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Podcast: Though humanity exceeds key ‘planetary boundaries’ there are many solutions

  • On this episode of the Mongabay Newscast, we speak with two recent contributors to our “Covering the Commons” special reporting project who wrote pieces that deal with the concept of Planetary Boundaries and how we can build a more sustainable future.
  • Claire Asher tells us about her recent article detailing the nine Planetary Boundaries, the four environmental limits we’ve already exceeded, and the chances 2021 offers us to make transformative change.
  • Andrew Willner discusses his recent article on how a “New Age of Sail” might soon transform the international shipping industry, the sixth-largest source of carbon emissions in the world.

Today we discuss Planetary Boundaries, nine environmental systems identified by scientists as essential to Earth’s ability to sustain life and the limits to how far out of equilibrium we can push those systems before facing large-scale, irreversible environmental changes to our planet.

Listen here:

Global climate change is one of the nine Planetary Boundaries, and probably the best-known. Scientists believe we have already transgressed the safe operating space for Earth’s climate and are rapidly approaching thresholds beyond which human society as we know it, and all life on Earth, will be at considerable risk.

Every life form on Earth depends on a shared set of environmental resources, known as the global commons, that make up the life-support systems providing us with a habitable planet. These life-support systems have been in relative balance for the past 10,000 years, giving rise to the biosphere that has allowed human society to grow and flourish.

But over the past century our exponentially increasing resource consumption and pollution have destabilized these natural systems. Mongabay has launched a special reporting project called “Covering the Commons” that uses the Planetary Boundaries concept to look at how Earth’s natural systems support the global commons and the ways in which human activities are pushing us toward dangerous tipping points.

We welcome to the program today two journalists who have recently filed stories under the Covering the Commons reporting project. Claire Asher, a freelance science communicator and author, joins us to discuss a recent article she wrote for Mongabay that breaks down what the nine Planetary Boundaries are, the four Boundaries we are already exceeding, and the opportunities we’ll have in 2021 to transform the way we live on this planet and restore equilibrium to Earth’s vital ecological systems.

We also speak with Mongabay contributor Andrew Willner, who helps us dig into solutions to our environmental transgressions by telling us about his recent article on the “New Age of Sail” that would transform the global shipping industry, a major source of the greenhouse gas emissions that are driving global warming. Willner tells us about the cutting edge technologies that are being deployed on ships right now to decrease their fuel consumption, including a number of modern types of sails that are once again harnessing the wind to power the ships moving our goods around the world.

Further reading:

• Claire Asher: “The nine boundaries humanity must respect to keep the planet habitable” (30 March 2021)

• Andrew Willner: “New age of sail looks to slash massive maritime carbon emissions” (15 March 2021)

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Here are some photos of sail cargo mentioned in the episode, view more via the link above:

The engineless cargo transport sailing ship Tres Hombres. Image courtesy of Fair Transport.
Airbus is equipping one of its cargo ships with the kite=like Airseas “Seawing” device in hopes of using wind power to reduce fuel costs and cut emissions. Photo courtesy of AIRSEAS

Follow Mike Gaworecki on Twitter: @mikeg2001

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Monitoring air pollution with SAGE III: The release of aerosol pollutants into the atmosphere threatens human health and could alter ocean-atmosphere circulation systems. The Stratospheric Aerosol and Gas Experiment III (SAGE III) was launched to the International Space Station in 2017 to monitor atmospheric aerosol pollution. Image by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center via Flickr, licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0.