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Earth Approaching Tipping Point Say Scientists 759

Hugh Pickens writes "The UC Berkeley News Center reports that a prestigious group of 22 internationally known scientists from around the world is warning that population growth, widespread destruction of natural ecosystems, and climate change may be driving Earth toward an irreversible change in the biosphere, a planet-wide tipping point that would have destructive consequences absent adequate preparation and mitigation. 'It really will be a new world, biologically, at that point,' warns lead author Anthony Barnosky. 'The data suggests that there will be a reduction in biodiversity and severe impacts on much of what we depend on to sustain our quality of life, including, for example, fisheries, agriculture, forest products and clean water. This could happen within just a few generations.' The authors note that studies of small-scale ecosystems show that once 50-90 percent of an area has been altered, the entire ecosystem tips irreversibly into a state far different from the original, in terms of the mix of plant and animal species and their interactions. Humans have already converted about 43 percent of the ice-free land surface of the planet to uses like raising crops and livestock and building cities. This situation typically is accompanied by species extinctions and a loss of biodiversity. 'My view is that humanity is at a crossroads now, where we have to make an active choice,' says Barnosky. 'One choice is to acknowledge these issues and potential consequences and try to guide the future (in a way we want to). The other choice is just to throw up our hands and say, 'Let's just go on as usual and see what happens.'"
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Earth Approaching Tipping Point Say Scientists

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  • Just coincidence? I think not...

    • by Zero__Kelvin ( 151819 ) on Thursday June 07, 2012 @08:16PM (#40251581) Homepage
      It would have been nice if you provided a link [] or two [].
    • FYI,
      They showed us a movie in Jr High, about this same thing. We were being warned of the immenent human-driven catastrophe that would subsume our civilization and imperil human existance.

      That was 1977.

      I suggest that if 1% of the planet's human inhabitants did not disproportionatley gobble and discard 90% of the wealth, resources and energy, that there'd be plenty to go around in a reasonably sustainable way - and quite comfortably.

      Watch out when you are propagandized like this. Once you accept that this is "Science" - they will present you the "solution". It will be a complete horror.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Watch out when you are propagandized like this

        And your scientific evidence that this group of scientists are lying is where exactly? Because when you call their conclusions "propaganda", like Fox News, then you're accusing them of lying.

        The Earth's load limit is 5 billion and we're over 7 billion already. There aren't enough resources to go around no matter how you divide it.

        • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 07, 2012 @08:57PM (#40251969)

          The Earth's load limit is 5 billion and we're over 7 billion already. There aren't enough resources to go around no matter how you divide it.

          What kind of "science" gave you that conclusion?

          Recent estimates indicate that there are enough raw materials in the earth's crust to last another 10,000 years of advancing civilization. Just because we have historically only mined the top ½ mile of the earth's crust does not mean that we will not develop new ways to reach natural resources. The beauty of the future is that it does not have to be restricted based on our current technological inabilities. It is organic, adaptable as situations change. In 1950, nobody thought we would be able to sustain a planet with four billion people. By 1980, not only had we surpassed that number, but we also improved world average life expectancy and were agriculturally productive in places that had been barren wasteland before. Do not limit the potential for our children based on the archaic limitations that we face today.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            The beauty of the future

            will be the five mile mining pit where your national parks used to be, apparently.

          • by TapeCutter ( 624760 ) on Thursday June 07, 2012 @10:50PM (#40252755) Journal
            The same argument works in the opposite direction, the guy who 'discovered' AGW 100yrs ago thought it would take thousands of years for man to double the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere (he was way off because he used 1896 figures and assumed they would remain fairly static). There is no doubt that up to this point the industrial revolution has been benifitial to mankind, there is also no doubt that it has resulted in the sixth great exitinction. Sure you can forge ahead and keep ignoring the unintended cosequences that are right under your nose but why court disaster when you have a choice?

            Do not limit the potential for our children based on the archaic limitations that we face today.

            Yes, that's the whole point of TFA, degredation of the environment is a limiting factor not just for our current civilization but for all forms of life. The question is, do we continue to act like fermenting yeast in a jar, or do we use our brains and do something about it?

          • by F34nor ( 321515 ) on Thursday June 07, 2012 @11:57PM (#40253147)

            Bullshit. Food and water are it. Who cares about uranium when you are starving to death? The reality is that all our food is currently produced by using fossil fuels which Hubbard's curve indicates are either past their peak or approaching it rapidly. His math for the US was spot on and the best predictor of future performance is past performance. Watch "Arithmetic, Population and Energy" by Al Bartlett. Your estimates do not account for growth. Also watch or listen to David Suzuki's talk about growth and resources; anything that grows will double, anything that grows will exhaust its resources, even if we could quantumly duplicate earth twice one more doubling and the second earth is exhausted, the second doubling and all four are exhausted. You have no fucking idea what you are talking about and are not the least bit insightful. The argument that past scientists were wrong about the date is in fact a straw man argument and not deserving of any consideration. Math is the master here and she is an unforgiving mistress.

            • by Daetrin ( 576516 ) on Friday June 08, 2012 @01:19AM (#40253553)
              Actually energy and economics are it. We can make more fresh water and fossil fuels, and thus more food, if we have enough energy and the will to do it. (And we can even turn waste into fossil fuel at a "net energy gain." (As opposed to just throwing the waste away that is.))

              You're right that anything that grows will exhaust its resources but you're missing two key points. First, humans tend to expand the amount of resources at their disposal through new technology. Second, in general the first world is no longer experiencing population growth.

              It is thus conceivable that we could expand our resources enough to get everyone up to a first world standard of living and thereby achieve a steady state population. I'm not saying this will be easy, just that disaster is not foreordained. (Well, outside the heat death of the universe anyways, but we might even figure that one out if we last long enough =)
        • Wrong. over population is a myth [].

      • you do understand that the "1%" (man im sick of that term being thrown around but i digress) who use said 90% of the wealth resources and energy,(id like to see a source on that) they are getting those things, from the ground and sun. it benefits all of us. take away their ability to get us the oil, or silicon, or and than what do we have?
      • by vux984 ( 928602 ) on Thursday June 07, 2012 @09:48PM (#40252317)

        We were being warned of the immenent human-driven catastrophe that would subsume our civilization and imperil human existance. That was 1977.

        When a problem is described as "irreversible within a few GENERATIONS" then talking about it as something that's happening now, even over a 30+ year spread is perfectly valid.

      • by IonOtter ( 629215 ) on Thursday June 07, 2012 @10:24PM (#40252581) Homepage

        Yes, because planet Earth is just like Hollywood, and changes to the planet don't actually happen over a period of centuries, they take place over a period of a week, with massive tidal waves and reverse hurricanes freezing people solid in three seconds flat.

      • by GrahamCox ( 741991 ) on Thursday June 07, 2012 @10:28PM (#40252619) Homepage
        They showed us a movie in Jr High, about this same thing. We were being warned of the immenent human-driven catastrophe that would subsume our civilization and imperil human existance.

        That was 1977.

        On a geological timescale, that was about 2 seconds ago. Just because nothing much has happened in that 2 seconds doesn't mean it was wrong.
      • by gandhi_2 ( 1108023 ) on Thursday June 07, 2012 @10:57PM (#40252805) Homepage

        Except that the bottom 90% are having 2x as many babies as the rest.

        We could all be forced to "share", and in the end, the breeders will still ruin everything.

        Unless of course, the same benevolent dictator that "shares" our property back to us also dictates who has kids and when.

        Your "solution" doesn't sound all that appealing to me.

      • by 1u3hr ( 530656 )

        Watch out when you are propagandized like this. Once you accept that this is "Science"

        Right. Don't believe any of this "science" crap. It's obviously all a scheme by a bunch of atheists who want to use the United Nations to install Al Gore as President-for-Life and take away all your guns and SUVs.

        If it were true, why isn't it in the Bible? Those commies can't answer that, can they.

      • That 1% you are talking about are Americans. I am an American. I have a place to live, a computer, and a car. Should I give them up? I am taking up too many resources right? I am guessing people in Germany, and Australia do not live inside, nor do they travel to and from work? People in Japan have fairies transport them and provide electricity for the evil earth killing computers?

        I sincerely would like to know how I am any different than any of them. I would also like to know how my energy usage is 90% more

  • Choice B it is (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Grishnakh ( 216268 ) on Thursday June 07, 2012 @08:12PM (#40251517)

    I'm sure we're going to pick Choice B, "throw up our hands and say, 'Let's just go on as usual and see what happens.'" Choice A would require some serious coordinated effort from all the world's industrialized nations, and there's absolutely no way that's ever going to happen.

    • Hey, we're still here, aren't we?

      Apocalyptic visions of the future seems to be a human pastime. Ignoring them seems to be the other human pastime.

      • by bunratty ( 545641 ) on Thursday June 07, 2012 @08:54PM (#40251935)
        I see people driving dangerously all the time and I realize the driver is thinking "Hey, I've done this hundreds of times before and it's never been a problem." And they're right. Until the one time they're not right. Then it's too late. I don't think getting away with something many times is an excuse to keep doing it. People die that way every day.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        The thing is, many predictions do come true. Sometimes we engineer around them, as we do when we build cities where we are told by scientists not to, like flood plains or earthquake zones. Sometimes we don't and end up paying the price through the loss of homes and industry and lives. Global warming may have bigger uncertainties involved, but we will end up paying the price if it's true and we fail to act on those predictions. Indeed, we may already be paying the price through political instability and mass

      • by zmooc ( 33175 ) <(zmooc) (at) (> on Friday June 08, 2012 @07:27AM (#40255091) Homepage

        Ignoring them? We very successfully mitigated the acid rain problem, water pollution problems and dioxine pollution problems of the 70s and 80s. In my youth, forests were full of dead trees and swimming in large rivers was a big no-no. Nowadays forests are back to being green and nearly all surface water is ok to swim in again.

        In the mean time China is rather successfully countering the growth of its population, Germany recently ran a full day on 50% solar power, other countries are producing their energy by durable means with an ever increasing pace, water desalination is slowly replacing natural sources, cars are getting more efficient every day, recycling is quickly becoming a profitable industry and in some countries forested area is actually increasing.

        We're slowly but steadily steering to towards the right path, partially because it is economically sound, partially by not ignoring scientific predictions of apocalyptic scenarios. If we successfully counteract the massive deforestation going on in rainforests, there's actually a chance of humanity getting on a sustainable track before it really is too late.

  • Yeah (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Dunbal ( 464142 ) * on Thursday June 07, 2012 @08:19PM (#40251615)
    Good luck with that. Humans will continue plodding along exactly the same as they always have, until they start dying off suddenly once the reserve is gone and some minor catastrophe or other strikes that is just too much to deal with, pushing everyone over the edge. After all that's how disease happens. You're fine until the day you're not. This will happen because everyone thinks it's someone else's problem. Witness people - not even only lower class uneducated peasants but middle class supposedly educated people - gladly boasting of having 5 or more kids even today. Now consider the undevelopped world parts of which are still growing at rates like 6% (which means doubling in size every 12 years). I'd say a few generations is too generous.
  • No need to worry (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Nidi62 ( 1525137 ) on Thursday June 07, 2012 @08:27PM (#40251687)
    Everything will correct itself. Once things get real bad, there will be large scale fighting which will kill off a fairly significant number of people which should bring us to the balance needed. Nature is self-correcting after all.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 07, 2012 @09:13PM (#40252083)

      Everything will correct itself. Once things get real bad, there will be large scale fighting which will kill off a fairly significant number of people which should bring us to the balance needed. Nature is self-correcting after all.

      Maybe, but then again you may not like the results from nature correcting itself.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by longk ( 2637033 )

        Maybe, but then again one may also not like the results of government trying to correct nature.

        At least when nature corrects itself we can be sure it was really necessary and not purely for personal gain.

    • There is no doubt that "everything will correct itself". This isn't up for debate.

      What's up for debate is how will the correction happen. The whole point of this is in whose terms will this correction happen: will this be in humanity's good terms, by limiting growth and guaranteeing access to limited resources, will it be in humanity's bad terms, with wars for stuff such as access to food and drinking water and the accompanying indiscriminate killing of very large numbers of people, or will it be in natur

  • by Nutria ( 679911 ) on Thursday June 07, 2012 @08:36PM (#40251759)

    Someone has been reading too much Science Fiction and not enough History.

    What other country besides the PRC could successfully implement a one-child policy? (Even then, it's fertility rate is 1.7.)

    Huge-scale genocide or pandemic are the only solutions to getting the population down to a more manageable 4Bn.

  • A call for sanity... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Genda ( 560240 ) <> on Thursday June 07, 2012 @08:40PM (#40251821) Journal

    This is a call for sanity. We need to appreciate, accept, and design for the best and the worst that human beings are prone to and for. The genius of the American form of Government was checks and balances (before greedy self serving people removed them.) We need to understand that there are conflicting interests, belief systems and human enterprises and we need to account for them all.

    There must be a sane position between human desire and human need. We need to find and develop that position. We need to evaluate our behavior and our beliefs against hard physical reality and abandon philosophies which are fundamentally bankrupt and ideologies which are inherently self destructive. We can't react our way out of this problem. We need to come together embracing our differences and honoring our distinctiveness. Together we must pick a target, an inspiring and achievable future that serves both the human condition, and the future condition for life on the planet. The problem is not and has never been about life. Life can't be stopped. Its about a world capable of sustaining complex higher lifeforms capable of intelligence. We are an apex species. Destroy the habitat and our numbers will collapse (its happened before, at one time the human population dwindled to less than 5,000.)

    That said, we must not let the Plutarchs push the vast majority of humanity off the edge. There is clear indication that education is transformative. Bring knowledge to superstition, starvation, plague and famine, and life improves instantly. Where there is education the natural environment is seen as a value outside of its ability to be burned or eaten. Where there is education, there is social change, contraception, medicine, increased health and lifespan and decreased reproduction rate. We need to educate the developing world and we have amazing new tools to accomplish this. We need to remove the false gods and dangerous superstitions from our midst. Starting with Profit and Endless Material want. Its time to discover what is good for us as human beings and pursue that with passion and joy. It is time for us to honor the miracle of our world and protect it, because until we can leave it, it is the only home we know and we are unfit for any place else. It is time for us to appreciate the miracle of being human and put an end to strife and hatred, fear and war, xenophobia and discrimination.

    This is a call for sanity.

  • by kasper_souren ( 1577647 ) on Thursday June 07, 2012 @08:40PM (#40251827) Homepage
    "Instant access to this article: $32" I'd say were doomed.
  • Isn't that the plan? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by mosb1000 ( 710161 ) <> on Thursday June 07, 2012 @08:50PM (#40251895)

    When we convert land to agriculture, don't we usually want it to stay that way? Sometimes I wonder if people appreciate just how harsh the natural environment is for people. I don't think it's reasonable to say we should kill half the population just to restore the environment to it's original condition (if that's even possible). Most people wouldn't want to live that way anyway. Rather, we need to be making decisions about how to deal with the environment change that we expect to occur.

    Besides, who's to say if it's 50% or 90%? Since the earth is very large, I'd bet on 90%. Also, why are we excluding oceans and ice covered land from our equation?

    Long story short, humans alter their environment. Deal with it.

  • by epp_b ( 944299 ) on Thursday June 07, 2012 @09:00PM (#40251997)
    I'm making the humanitarian sacrifice and choosing not to mate... yeah, choosing, that's it.
  • Fewer humans (Score:4, Insightful)

    by koan ( 80826 ) on Thursday June 07, 2012 @09:26PM (#40252167)

    No other solution.

  • by glebovitz ( 202712 ) on Thursday June 07, 2012 @09:56PM (#40252389) Journal

    Asking people to stop destroying the planet is like asking rabbits to stop fucking and making new bunnies.

  • by Corson ( 746347 ) on Thursday June 07, 2012 @10:22PM (#40252573)
    It's mankind. The Earth couldn't care less.
  • by WOOFYGOOFY ( 1334993 ) on Thursday June 07, 2012 @10:37PM (#40252685)

    The positive feedback loop of a previously sequestered source of greenhouse gas causing yet more release of same.

    The mass die off in the seas of the base of the food chain and the sudden follow on of all other species that depend no that food chain.

    The outbreak of nuclear or biological war as a result of governments toppling under food and or water scarcity pressures.

    The breakdown of civil order owing to the bankrupting of nearly all nations in a now-too-late, and ultimately futile effort to avert climate change. A tipping point is reached regarding the human acceptance of climate change and all it entails, including any and all of the above. Just as in the stock market, the full event doesn't even have to happen before the force of the disaster is felt - that happens as soon as a tipping-point consensus understanding of what is inevitable takes hold amongst observers.

    It's not too late now, or at least , it's not certain it's too late now.

    By the time the symptoms become indisputable, then.. then it will really be too late.

    The Princeton Stabilization Wedges concept. An idea we can all benefit from, however you feel today about the certainty of climate change: []

MESSAGE ACKNOWLEDGED -- The Pershing II missiles have been launched.