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08 September 2019

The Environmental Tipping Point Has Been Toppled

The Environmental Tipping Point Has Been Toppled

As I read the headlines and the stories behind the headlines, as I learn more about the complex system of nature we refer to as “ecology”, and as I see the actions of our politicians and society in aggregate, I can only come to one conclusion. We’ve long passed the environmental tipping point.

Everyday the tragedies role in. Unprecedented environmental catastrophes. Stories that as recently as two decades ago would have garnered headline status. Today we are numb to them - the new normal, relegated to page 2.

Gray whale die-off so great there isn’t even room to store the rotting carcasses[1]. All time record heat in the Arctic[2] and consistently breaking the “all time global hottest month” records. Unparalleled seabird die-off which used to be occasional, now occurs annually at increasing levels.[3] Historic wildfires in Siberia and The Amazon.[4][5] Ocean pollution of a scope, depth, and breadth beyond the worst case estimates of a few years ago [6]. Extinction rates at 1000x of what the best science thinks is normal[7]. Ice melt exceeding many of the more pessimistic estimates. Bees in peril. I could keep going. Just today I read of unprecedented severe (and early) wildfires in Australia.

These stories don't resonate with us because they exploit a flaw in how humans have evolved to think. We care more about what is happening to *me* - what is happening now. The drama at work, the new series on HBO, or getting one marshmallow now rather than two if we can just wait 15 minutes. Yes, that was one of many real studies showing just how poorly we consider the future - even if 15 minutes away.

The threats we face are sometimes direct, sometimes indirect, and sometimes the impact is delayed for years or decades. And while I think we’ve long passed that tipping point, and the scope of the problems are broad, layered, and complicated, it doesn’t mean we can’t or shouldn’t try to fix things. We have tough times ahead, but things could get a lot tougher without action. And when I say "we have tough times", that does include you and your family. Even the most conservative of forecasts reveal deep economic distress and food and water system disruptions. When those things happen, international conflict is certainly around the corner.

Over the next several weeks I’m going to share some thoughts and ideas as to why we are at this point, despite our collective intelligence and despite our technology. I’ll share suggestions and appeal for your help.


[1] https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/noaa-investigating-dozens-gray-whale-deaths-along-west-coast-180972333/
[2] https://earther.gizmodo.com/a-weather-station-above-the-arctic-circle-hit-94-6-degr-1837274379
[3] https://www.fws.gov/alaska/sites/default/files/2019-08/Seabird%20Die-Off%20Factsheet.pdf
[4] https://www.sciencenews.org/article/arctic-burning-greenland-melting-thanks-record-heat
[5] https://news.yahoo.com/rights-group-blames-brazilian-government-162622865.html
[6] https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/habitats/plastic-pollution/
[7] https://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/blog/2019/05/nature-decline-unprecedented-report/