We have a problem here

Diego Horcajada, November 2017

I’m sure you have heard about global warming, climate change and sustainable development. Perhaps you have not heard that much about the planetary boundaries or resource overshooting. I have to acknowledge that before the introductory module (The Big Picture of Sustainability Challenges) of the  Sustainable Business Program with the University of St Gallen, I only had a vague idea about some of these concepts.

In the following lines I will briefly address these concepts, with no pretention of being an expert, and open to all the comments and opinions you might want to share.

Global warming and climate change:

There is no longer debate in the scientific community about the degree of responsibility of human contribution to global warming; the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has published a very illustrative image on how the IPCC reports have changed through time (figure 1)IPCC 1figure 1

When reading among many different publications available today, I understand that the commitments from most of the world nations after the Paris Climate Agreement to address climate change are likely to bring us to the 3°C global warming scenario (compared to the preindustrial era) at the end of the century. Even though this is a pretty significant advance versus current trends, which would result in 5°C warming if nothing was done, it is far to keep us below the 2°C global warming threshold, widely accepted as the safety limit beyond which the effect of climate change will become far more dangerous than what we have been experiencing in the last 15 years (category 5 hurricanes, long lasting droughts, floods and summer heat waves, to name just a few).

Resource overshooting:

The sustainability risks posed by the development of current social and business models have been known for almost a century now. Already in the 1930s, economists started wondering how to deal with non-renewable resources (Wikipedia: history of sustainability) but it has only been in the last decades that Sustainable Development has appeared in the agendas of different UN agencies and global organizations such as FAO, CFSSD, ECOSOC, UNEP, among others.

We know that with current production and consumption trends, our planet will not be able to sustain humankind for very long. If you are interested to simulate “How many planets do we need if everybody lives like you?” I invite you to calculate your footprint  using the footprint calculator developed by the Global Footprint Network. I did myself, and I was shocked: if everyone lives like I do, we will need 5.1 planets to sustain us. I could not believe it! I consider myself quite a frugal consumer and I am almost vegetarian. Of course this exercise does not pretend to be accurate in the exact number, but rather directionally accurate and thought provoking. You can use other simulation tools such as WWF footprint calculator or ecologiocalfootprint. If you use more than one you will most likely get different results. This is due to the use of different countries or region as basis for the simulation; for example the footprint calculator uses the United States, WWF footprint calculator uses Switzerland,  while ecologicalfootprint uses the United Kingdom.

A recent publication from Daniel Rothman, professor of geophysics in the MIT Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences and co-director of MIT’s Lorenz Center, suggest the planet might be facing the 6th global extinction. It is important to notice that the 5th global extinction happened 65 million years ago when an asteroid impact what is today the Yucatan peninsula in the gulf of Mexico and provoke the extinction of the dinosaurs, among many other species.

It becomes clear to me that we have a problem here. How can we dream to elevate the quality of live for all human beings, knowing that current production and consumption trends are not sustainable just considering actual world population, 7.5 billion? And to make just a bit more complex, the global population is expected to be around 10 billion by 2050.

Many thanks for your interest.

Diego Horcajada

One thought on “We have a problem here

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