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David Suzuki: Stop Buying So Much Stuff
How much stuff will you give and receive this holiday season? Add it to the growing pile—the 30-trillion-ton pile. That's how much technology and goods humans have produced, according to a study by an international team led by England's University of Leicester. It adds up to more than all living matter on the planet, estimated at around four trillion tons.
Scientists have dubbed these times the "Anthropocene," because humans are now the dominant factor influencing Earth's natural systems, from climate to the carbon and hydrologic cycles. Now they're labeling our accumulated goods and technologies—including houses, factories, cars, roads, smartphones, computers and landfills—the "technosphere" because it's as large and significant as the biosphere, atmosphere and hydrosphere. Researchers estimate it represents 50 kilograms for every square meter of Earth's surface and is 100,000 times greater than the human biomass it supports.
As CBC science commentator Bob McDonald wrote, "Our technology is a super-organism that competes with the biosphere for resources and is winning that competition by taking over the surface of the planet."
Report co-author Mark Williams explained the significance: "The technosphere can be said to have budded off the biosphere and arguably is now at least partly parasitic on it. At its current scale the technosphere is a major new phenomenon of this planet—and one that is evolving extraordinarily rapidly. Compared with the biosphere, though, it is remarkably poor at recycling its own materials, as our burgeoning landfill sites show. This might be a barrier to its further success—or halt it altogether."
Living systems renew and recycle. Organisms die, get eaten or absorbed by other organisms, and other life takes their place. But much of what we produce takes enormous amounts of natural, mostly finite resources to make and breaks down slowly, if at all. It covers the land and fills oceans, and even extends into space. As the human population continues to grow and consumerism shows no signs of abating, the technosphere expands, causing pollution, contamination and resource depletion, further upsetting the delicate natural balance that keeps our planet habitable for humans and other life forms.
Many things we've invented have made our lives easier in some ways. But much is unnecessary and, we've learned, a lot comes with consequences we didn't foresee—such as climate-altering greenhouse gas emissions from our obsession with private automobiles and cheap energy.
If this pace continues, we'll leave a fascinating fossil record for any intelligent species that comes across our planet in the future. But that may be all. If we want to survive as a species, we must get a handle on population growth and consumerism. It's something to consider this time of year, when so much time and energy are spent on acquiring new stuff, for ourselves and others.
Although population growth is starting to stabilize, curtailing growth requires greater access to effective, voluntary family planning and birth control, increased women's rights including the right to make decisions about their bodies and reproduction, and reducing poverty.
We can all do our part to reduce consumption. We might find we're happier when we do. At the end of his life, my father didn't talk about accomplishments or possessions or wealth. He talked about connections to friends and family and shared experiences. Although he didn't have a lot of material possessions, he felt wealthy and happy.
That's what life is about. A new car or smartphone won't make you happier in the long run. Nor will it fill gaps caused by loneliness or lack of connection to others. That doesn't mean we should live without material goods, but we should consider what we really need, and make sure we recycle items we can no longer use. Reduce, re-use and recycle! And reconsider what really makes us happy.
More important, during the holiday season, we should nurture our connections to friends and family, and give gifts that won't add to the technosphere. We can share time, experiences and food. Those who find themselves alone might consider volunteering to help others during what can be a difficult time.
May you all have a joyous season, focused on the important things in life. And may the New Year bring humanity a greater understanding of what truly makes life worthwhile.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Tracy L. Barnett
Sources reviewed this article for accuracy.
For Sicangu Lakota water protector Cheryl Angel, Standing Rock helped her define what she stands against: an economy rooted in extraction of resources and exploitation of people and planet. It wasn't until she'd had some distance that the vision of what she stands for came into focus.
Last week, the Peruvian Palm Oil Producers' Association (JUNPALMA) promised to enter into an agreement for sustainable and deforestation-free palm oil production. The promise was secured by the U.S. based National Wildlife Federation (NWF) in collaboration with the local government, growers and the independent conservation organization Sociedad Peruana de Ecodesarrollo.
The rallying cry to build it again and to build it better than before is inspiring after a natural disaster, but it may not be the best course of action, according to new research published in the journal Science.
"Faced with global warming, rising sea levels, and the climate-related extremes they intensify, the question is no longer whether some communities will retreat—moving people and assets out of harm's way—but why, where, when, and how they will retreat," the study begins.
The researchers suggest that it is time to rethink retreat, which is often seen as a last resort and a sign of weakness. Instead, it should be seen as the smart option and an opportunity to build new communities.
"We propose a reconceptualization of retreat as a suite of adaptation options that are both strategic and managed," the paper states. "Strategy integrates retreat into long-term development goals and identifies why retreat should occur and, in doing so, influences where and when."
The billions of dollars spent to rebuild the Jersey Shore and to create dunes to protect from future storms after Superstorm Sandy in 2012 may be a waste if sea level rise inundates the entire coastline.
"There's a definite rhetoric of, 'We're going to build it back better. We're going to win. We're going to beat this. Something technological is going to come and it's going to save us,'" said A.R. Siders, an assistant professor with the disaster research center at the University of Delaware and lead author of the paper, to the New York Times. "It's like, let's step back and think for a minute. You're in a fight with the ocean. You're fighting to hold the ocean in place. Maybe that's not the battle we want to pick."
Rethinking retreat could make it a strategic, efficient, and equitable way to adapt to the climate crisis, the study says.
Dr. Siders pointed out that it has happened before. She noted that in the 1970s, the small town of Soldiers Grove, Wisconsin moved itself out of the flood plain after one too many floods. The community found and reoriented the business district to take advantage of highway traffic and powered it entirely with solar energy, as the New York Times reported.
That's an important lesson now that rising sea levels pose a catastrophic risk around the world. Nearly 75 percent of the world's cities are along shorelines. In the U.S. alone coastline communities make up nearly 40 percent of the population— more than 123 million people, which is why Siders and her research team are so forthright about the urgency and the complexities of their findings, according to Harvard Magazine.
Some of those complexities include, coordinating moves across city, state or even international lines; cultural and social considerations like the importance of burial grounds or ancestral lands; reparations for losses or damage to historic practices; long-term social and psychological consequences; financial incentives that often contradict environmental imperatives; and the critical importance of managing retreat in a way that protects vulnerable and poor populations and that doesn't exacerbate past injustices, as Harvard Magazine reported.
If communities could practice strategic retreats, the study says, doing so would not only reduce the need for people to choose among bad options, but also improve their circumstances.
"It's a lot to think about," said Siders to Harvard Magazine. "And there are going to be hard choices. It will hurt—I mean, we have to get from here to some new future state, and that transition is going to be hard.…But the longer we put off making these decisions, the worse it will get, and the harder the decisions will become."
To help the transition, the paper recommends improved access to climate-hazard maps so communities can make informed choices about risk. And, the maps need to be improved and updated regularly, the paper said as the New York Times reported.
"It's not that everywhere should retreat," said Dr. Siders to the New York Times. "It's that retreat should be an option. It should be a real viable option on the table that some places will need to use."
Leaked documents show that Jair Bolsonaro's government intends to use the Brazilian president's hate speech to isolate minorities living in the Amazon region. The PowerPoint slides, which democraciaAbierta has seen, also reveal plans to implement predatory projects that could have a devastating environmental impact.