Earth systems and humans: Is our future sustainable?

Category Other
Group GSI.IR
Location International Geological Congress,oslo 2008
Author Reitan, Paul
Holding Date 04 October 2008

Humans now manage the Earth. The management schemes as practiced threaten the well-being and sustainability of most Earth systems. Examples are well known. Terrestrial and marine ecosystems: their integrity, diversity, and mutual accommodations are being undermined as humans encroach upon them and eliminate habitat, disturb sensitive equilibria of synergisms and predator-prey relationships, disrupt food webs, replace natural ecosystems with monocultures, and pollute and poison them.
Climate system: the composition of the atmosphere is being transformed at an unprecedented rate, causing the system to respond in ways humans have never experienced and are unable to predict precisely, presenting grave changes and problems, with impacts on both biological and physical systems upon which the long-term success of human societies depends.
Fresh water: surface water is being used wastefully and contaminated by agricultural, industrial, commercial, and domestic practices, and ground water is being extensively mined and rendered useless by being polluted.
Soil systems: pressure for enhanced food and fuel production encourages farming of marginal lands and abuse of traditional lands as their sensitive soil microecologies are decimated by widespread excessive applications of biocides, destroying soil structure and facilitating removal by erosion orders of magnitude faster than natural formation rates.
Mineral and energy resources: both are largely finite resources that could be husbanded for important uses, but their limits are being disregarded in order to satisfy present desires.
The human system: increasing numbers consuming increasing average per capita amounts and producing increasing amounts of waste, profligate in taking from natural systems and careless in using terrestrial, marine, fresh water, and atmospheric systems as dumping grounds, exceeding the support capacities of non-human systems while human rights are scorned, equity is ignored, peace is violated, and intergenerational justice is denied.
If long-term success will be possible the ethical systems as found in the world’s religions and secular moral philosophies, that value the context within which humans are supported and by which they are constrained, will need to guide future decisions, choices, and reward systems. That is, the present dominant culture that values material growth and self-interest will have to be replaced by cultures that value and reward community both among humans and with non-human Earth systems – cultures that recognize and respect the intrinsic worth of all Earth systems. The philosophical and spiritual recognition that humans are an inseparable part of a web of life in which all of the nodes and links are intrinsically valuable – that elimination of any of them weakens the web and the excessive development of any part threatens to tear the fabric of the whole – will have to be central to a culture or cultures that are able to be sustainable.