheries, and are often spatially complex. Tipping points in ocean circulation and monsoons are also likely to exist, but the proximity of their thresholds are subject to high uncertainty.

  • In the cryosphere, six Earth system tipping points are identified, including large-scale tipping points for the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets. Localized tipping points likely exist for glaciers and permafrost thaw. Evidence for large-scale tipping dynamics in sea ice and permafrost is limited.
  • In the biosphere, 16 Earth system tipping points are identified, including forest dieback (e.g. in the Amazon), savanna and dryland degradation, lake eutrophication, die-off of coral reefs, mangroves, and seagrass meadows, and fishery collapse.
  • In ocean and atmosphere circulations, four Earth system tipping points are identified, in the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), the North Atlantic Subpolar Gyre (SPG), the Southern Ocean Overturning Circulation and the West African monsoon.

Some Earth system tipping points could be very close already. Major tipping systems are already at risk of crossing tipping points at the current levels of global warming: the Greenland and West Antarctic Ice Sheets, the North Atlantic subpolar gyre circulation, warm-water coral reefs and some permafrost regions. Boreal forests, mangroves and seagrass meadows are three additional systems that could be at risk of tipping in the 2030s. Coral reefs and some ice sheets could tip at current warming levels, and other systems’ thresholds will soon be reached on current warming trends.

RECAP, A VOLATILE RISK LANDSCAPE IN A LOW COOPERATION WORLD

The world is undergoing multiple long-term structural transformations: the rise of technological convergencies, the aforementioned weakened and vulnerable Earth Systems, a shift in the geopolitical distribution of power, and demographic transitions. Weakened systems only require the smallest shock to edge past the tipping point of resilience.

Current climate change and biosphere degradation could cause fundamental changes in key elements of the Earth system, with far-reaching impacts for billions of people around the world. These impacts include accelerated sea-level rise, changing weather patterns and reduced agricultural yields, with the potential to trigger negative social tipping points leading to violent conflict or the collapse of political institutions. Tipping elements are, as aforementioned, not separate entities, they are closely linked: triggering one tipping point in the Earth system or in human societies could in turn destabilize another tipping system, making tipping cascades possible.

Collectively overshooting the planetary boundaries, protecting Earth’s life-supporting systems effects the minimum social foundation necessary to ensure that no one is deprived of life’s essentials represented by: physiological needs water, food, shelter, energy, clean air. Safety and security represented by: personal health, education, income & work, peace & justice, political voice, social equity, gender equality, networks and therefore a just distribution of resources. Global tension and corrosive socioeconomic vulnerabilities can (will) be amplified in the near term, with looming concerns about an economic downturn resurgent risks such as inner and interstate armed conflicts. Resource stress, economic hardship and weakened state capacity will likely grow and, in turn, fuel conflict as well. High-stakes hotspots undermine global security, and may fuel a combustible environment in which new and existing hostilities are more likely to ignite. The internationalization of conflicts by a wider set of alternate powers will accelerate multipolarity and the risk of inadvertent escalation.

There are tipping points that transcend business-as-usual thinking within its infinite growth paradigm, mechanistic and reductionistic methods, techno-solutionist approaches riddled with hubris and greenwashing & myopic, disconnected narratives that are lacking contextual and collective relevance.

To even try to comprehend the (near) future it’s vital to consider the complex interplay between the various factors -key  elements- that influence the trajectory of our global society. Focused on primary variables, it’s important to remember that these factors don’t operate in isolation. Instead, they are profoundly interconnected and can create feedback loops that amplify or mitigate specific outcomes and must acknowledge the inherent uncertainty in forecasting the future, as unforeseen technological advancements, policy changes, and shifts in global cooperation could significantly alter the outcome. By maintaining a holistic perspective and acknowledging the dynamic nature of our world, we can better appreciate the potential risks and opportunities that these predictions present, ultimately empowering world leaders to make informed decisions for a more sustainable and resilient future.

NOW WHAT?

The coming decades will witness a fundamental transformation of the human presence and impact on Earth. We are at a bi-furcation point in our species evolutionary trajectory. It we continue on the path we are on we will create an increasingly technologically dependent species that aims to solve the problems of its own making by doing more of the same, thereby only exacerbating them until we hit the bio-physical limits of rising energy and materials demand.

While this disruption is inevitable only by transforming our very core way of seeing and understanding the world will we navigate a transition in a way that elevates humanity to new heights while avoiding societal breakdown. This era can also be characterized by a tightly interconnected world operating at high speeds with hyper-efficiency in several dimensions confronts us with a deep structural crisis induced by its contradictions and limitations: perpetual growth on a finite planet, political fragmentation in an interdependent world, widening chasms between the privileged and the excluded, and a stifling culture of consumerism. Feedbacks are everywhere: environmental stress exacerbates poverty and incites conflict, thereby threatening economic stability; economic instability weakens efforts to protect nature and reduce poverty; desperate underclasses degrade the environment and seek access to affluent countries, exciting backlash that undercuts geoeconomics cooperation. Multiple interweaving threads of connectivity lengthen, strengthen, and thicken, forming the ligature of an integrated social-ecological system. A macro-shift in the human condition is underway with implications as far-reaching as those of previous great transformations.

Achieving sustainability often requires balancing competing priorities and making trade-offs between economic, social, and environmental goals. This can be challenging, as different stakeholders may have conflicting interests, making it difficult to find comprehensive and universally acceptable solutions. While sustainable development set a good precedent, it is evident that it is not enough anymore. Resilience focuses on the capacity to withstand and recover from shocks and stress, prioritizing short-to medium-term responses and recovery of mainstream economic interests.

Does the monumental global task to restore degraded ecosystems need to include sophisticated technologies to understand and support the regeneration and evolution of complex biospheres?

A new and symbiotic relationship between nature, technology and society. Symbiosis as an interdisciplinary social- nature / ecological-technology (Deep Tech) framework to understand and guide the development of regenerative ‘biotech’ cities.

The redesign of societies so that they are bioregionally self-sufficient, due to both mounting external pressures as well as novel socio-material capacities, is a way to create thriving communities. A renewed emphasis on living in reciprocity with our local places, their ecosystems and bio-geo-physical realities. The emergence of networks of distributed human systems that are situated within their bioregional ecological systems would be a fundamental shift to the way our societies are presently organized. As aforementioned deregulated extractivist models of development that currently underpin a majority of modern societies globally are continuing to fuel the rampant externalization of social and environmental costs — some of the most urgent symptoms of which include the climate crisis, the sixth mass extinction and unprecedented global wealth inequality. The capacity for distributed production coupled with a globally connected network of knowledge sharing turns economic relocalization into a paradigm-shifting proposition. With the globally connected network affording the existence of countless online communities for skill sharing and open-source design, the development of local circular economies for food, water, energy and materials is not stifled for innovation as it might have been previously.

FINALLY, THE CLOSING REMARKS

Ontologically, epistemologically and practically, the Anthropocene challenges the traditional distinctions that are separating nature from culture that is from cultural structures, and the order of approaches and knowledge about the world and social practices. Nature has been and is domesticated, technologized and capitalized in a way that it even cannot any longer be considered as what was used to be called ‘natural’. Whereas nature is ‘humanized’ in the sense of anthropo- and socio-genic practices, these same practices are normalized or ‘naturalized’ and thus understood as part of ‘natural’ occurrences. Realizing humanity’s material dependence, embodiment, and the fragility of beings including human ones calls for rethinking and reimagining those traditional assumptions and myth about the autonomy-based self-contained and rational subject that commences and terminates with itself. The challenge will be developing a different alternative approach. This would be one that processes differences sensitively, and simultaneously is more inclusive concerning the very status of the entangled material-based and the human-mediated spheres seen in a newly understood and enacted continuum of the natural and cultural life and its worlds. The degree of stabilization of biospheric change equivalent to that needed to stabilize the climate system would require ecosystem restoration and careful stewardship, a rapid reduction in the extinction rate, innovative approaches to agricultural production, full recycling of nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus and other materials, the spread of living (green) infrastructure in urban areas, and so on.

Humankind and nature each indisputably possess agency, and clearly the evolution of technology for several millennia has greatly enhanced human agency. Technology has become more than just an instrument used by humans in their relationship with nature. Humanity’s embrace of the market economy and its evolution into corporate capitalism has resulted in immensely complex technological artifacts and systems that, to those who do not have any way to exert control or power in its face, may well seem beyond human control.

Society is confronted by rapidly rising risks of triggering irreversible and increasingly unmanageable Earth system–wide impacts and persistent shifts in life support systems. This requires a new approach to safeguard Earth’s critical bio-physical systems that contribute to regulate planetary resilience and livability on Earth. This approach must be fully in sync with Anthropocene dynamics and the most recent scientific evidence of eroding planetary resilience. It must simultaneously  recognize  the  integrated  nature  of  the  Earth system and the importance of its functions to sustain planetary resilience, while creating obligations for planetary stewardship and addressing injustices

Consequently, the existential human challenge is to cultivate a regenerative world, not simply to fix what we have broken. Humanity’s erratic response to the current crisis  does not offer a hopeful sign that we can resolve much larger crises such as climate change. Humanity must imagine and work toward futures that do not solely rely on technological fixes. If we cannot cultivate a sustainable world, our future portends more crises for humanity as well as for nature.

It requires a fundamental change in the nature of the anthroposphere, so that its dynamics become more synergistic with those of the biosphere. Yet even this dramatic shift could not undo the past alteration of the biosphere relative to the Holocene, an alteration that already represents a regime shift in the Earth System.

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