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Secondly, extreme scenario planning is a necessity in the case that these measures are not undertaken — or aren't enough.

The study also claims that much of the science on climate change is "conservative and reticent. The researchers argue that the only way forward is establishing a worldwide zero-emissions, industrial and economic strategy. As the paper's foreword, written by Admiral Chris Barrie, explains, "We need a social tipping point that flips our thinking before we reach a tipping point in the climate system.

What does the study say? Sponsored Stories. There is another way of looking at how we have been responding to climate change and other environmental challenges. Exhilarating because it offers a new perspective that could cut through inaction. Terrifying as it could, if we are not careful, lead to resignation and paralysis. Because one explanation for our collective failure on climate change is that such collective action is perhaps impossible. We are locked into a planetary-scale system that while built by humans, is largely beyond our control.

Coined by US geoscientist Peter Haff in , the technosphere is the system that consists of individual humans, human societies — and stuff.

Civilisation and Climate Change

In terms of stuff, humans have produced an extraordinary 30 trillion metric tons of things. From skyscrapers to CD s, fountains to fondue sets. Along with the physical transport of humans and the goods they consume is the transfer of information between humans and their machines. First through the spoken word, then parchment and paper-based documents, then radio waves converted to sound and pictures, and subsequently digital information sent via the internet. These networks facilitate human communities. Just as important, but much less tangible, is society and culture.

The realm of ideas and beliefs, of habits and norms. Humans do a great many different things because in important ways they see the world in different ways. These differences are often held to be the root cause of our inability to take effective global action. But as different as we all are, the vast majority of humanity is now behaving in fundamentally similar ways. Yes, there are still some nomads who roam tropical rainforests, still some roving sea gypsies.

But more than half of the global population now lives in urban environments and nearly all are in some way connected to industrialized activities. Importantly, the size, scale and power of the technosphere has dramatically grown since World War II.

Civilisation and Climate Change | Global Greenhouse Warming

This tremendous increase in the number of humans, their energy and material consumption, food production and environmental impact has been dubbed the Great Acceleration. It seems sensible to assume that the reason products and services are made is so that they can be bought and sold and so the makers can turn a profit. So the drive for innovation — for faster, smaller phones, for example — is driven by being able to make more money by selling more phones. Humans consume.

In the first instance, we must eat and drink in order to maintain our metabolism, to stay alive. There are also the things we need to perform our different jobs and activities and to travel to and from our jobs and activities. The purpose of humans in this context is to consume products and services. The more we consume, the more materials will be extracted from the Earth, and the more energy resources consumed, the more factories and infrastructure built. The emergence and development of capitalism obviously lead to the growth of the technosphere: the application of markets and legal systems allows increased consumption and so growth.

The Geography of Livestock

But other political systems may serve the same purpose, with varying degrees of success. Recall the industrial output and environmental pollution of the former Soviet Union. The idea that growth is ultimately behind our unsustainable civilisation is not a new concept.

Today, alternative narratives to the growth agenda are, perhaps, getting political traction with an All Party Parliamentary Group convening meetings and activities that seriously consider de-growth policies.

If growth is the problem, then we just have to work at that, right? It may seem nonsense that humans are unable to make important changes to the system they have built. But just how free are we? You will use roads that in some instances are older than your car, you, or even your nation.


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In that respect, any change must be incremental because it must use what current and previous generations have built. Think about it: at the global scale, we have witnessed a phenomenal rate of deployment of solar , wind, and other sources of renewable energy generation. But global greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise. The relationship between the size of the global economy and carbon emissions is so robust that US physicist Tim Garret has proposed a very simple formula that links the two with startling accuracy. But correlation does not necessarily mean causation. That there has been a tight link between economic growth and carbon emissions does not mean that has to continue indefinitely.

The technosphere still has access to abundant supplies of high energy density fossil fuels.


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  • And so the absolute decoupling of global carbon emissions from economic growth will not happen until they either run out or the technosphere eventually transitions to alternative energy generation. That may be well beyond the danger zone for humans. We have just come to appreciate that our impacts on the Earth system are so large that we have possibly ushered in a new geological epoch: the Anthropocene. The technosphere can be seen as the engine of the Anthropocene. But that does not mean we are driving it.

    Action is necessary

    We may have created this system, but it is not built for our communal benefit. Take the planetary boundaries concept , which has generated much interest scientifically, economically, and politically.

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    This idea frames human development as impacting on nine planetary boundaries, including climate change, biodiversity loss, and ocean acidification. If we push past these boundaries, then the Earth system will change in ways that will make human civilisation very difficult, if not impossible, to maintain. The value of, say, the biosphere here is that it provides goods and services to us.

    This very human-centric approach should lead to more sustainable development. It should constrain growth. But the technological world system we have built is clever at getting around such constraints. It uses the ingenuity of humans to build new technologies — such as geoengineering — to reduce surface temperatures. That would not halt ocean acidification and so would lead to the potential collapse of ocean ecosystems.

    No matter. The climate constraint would have been avoided and the technosphere could then get to work overcoming any side effects of biodiversity loss.