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Earth in ecological danger zone, threatening human well-being

Our Mother Earth is sick, having pushed past seven of eight safety limits when it comes to planetary well-being, an international group of scientists said in a new study.

The planet is now in “the danger zone,” and climate is just one of the measures, the Swedish group Earth Commission said in its study published Wednesday in the journal Nature.

Previous warnings have emphasized statistics such as temperature, ice melt and sea level rise. This study takes those metrics a step further to incorporate the concept of “justice” — measurements that take into account the interconnectedness of human well-being with climate and air pollution, contamination from fertilizer overuse, groundwater supplies in general, fresh surface-water health, the unbuilt natural environment, and the overall natural and human-built environment. All but air pollution are at dangerous levels globally, the researchers said.

Far from being political, the justice component is essential, the lead author of the study said.

Justice is a necessity for humanity to live within planetary limits,” said Johan Rockström, Earth Commission co-chair and director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. “This is a conclusion seen across the scientific community in multiple heavyweight environmental assessments. It is not a political choice.”

At local and regional levels, air pollution was found to be at dangerous levels, the researchers said. Climate change went beyond what is harmful for humans in groups but is not yet drastic enough to tip the planetary system as a whole.

Charred trees stand as a forest fire sweeps through the Vila Nova Samuel region, along the road to the Jacunda National Forest near the city of Porto Velho, Rondonia state, part of Brazil's Amazon, on Aug. 25, 2019.

The study pinpointed climate hot-spots in Eastern Europe, South and Southeast Asia, the Middle East, China, much of Brazil and Mexico, and part of the western U.S. In addition, a good two-thirds of the planet falls short of the freshwater-safety threshold, the researchers said.

“We are in a danger zone for most of the Earth system boundaries,” said study co-author Kristie Ebi, a professor of climate and public health at the University of Washington.

This is aerial photo shows plastic bottles, wooden planks, rusty barrels and other garbage clogging the Drina river near the eastern Bosnian town of Visegrad, Bosnia, on Jan. 5, 2021.

The study also proposed solutions but, as with other climate warnings before this, emphasized the urgency — along with the need to safeguard everyone.

“Sustainability and justice are inseparable,” Stanford environmental studies chief Chris Field, who was not part of the research, told the Associated Press. “Unsafe conditions do not need to cover a large fraction of Earth’s area to be unacceptable, especially if the unsafe conditions are concentrated in and near poor and vulnerable communities.”

With News Wire Services

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