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The Quadra Project: Welcome to 2024

Unless you’re brave enough to consider the reality of our global environmental situation, don’t read this. Confronting it is not a matter of being pessimistic or optimistic, but of being realistic—of assessing what we’re doing on our planet, what we want to avoid, what we want to accomplish, and what we can do both collectively and individually to have a more promising future. In one more year we will have reached a quarter of the way to 2100, and we are well on our way to creating conditions that we will either applaud or bemoan.

On our little island in the wholeness of things, we are trying to maintain the paradise that we hope to keep. But we are part of the entire planet, and what happens elsewhere will affect, in some way, what happens here.

The world’s various ecologies are unable to support the standard of living for the 8+ billion that presently crowd our planet. We are already overshooting 8 of the 9 essential planetary boundaries that we need for a secure and comfortable survival—the one we stopped wrecking is the ozone layer that protects us from solar radiation. In addition to the global warming threat of rising carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels, here are some of the other major problems we face:

1. We are at the beginning of our planet’s sixth major extinction event, caused by us, and with unpredictable and potentially disastrous consequences.

2. We are running out of fresh water for domestic and agricultural use. Aquifers in the US, India, the Middle East and elsewhere are being used beyond replenishment.

3. We are overfishing the oceans, beyond sustainability.

4. About 95% of the global heat produced in the atmosphere is being transferred to the oceans, which, besides reducing marine oxygen levels, is killing coral reefs and redistributing species, if they are able to move. This heat is also generating more intense storms and increasing atmospheric humidity, causing heavier rainfall.

5. Ocean acidification is potentially fatal for marine life. About 30% of the carbon dioxide we add to the atmosphere gets converted to carbonic acid in sea water. Four of the five other extinction events in the history of our planet were caused by ecological disturbances as a result of excessive carbon dioxide emissions.

6. Plasticization is pretty well everywhere, It’s getting in our drinking water, our oceans, our soils, our food, and even in our clouds, which means it’s coming down as rain. Plastic particles of less than 2.5 microns can be transferred directly from our lungs into our blood stream—such particles are already being found in fetuses, placentas, and mothers’ milk.

7. We are using the biota of the planet about three faster than is sustainable—at close to 30% rather than 10%. This impairs the ability of ecologies to repair themselves, and for the biosphere to absorb carbon dioxide and cool the planet. Desertification is a part of this process.

8. Global warming reduces food production, exactly what we don’t need during a population rise. Meanwhile, soil erosion and depletion, and fresh water shortages, will require other innovative ways of producing food. Less meat is a clear option.

9. Glaciers are receding. By retaining high-elevation snow and ice, they moderate the water flow in many of the world’s major rivers. When the glaciers are gone, the distribution of water will be exaggerated. Many of the key rivers will not be able to produce sustainable runs of water in dry periods, but will be more likely to flood in seasonal wet periods.

10. The high latitudes of the Arctic are warming much faster than the rest of the planet, with the average temperature already more than the 2.0°C above the ceiling set by the Paris Accord of 2015. Thawing permafrost is beginning to release large quantities of carbon dioxide (CO2) and two other more potent greenhouse gases, methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O). Enough of these gases would create a self-sustaining warming process over which we would have no control.

11. Oceans are on an unstoppable rise. Some coastal cities and agricultural areas are already being flooded. Depending on the rate of ice melt in Greenland and Antarctica, most of the world’s coastal cities will be threatened with inundation by the end of this century.

12. As consumers, our global production of garbage is about 2 billion tonnes per year. Most of this is just accumulated in landfill sites or distributed as litter.

13. Present demographic trends indicate the world human population is expected to peak at about 11 billion by 2100, barring a major “correction”.

That’s the general situation for 2024, not counting a rogue Russia that has invaded another sovereign country, destroyed the political order that was established at the end of World War II, and has thrown into dysfunction whatever semblance of a world government that we once had. And the Israeli – Palestinian dilemma continues in a bloody new phase.

Needless to say, we have much to do and fix in 2024. However, if you don’t know how to fix the big things, you’re not powerless—we can each do many little things to make a difference.

Ray Grigg for Sierra Quadra

Top image credit: Vancouver’s traffic 20 years ago – Photo by Mark Woodbury via Flickr (CC BY 2.0 DEED)