Looming Ecosystem Collapse: I Don’t Think You Understand How Doomed We Are

Merit Valdsalu
June 30, 2022

There’s war in Europe, Africa, and Asia, and for the first time since World War II, world peace is hanging on a thread. Human rights are taken away from hundreds of millions of people, with the latest loss coming from the Land of Liberty. The economy is collapsing, threatening to take us to the inflation levels of the 1920s. 

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. 

What’s cooking behind the scenes will challenge world peace, human rights, and the economy in a way unimaginable to any of us today. At worst, we’re facing a total collapse of the ecosystem - an irreversible series of events that makes this planet inhabitable for life as we know it, including us humans. 

I’m talking about climate change, biodiversity loss, and crossing planetary boundaries. I’m not sure everybody understands the gravity of the situation. 

No control over climate change

It’s time to face it: none of the current solutions have put the world on the right track to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees. We should be heading towards a 45% decrease in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. In reality, our emissions grow every year. 

Eight years to go, and we haven’t even been able to plateau, let alone bend the curve. The latest IPCC report admits that with the current plans, “it is likely that warming will exceed 1.5°C and also make it harder after 2030 to limit warming to below 2°C”.

Global Carbon Project

Our last chance to bend the rising greenhouse gas emissions curve is 2025, after which we’re heading towards (at least) 3.2-degree warming by 2100. That’s two and a half years. Besides ambitious goals and pledges, we don’t really have a clear scalable action plan for getting there. 

The worst projected scenario predicts 4.5-degree global warming by 2050. If we take this route, we will see 300 million people struggling with floods and displacements from their homes. A hundred thousand people will die due to heat-related conditions every year. Droughts, pandemics, and extreme weather conditions will make this planet nearly uninhabitable for humans. 

Read more about life in 2050 with the worst-case climate scenario. 

Danger zone of biodiversity loss and pollution

Unfortunately, climate change is not the only thing threatening our life on this planet. Scientists have defined nine planetary boundaries within which humans can survive. 

Climate change is one of them, and we are operating in the zone of uncertainty and increasing risk in that space. We are doing even worse in biosphere integrity, biogeochemical flows, and novel entities. 

Biosphere integrity describes the health of our ecosystem that makes life possible on this planet. Losing too much of our plant and animal populations, degrading natural ecosystems, and growing extinction rates can disrupt the essential ecosystem services that keep us alive. 

Having lost 60% of all terrestrial wildlife in the last 50 years and 90% of big ocean fish in the previous century, we are far out in the danger zone in this planetary boundary. 

Biogeochemical flows scream ‘code red’ as well. The planet’s natural nitrogen and phosphorus cycles are out of balance due to intensive agriculture. The use of fertilizers is the main contributor to exceeding this planetary boundary. 

Novel entities tell us how we’re polluting the planet with harmful chemicals and human-introduced substances such as plastics. It also looks at naturally-occurring substances such as heavy metals and radioactive materials released by human activities. We’ve crossed all the thresholds on this one as well. 

Operating in the ‘danger zone’ of any planetary boundary means that we’re gambling with an ecosystem collapse every day. As we’re in the danger zone in five out of nine planetary boundaries, the odds are against us. 

Getting back within planetary boundaries

The situation is dire, we must get back within planetary boundaries ASAP. Otherwise, we risk turning the planet uninhabitable for humans, possibly within this century already. 

We need a systematic change in our way of living to make it happen. We must keep our consumption and greenhouse gas emissions within planetary boundaries. And we need to stop polluting. 

Today, we’re missing a holistic way of staying within planetary boundaries. We have climate goals that focus on reducing CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere and biodiversity goals that we’ve already failed to meet. We don’t have a model for the economy and our way of living that would naturally keep the CO2 within the boundaries while protecting biodiversity around us. 

Nature-based economy is a concept that aims to solve these problems by rebuilding the economy upon natural capital and its ecosystem services. In other words, the economy should never exceed the capacity of nature. 

However, we need practical solutions to bring this theoretical concept to life. To integrate nature and ecosystem protection into the economy, we must disrupt the fundamentals of the system. 

We need to place nature and the health of our ecosystem at the heart of economic value creation. The only systematic and scalable way to do that is to turn to the medium of all economic exchange - money. 

Nature-backed currency is the missing link between the economy and nature. By tying financial systems with the ecosystem services nature provides - like sequestering CO2 and holding biodiversity - we can make nature a fundamental part of the economy. 

The amount of nature-backed currency in circulation has to be limited to how much nature can sustain. This way, this new financial system will always keep the economy within the planetary boundaries. 

Read about the world’s first nature-backed currency MERIT.

The transition to a fully sustainable nature-based economy is going to be long and challenging. But it’s one we must make to keep this beautiful planet habitable for generations to come. 

—-

We’ve messed up the planet way more than we realize or would like to admit. While it’s natural to deal with immediate hardships - war, human rights, economic downturn - we cannot neglect the existential threats that are building up in the background. When these threats realize, it will most likely be too late to correct the course. 

It’s crucial to highlight that the concept of planetary boundaries comes with a warning that these limits are estimates. Nobody knows how far we can push the boundaries before one - or many of them combined, lead to irreversible harm. 

The time to act is now. We must shift from a destructive economy and lifestyle to a life in balance with nature. We need to switch to a nature-based economy because there is no economy without nature. Without nature, there’s no us. 

Single.Earth is on a mission to help preserve and restore existing ecosystems.

Sign up as a landowner through the registration link.
Follow us for the latest news on Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter.
Join the community for Single.Earth insights and climate conversations: Earthsavers on Discord.

Help landowners choose nature protection