Eight global crises – human economy, climate change, exponential human population growth, ecological overshoot, biotic impoverishment and the reduction of biodiversity, renewable resource depletion, energy allocation, and environmental refugees – affect each other and affect and are affected by the biosphere. Some, perhaps all, are close to tipping points that, if tipped, will result in irreversible change. And yet, no sense of urgency is apparent. If any one of the eight interactive crises passes a tipping point, it will probably act as a threat multiplier for the remaining crises. Both politicians and the average citizen believe that priorities can be established for these interactive crises, but such an option is not viable for a highly interactive system. Polls indicate that most people place economic growth as the highest priority for human society, even though the highest status should be given to the master biospheric life support system to which all other systems are subordinate. Key Words:Resource depletion, Energy, Environmental refugees
An age is called Dark not because the light fails to shine, but because people refuse to see it. - James Albert Michener The scientist is not a person who gives the right answers; he’s the one who asks the right questions. -Claude Levi-Strauss 1. Tipping Points Most complex ecological and social systems have one or more tipping points beyond which change is irreversible (e.g., Catton 1982). Passing a tipping point in any one of the eight, complex systems (human economy, climate change, exponential human population growth, ecological overshoot, biotic impoverishment and reduction of biodiversity, renewable resource depletion, energy allocation, environmental refugees) would produce a ripple effect in the other seven and probably throughout the entire biospheric life support system (Solomon et al. 2009).
Reducing risk in the context of the eight interactive global crises would be a difficult undertaking even if the task only involved scientific evidence. Mixed into the responsibility of reduction of risk and avoiding tipping points is the general public’s assessment of important issues for the planet. Gertner (2009) quotes a poll, conducted by the Pew Research Center two days after President Obama was sworn in, that ranks "the issues Americans said were the most important priorities for this year . At the top of the list. . . jobs and the economy. . . Farther down, well after terrorism, deficit reduction and energy . . . was climate change. It was priority No. 20. That was last place." Economic growth has both provided many benefits to humans and been a major forcing factor in the eight interactive global crises discussed in this manuscript. Perpetual material (i.e., physical) growth is simply not possible on a finite planet, which was recognized over 30 years ago by Economist Kenneth E. Boulding (1972) in his "Ballad of Ecological Awareness." It was published as the conference summary for Farvar and Milton’s volume The Careless Technology. The conferees were seated in alphabetical order at a huge round table at the 1968 conference, so I had the honor of sitting next to Boulding. I still remember his asking me: "what rhymes with schistosomiasis?" I gave an inadequate reply, but found out later that he was writing a ballad. The ballad is as useful today as the year it was written. "No growth" (i.e., steady-state) economics has been espoused by Daly (1991, 1994) and Daly and Townsend (1993). The economics of climate change is also discussed in the "Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change" (Stern 2009). If natural resources were used within the biosphere’s regenerative capacity, the probability of crossing tipping points would be significantly reduced. 2. The Human Economy Hawken et al. (1999) note that "an economy needs four types of capital to function properly: . .
human capital, in the form of labor and intelligence, culture, and organization...