You've heard of the IPCC,
but have you heard of the MEA? The term "global warming" has been with us for 35 years.
The idea that CO2 would cause the planet to heat up has been with us significantly longer
, discovered in the early 20th century by the Swedish scientist, Svante Arrhenius (previously)
. However, the concept of global warming is not without its problems (and this has nothing to do with solar flares).Global warming skeptics
of utopian engineering aside
, it is safe to say that world governments
, and scientists (pdf)
are concerned - to greater and lesser degrees - about global warming. Al Gore's work
, in particular and despite its many flaws, has been very influential in addressing the problem of global warming for the general public.
A number of researchers
, however, have pointed to the flaws in using "global warming" as a catch-all term for human-induced ecological crisis. While global warming remains an important issue, the attention to global warming sometimes comes at the cost of attention to other human-induced ecosystem catastrophes. Sustainability
, for example, which has often been defined, after the 1987 UN Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development, as "meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs"
, has been transformed in much of the public consciousness (pdf) (previously)
, mostly through "green" advertising
, into a synonym for low-GHG development. There have been many efforts to invent readily-comprehensible terms describing human impact on life in the world, in general. The neo-Malthusian Limits to Growth
was an early effort to describe major human impacts on world ecosystems.
More recently, the concept of "ecological debt" (previously)
and the more politically neutral concept of "Earth Overshoot,"
have been used to highlight the relationship between regional or national production and consumption patterns and biocapacity. The 2003 project from the Université de Gand, Belgium, "Elaborating the Concept of Ecological Debt", defines the ecological debt of a country (or region) as consisting of:
(1) the ecological damage caused over time by country A in other countries or in an area under jurisdiction of another country through its production and consumption patterns, and/or (2) the ecological damage caused over time by country A to ecosystems beyond national jurisdiction through its consumption and production patterns, and/or (3) the exploitation or use of ecosystems and ecosystem goods and services over time by country A at the expense of the equitable rights to these ecosystems and ecosystem goods and services by other countries or individuals.(pdf)
The Global Footprint Network sponsors "Earth Overshoot Day" (previously Ecological Debt Day) and carries maps and information on ecological debt (also)
Other concepts have been introduced, as well. The September 23, 2009 issue of Nature
featured a paper by Johan Rockström and colleagues
and a discussion
of the concept of "Planetary Boundaries."
Rockström, et. al. proposed nine metrics for looking at human impact on world ecosystems, defining a boundary as an ecological threshold beyond which humans might experience "deleterious or even catastrophic consequences for large parts of the world's inhabitants." These nine metrics were: climate change, ocean acidification
, stratospheric ozone depletion
, the nitrogen cycle
, the phosphate cycle
, global freshwater use
, land systems change
, biodiversity loss
, atmospheric aerosol loading
, and chemical pollution
. While some of the responses to this paper in the discussion pushed back against the parameters of specific boundaries
, or argued about the specific thresholds cited in the paper
, or suggested the need for more conceptual simplification for policymakers
, or argued that "boundaries" allowed policymakers to delay until a crisis was immanent
, all of the respondents felt that looking at planetary boundaries was a useful step forward in thinking about the planet as a whole and in thinking about the damage humans cause to their own ability to survive into the future.
In the meantime, geologists Jan Zalasiewicz and Mark Williams of the Stratigraphy Commission of the Geological Society of London have been conceptually elaborating and refining the term "anthropocene" (previously)
, coined by Paul Crutzen
, to describe a new geological era dominated by human impact on the world around us. The International Commission on Stratigraphy
is currently working
on formalizing the term within geology
Finally, Ecuador introduced the rights of nature
, or "Pachamama"
, into its constitution. What this means in practice has yet to be determined, although we can gain glimpses
of how this process
, with evidence falling both ways