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On the Nature of Global Change Professor John Harrington, Jr. Department of Geography, Kansas State University Planet Under Pressure.

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Presentation on theme: "On the Nature of Global Change Professor John Harrington, Jr. Department of Geography, Kansas State University Planet Under Pressure."— Presentation transcript:

1 On the Nature of Global Change Professor John Harrington, Jr. Department of Geography, Kansas State University Planet Under Pressure Mar 2012 London International Conference on Adaptation May 2012 Tucson Climate Change: Impacts & Responses Jul 2012 Seattle

2 Unprecedented Types, Rates, Scales, Combinations, and the Magnitude of Change Planetary Destabilization … the Earth system is now operating in a no-analogue state. 2004

3 Symptoms of human induced global change: Symptoms of human induced global change: - warming - rapid change in surface appearance (LUCC) - changes in chemical indicators (nitrogen) - change in gaseous composition (atmos) - loss of key biotic components - new organisms have been introduced - rapid depletion of stored reserves (water) - rapid depletion of stored reserves (energy) - the rate of change is increasing Climate change is part of something bigger

4 Global Change –Global climate change (CO 2 & global weirding) –Air pollution (gross insults & micro toxicity) –Shrinking glaciers & loss of Arctic sea ice –Population growth and resource consumption –Land use change – deforestation for agric. –Water resources (reservoirs & irrigation) –Ocean acidification, sea level rise, coral reefs –Loss of biodiversity (major extinction event) –New ideas to hopefully change the conversation Ecological Footprints and Overshoot (1.5 Earths) Ecosystem services (externalities and the commons) Sustainability ScienceVulnerability, Resilience Planetary BoundariesThe Anthropocene Planetary StewardshipThe Wildland Garden Earth Hour (late March)

5 The more you read in this subject area, the more you understand the multiple connections, the complexity, and just how hard it will be to make the changes needed for a sustainable transition


7 Oxfam 2012

8 Annual cycle – driven by summer vegetation greenup in the Northern Hemisphere Lower values at the end of the growing season CO 2 levels are now at 394 ppm (up 39.6%) CO 2 levels were at 315ppm at the start of the Mauna Loa record. The CO 2 level for pre-industrial times was 280 ppm.

9 Understanding the Earth system (feedbacks and response times) indicates that there is more to come

10 Warmer areas on Earth will emit slightly shorter wavelengths and water vapor is the main GHG Cooler areas on Earth will emit slightly longer wavelength energy and CO 2 is the main GHG

11 Global pattern of temperature anomalies for compared with the base period. More CO 2 and cold places warm up.

12 Images of change in alpine glacial ice from Africa and North America Mount Kilimanjaro Glacier National Park

13 The loss of Arctic Sea ice.


15 The loss of Arctic Sea ice.

16 Land Use Change Human Dimensions of Global Change Land Use Change More land was converted to cropland in the 30 years after 1950 than in the 150 years between 1700 and Cultivated Systems in 2000 cover 25% of the terrestrial surface

17 Unprecedented Change: Biomes

18 Land use change different directions in different regions Rates of ecosystem conversion remain high or are increasing for specific ecosystems and regions Ecosystems in some regions are returning to conditions similar to their pre-conversion states

19 The Human Footprint and the Last of the Wild E. Sanderson et al BioScience Last Child in the Woods There is a human footprint on 83% of the land.


21 Anthropogenic Biomes of the World *Mosaic: >25% tree cover mixed with > 25% pasture and/or cropland * Ellis & Ramankutty

22 –5 to possibly 25% of global freshwater use exceeds long- term accessible supplies (low to medium certainty) – % of irrigation withdrawals exceed supply rates and are therefore unsustainable (low to medium certainty) Changes in Water Resources


24 A period of rapid and unprecedented global change The Green Revolution: genetics, fertilizer, tractors, & irrigation turning oil into food The pace of growth is slowing

25 Made it in Oct 2011 How do we feed the next 2 billion?

26 Consilience = a fancy way to describe how science is changing E.O. Wilsons 1999 book, Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge - provided a powerful restatement of the importance of linking major areas of scholarly thought C.P Snows 1959 lecture: The Two Cultures - major thesis was: that the breakdown in communication between the sciences and the humanities was a major barrier to solving the world's problems Four cultures: new synergies for engaging society, MC Nisbet et al., 2010, Frontiers in Ecology. Vol 8(6):

27 Consilience: Biocomplexity Biocomplexity = the study of complex structures and behaviors that arise from nonlinear interactions of biotic agents and abiotic factors, across multiple scales Biocomplexity was introduced as a new initiative at NSF for funding integrative projects in the late 1990s by Rita Colwell Rita Colwell was NSF Director from 1998 – 2004 The role of women in scientific discourse is critically important


29 Reciprocal Effects & Feedback Loops Nonlinearity and Thresholds Surprises Legacy Effects and Time Lags Resilience Heterogeneity New framings and new questions

30 NSF now has SEES Achieving a sustainable human future in the face of both gradual and abrupt environmental change is one of the most significant challenges facing humanity All eleven NSF Directorates and Offices have joined together to support Science, Engineering, and Education for Sustainability (SEES) Requests for proposals in: sustainable chemistry Science, Engineering, and Education for Sustainability

31 … sole authors did produce the papers of singular distinction in science and engineering and social science in the 1950s, but the mantle of extraordinarily cited work has passed to teams by (p. 1038) It takes about a year of working together to establish a good team

32 life supporting resources declining consumption of life supporting resources rising we are in what E.O. Wilson (in 2002) referred to as the bottleneck

33 Can global leaders find a way to address a long-term and global problem? Two imperatives work against a solution The imperative of the present Topophilia = love of place; we need geophilia or gaiaphilia The imperative of the local The relative indifference to the environment springs, I believe, from deep within human nature. The human brain evidently evolved to commit itself emotionally only to a small piece of geography, a limited band of kinsmen, and two or three generations into the future. E.O. Wilson 2002

34 Science and engineering enable new technologies that accompany change There is a need to move toward sustainability To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete. Buckminster Fuller Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has. Margaret Mead

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