Friday, 6 January 2017

Rankings, Remedies and Requiems

Bluey here,

In eight appointments with my seven specialists, I've had six disappointments. But what an incredible experience. Humbling to my inner core—I'd never realised how committed doctors were to unveiling the true state of my health. It's not just been about doctors though, I've learnt about myself and most importantly, all my biotic inhabitants down on my surface, especially humans.

When I met Dr Steffen three months ago, I figured I had a slight temperature and possibly a few other ailments. If I'd known about my PBs then, I would've ranked them as follows according to 'Three-months ago'. I now rank them according to 'Today':

                   Three-months ago:
              1                    Climate Change Climate Change
              2                    Ocean Acidification Biodiversity
              3                    Stratospheric Ozone Depletion         Freshwater Use
              4                    Land-system Change Biogeochemical Flows
              5                    Freshwater Use Land-system Change
              6                    Biodiversity Ocean Acidification
              7                    Biogeochemical Flows Stratospheric Ozone Depletion

The urgency of addressing Biodiversity, Freshwater Use and Biogeochemical Flows—especially—mustn't be underestimated or swept under the Climate Change rug. Nor should Land-system change—especially with respect to maintaining temporal/boreal forest coverage—or ignoring the state of my 'Great Barrier Teeth'.

Just as Dr Schlesinger is sceptical of the utility of 'Planetary Boundaries' as a concept (I met him yesterday and will discuss his opinion shortly), it's important not to get too carried away with amorphous 'rankings', but they are illustrative. Above all, I've come to appreciate how interrelated each PB is with one another. For example, Land-system Change has deep ties to Climate Change and Freshwater Use is intimately connected with Biodiversity, as highlighted by the devastating decline in my freshwater vertebrate species. Biogeochemical Flows of phosphorous/nitrogen impact freshwater biodiversity and catalyses terrestrial-coastline eutrophication, Stratospheric Ozone depletion subtly affects climate, while recent Ocean Acidification is a product of increased CO2 in my atmosphere, which also drives the recent flux in climate. Future remedies, if they ever come, must address all of these PBs collectively.

Another emerging theme has been the regional-global dynamic of many of my PBs. For example, I've learnt that problems associated with my Biogeochemical flows could be averted if fertilisers were distributed across my surface in a less concentrated fashion. Similarly, at the regional level, Freshwater Security could be enhanced by alleviating stress in highly-volatile downstream regions, just as regional biodiversity could be protected by respecting the proper functioning of freshwater ecosystem services. I also learnt that non-linear change has been somewhat overstated in the Land-system Change PB, which is mostly regional, with little evidence of global teleconnection.

The elephant in the room throughout all this, of course, has been that this diagnosis has been more about humans than it has been about me. As mentioned in previous posts, I should be fine. But having sat through specialist after specialist, I've a vested interest in how humans manage me from here. Why? Three main reasons:

  1. Runaway climate change: No offence to Venus.
  2. Human nuclear event: Not keen on a Permian-Triassic extinction event or worse. We've all come too far. Water security and climate change must be abated to decrease potential political tensions.
  3. Biodiversity bottlenecks: Humans are inherently solipsistic.

Dr Schlesinger questions the value of thresholds, warning the "setting of boundaries is fine, but waiting to act until [humans] approach these limits merely allows [humans] to continue with [their] bad habits until it's too late to change them". However, from my planetary perspective, I believe they are of great value as humans can relate to thresholds. Unlike the narratively impaired PB of Climate Change, I've found my metaphor.

Emergency Operations?

I've heard the rumours and Dr IPCC even mentioned it recently. So for the record, if given the choice between Solar Radiation Management (SRM) and Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS), I'd prefer neither. Humans beware. But if it comes to it, and something tells me it might, BECCS does seem to be the least invasive.

Yours for awhile,
Your Pale Blue Dot


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