Cover Image
close this bookDiversity, Globalization, and the Ways of Nature (IDRC, 1995, 234 p.)
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentAcknowledgments
View the documentForeword
close this folder1. Introduction
View the documentGlobalization and the ways of nature
View the documentThe new globalization processes
close this folder2. Global trends and their effects on the environment
View the documentThe information revolution
View the documentDevelopment of global financial markets
View the documentDevelopment of more effective transportation networks
View the documentMovement of people
View the documentGlobalization and the unequal distribution of wealth
View the documentInternational migration
View the documentThe development of free markets
close this folder3. Planet-wide deterioration
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentOur sister planet
View the documentThe unusual, oxygenated planet
View the documentThe paradox of ozone
View the documentOceans can be degraded too
View the documentThe rivers are becoming muddy
View the documentOvershooting
close this folder4. Forests under attack
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentDeforestation in the 20th century
View the documentRain-forest environments
View the documentTemperate forests
close this folder5. Grasslands
View the documentSavannas
View the documentThe temperate grasslands
View the documentModifying grassland ecosystems
View the documentEnvironmental balance in grassland ecosystems
close this folder6. Aquatic ecosystems
View the documentExtractive exploitation
View the documentThe future of fish production
close this folder7. Managing planetary thirst
View the documentSome basic facts
View the documentWater supply and options
View the documentThe demand side of the issue
View the documentWater issues throughout the world
close this folder8. Protecting air quality
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentAir and its principal contaminants
View the documentProcesses of contamination in industrial and urban areas
View the documentCurrent and future trends
close this folder9. Clean energy for planetary survival
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentThe industrial revolution
View the documentThe use of hydroelectricity
View the documentThe age of petroleum
View the documentNuclear power
View the documentThe clean options
close this folder10. Africa in the 21st Century: Sunrise or sunset?
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentThe causes of poverty
View the documentHistorical causes of the current situation
View the documentWars are environmentally unfriendly
View the documentEvolution of environmental management in Africa
View the documentOld and new development models
close this folder11. Latin America and the Caribbean: A history of environmental degradation
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentIndigenous cultures
View the documentThe colonial period
View the documentExploitation of natural resources after independence
View the documentEffects of globalization on the environment
View the documentThe maquiladora phenomenon
close this folder12. The urban environmental challenge
View the documentThe development of modern cities
View the documentLarge cities in the Third World
View the documentThe megacities of today
close this folder13. Diversity and human survival
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentDocumenting diversity
View the documentResources for the future
View the documentDiversity of living systems
View the documentCauses and effects of the loss of natural diversity
View the documentDiversity and culture
View the documentRestoring what is lost
View the documentBiodiversity and research
close this folder14. Strategies for the future
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentDecentralize decision-making
View the documentPeople value their environment
View the documentProblems and responsibilities are global
View the documentBibliography

Overshooting

It is difficult to predict the outcome of current changes. Exponential growth of some components (such as world population) or some factors (temperature of the oceans, level of CO2) indicates the direction of change, but cannot provide sufficient information to allow us to guess the future of the Gaia system. The Earth is an extremely complex environment, and growth curves are crude instruments for understanding it. In reality, we do not know where or when “overshooting” of limits will take place. At best, these tools give us a slight indication of the risk.

We must remember that natural processes never follow a linear or exponential path indefinitely. Once they reach a ceiling, a change takes place, and new relationships are established. Sometimes factors that are overlooked may be increasing or decreasing exponentially, and their effects may be felt suddenly. The greenhouse effect produces an increase in temperature, which in turn increases evaporation; this leads to increased cloudiness and an increase in the albedo of the planet, reducing radiation and decreasing temperature. Even a relatively simple model like this can be difficult to quantify, however, mainly because the data and relationships are poorly understood. For example, if we introduce the role of algae and photosynthesis in the upper layer of the oceans or the effect of ice melting at the poles, the situation becomes more complex. A model of the planet requires understanding and measuring thousands of variables, some of which are biological or anthropogenic in nature.

Although much can be done toward solving the riddle of our environmental future, we must remain cautious about forecasts. Because so little is known and the risk is so great, survival strategies must rely on the best interpretation of existing data. We may, in the end, “go beyond the limits inadvertently” because of inattention, inadequate information, a slow response, or simply the momentum (Meadows et al. 1992). On this “spaceship Earth,” however, we cannot afford to risk overshooting the limits, whatever they may be; we may not have a second chance.