Holistic thinking needed

This article by Richard Heinberg gets to the core of the problem facing civilised life in the 21st century, as he puts it – “the cascading complex of crises that will hammer civilisation to bits during the remainder of this century”. He argues that the reductionist mode of thinking that separates aspects of these crises from the entire interconnected cascade and feeds a belief in technofix solutions needs to be replaced by holistic thinking that sees how these crises are interrelated. Three main ‘solutions’ would be:

  1. reverse the growth of human population
  2. shrink and relocalise economies
  3. abandon fossil fuel use and switch to renewable energy sources

Unfortunately such solutions are not politically viable and contradict the vested interests of powerful elites. In addition the scale of change required in the time available to avoid disaster and systems’ collapse seems far too great.

Dmitry Orlov’s (2012) The Five Stages of Collapse suggests that the sequence of a cascade of collapsing systems would be:

  1. Financial
  2. Commercial
  3. Political
  4. Social
  5. Cultural

This is not a cheering prospect but Orlov’s research of how previous collapses have progressed is very persuasive despite the social inertia that binds most of us to business-as-usual and reductionist thinking.

New insights on the Anthropocene

This article from the Guardian is based on a new study that provides one of the strongest cases yet that the planet has entered a new geological epoch. It contains useful graphics and photos to illustrate the global scale of human impact on the planet. The question of whether humans’ combined environmental impact has tipped the planet into an “Anthropocene” – ending the current Holocene which began around 12,000 years ago – will be put to the geological body that formally approves such time divisions later this year. “We could be looking here at a step change from one world to another that justifies being called an epoch,” said Dr Colin Waters, principal geologist at the British Geological Survey and an author on the study published in Science on Thursday.

  • We’ve pushed extinction rates of flora and fauna far above the long-term average. The Earth is now on course for a sixth mass extinction which would see 75% of species extinct in the next few centuries if current trends continue
  • Increased the concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere by about 120 parts per million since the industrial revolution because of fossil fuel-burning, leaving concentrations today at around 400ppm and rising
  • Nuclear weapon tests in the 1950s and 60s left traces of an isotope common in nature, 14C, and a naturally rare isotope, 293Pu, through the Earth’s mid-latitudes
  • Put so much plastic in our waterways and oceans that microplastic particles are now virtually ubiquitous, and plastics will likely leave identifiable fossil records for future generations to discover
  • Doubled the nitrogen and phosphorous in our soils in the past century with our fertiliser use. According to some research, we’ve had the largest impact on the nitrogen cycle in 2.5bn years
  • Left a permanent marker in sediment and glacial ice with airborne particulates such as black carbon from fossil fuel-burning

A further article about the status of the Anthropocene examines the same issue