The Tipping Point
What are "Tipping Points"?
Tipping points can be described as when the "The earth's environmental systems "are being pushed towards their biophysical limits," beyond which loom sudden, irreversible and potentially catastrophic changes" which have been brought on by human activities.
A 525 page study done by the United Nations Environment Program in June of 2012 reported that "the melting of the polar ice caps, desertification in Africa, deforestation of tropical jungles...spraying of chemicals and the emptying out of the world's seas are just some of myriad environmental catastrophes posing a threat to life as we know it". This can cause a detrimental effect on ecosystems.
An international team of 22 scientists, including two UC Davis professors also found that "Earth may experience the next major tipping point within a few generations". These "pressures are greater than the natural forces that caused the end of the last ice age roughly 11,700 years ago, a time when half the planet's large mammal species went extinct and humans migrated out of Africa".
Anthony Barnosky, a paleobiologist at the University of California, Berkeley agrees with 20 other experts in paleontology, ecology, geology, population biology and complex systems "that at the landscape scale, if you disturb between 50 to 90 percent of patches, you see major changes in ones that you haven't disturbed directly...we know that we are at a point on the planet where you have more than 43 percent of the land surface wholesale transformed for human needs. If we transform more and more, we'll be at a point where even places we haven't transformed with our sledgehammers will go through major changes."
What are the Effects?
A study done in three years by a team of 300 researchers concluded that "adverse implications include rising sea levels, increased frequency and severity of floods and droughts, and the collapse of fisheries". Other consequences include "20 percent of vertebrate species are under threat of extinction, coral reefs have declined by 38 percent since 1980, greenhouse gas emissions could double over the next 50 years, and 90 percent of water and fish samples from aquatic environments are contaminated by pesticides".
There have already been signs of "complex, non-linear changes" already at work in parts of the world...such as increased incidence of malaria in areas where average temperatures have crossed the threshold that encourages the spread of mosquitoes that carry the disease".
Another issue arising in recent years by scientistswho study climate suggests "that humans have changed it enough to push Earth into a new geologic epoch, the Anthropocene. Biologists have warned that accelerating rates of species loss suggest the planet is entering the sixth great extinction in its history, on par with the event that wiped out the dinosaurs".
UNEP executive director Achim Steiner also commented that "once a tipping point occurs, you don't wake up the next morning and say, 'This is terrible, can we change it?' That is the whole essence of these thresholds. We are condemning people to not having the choice anymore."
What can be Done?
Although the situation seems grim, suggestions and solutions have arisen in order to start curtailng these effects. Baronsky suggest the ability to "anticipate what are the worst-case scenarios and develop work-arounds in time to actually work around them".
Another suggestion has been to develop "better predictive models that are based on a detailed understanding of how the biosphere reacted in the distant past to rapidly changing conditions, including climate and human population growth. Better forecasting could lead to better decisions about protecting natural resources".
Steiner agreed, stating that "'change is possible'...adding that the report includes an analysis of a host of environmental preservation projects that have worked. "Given what we know, we can move in another direction."
Kat Kerlin. "A Warning on Climate 'Tipping Point'". UC Davis Magazine, Fall 2012.
DWR Mission Statement:To manage the water resources of California in cooperation with other agencies, to benefit the State's people, and to protect, restore, and enhance the natural and human environments.
In carrying out its responsibilities, DWR is also committed to helping California become more sustainable in both its policies and practices and even more importantly with its dedicated employees. To help in its sustainability effort, DWR currently has a Sustainability Coordinator, a Climate Action Team, 33 Recycling and Waste Coordinators, as well as numerous other employees including LEED certified staff, environmental scientists, biologists, engineers, rangeland scientists, hydrologists and other specialists who are working on sustainability.
Please feel free to contact us with your thoughts and suggestions at:
About the Portal
This portal is designed to share, communicate, and collaborate on information regarding sustainability at DWR including sustainable water resources, sustainability science, sustainable engineering, and sustainable infrastructure. The portal also contains a variety of resources including a sustainability library, videos, and links to other websites.
A short video on light pollution and its impact from the "Hidden Costs" Video Series. http://www.insurancequotes.org/hidden-cost-light-pollution
The Hidden Cost series reflects on common products and their unintended consequences. Inspired by the Gross National Happiness Index (GNH), a concept of quantitative measurement of well-being and happiness, Hidden Cost hopes to shed light on some of the ways in which everyday products and occurrences affect our lives at large.
Ultimately, the Hidden Cost series is designed to make viewers think about life expenditures in an abstract way. Much of the data accumulated with regard to cost is either in direct correlation with spending money or intangible to the average person. For example, you may read that people spend an average of $316,000 on healthcare in their lifetime. The money spent is quantifiable, albeit bafflingly extensive at times. However, few spend time quantifying how many days humans sleep, laugh, or talk in an average lifetime. The Hidden Cost series garners attention to these abstract costs, hoping to make viewers more aware of how they interact with the world around them.
The following paragraphs are directly quoted from the Hidden Costs website, 11/4/2013.
The globe has never been so electrified. Today, most of Europe, the United States, and all of Japan appear as solid blocks of light in satellite photos. Meanwhile, the stars have been all but extinguished from our night sky.
The Earth is now readily visible from space, but space is no longer visible from Earth. The starscapes we see today are a far and faint cry from those that the rest of humankind gazed up to for centuries. This is why the broad bright strokes of Van Gogh's "Starry Night" feel so carnivalesque. And it's why the term Milky Way doesn't make much sense to us anymore. But light pollution can also be a hazard to our health. Just about every organism on the planet lives its life according to the rhythms of daytime and darkness. Excessive light can disrupt an animal's migratory, hunting, breeding, and sleep cycles.
Light pollution's most talked-about animal victims include migratory birds and sea turtles. Migrating birds often lose their flight paths once disoriented by far-off lights or, more dangerously, misread skies, thus beginning annual migrations too early in the year. Artificial light disorients sea turtle hatchlings as they make their journeys into the ocean. Normally, hatchlings follow shadows cast by sand dunes, but they can't follow these natural watermarks when the moon's light is diffused by the bright lights of a nearby beach town.
Several human health problems – from chronic fatigue, migraines, and sexual dysfunction – have also been linked to light exposure. Fluorescent lighting is common in corporate offices around America. Paired with the perpetual glow of computer monitors, cell phone displays, and tablets, employees subject their bodies to unnatural light exposure on a daily basis, often leaving the office after the sun has taken its respite. Some of the resulting ailments from such a lifestyle include eye strain, leading to vision problems, headaches and migraines, seasonal affective disorder, hormone imbalances, and stress from a lack of cortisol. As an indirect consequence, Americans require more medical attention, therapy, and medication to offset the effects of light pollution of their bodies. A suitable health insurance plan can help lessen the financial burden of tending to such conditions, but an overhaul on how we utilize light in our everyday lives would be a more permanent solution to the issue of light pollution.
So, what can we do to reclaim the darkness? Minimize your own light waste by opting for low wattage bulbs whenever possible and be sure to keep your lights off when you don't need them. If you're interested in learning more about the effects of light pollution or want to get involved with current efforts to curb them, the International Dark-Sky Association is a great place to start.
Did You Know...
One tree can filter up to 60 pounds of pollutants from the air each year.
A dripping faucet can waste up to 2,000 gallons of water a year.
Why is CO2 significant?
Carbon dioxide (CO2) is the chief greenhouse gas that results from human activities and causes global warming and climate change.
To see whether enough is being done at the moment to solve these global problems, there is no single indicator as complete and current as the monthly updates for atmospheric CO2 from the Mauna Loa Observatory.
What is the current trend?
The concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere are increasing at an accelerating rate from decade to decade. The latest atmospheric CO2 data is consistent with a continuation of this long-standing trend.
What level is safe?
The upper safety limit for atmospheric CO2 is 350 parts per million(ppm). Atmospheric CO2 levels have stayed higher than350 ppm since early 1988.
It is the policy of the Department of Water Resources (DWR) to become a sustainability leader and ecosystem steward within State government and the California water community. DWR will do so by promoting, and facilitating sustainability practices throughout its business operations and the State Water Project (SWP). The Department will consider sustainability and ecosystem stewardship in its activities and plans and, in the context of technical feasibility and cost-effectiveness, will make sustainability a criterion in all decision-making processes.
See the entire policy at : http://aquanet.water.ca.gov/mao/dam/8000/8000.htm#b8001
DWR is announcing a "Sustainable Year" campaign! From February to November, every month will have a Sustainability theme and related events that promote one of DWR's Sustainability goals. A complete calendar of goals and events is found under the Sustainable Year Page. Please feel free to suggest ideas and events that you think will help DWR reach its Sustainability goals. We hope you take advantage of the various opportunities to participate in helping DWR and that you have a Sustainable Year!
DWR's Annual Sustainability Reports
The annual reports, beginning with 2010 thru 2015 may be found in their entirety in the library in the folder entitled "Annual Reports". We hope you browse the report and see all of DWR's sustainability activities!
This four minute video discusses how AT&T designed a way for customers to propery dispose their cell phones in an environmentally sustainable manner. There is also information regarding a trade-in program for your used cell phones that acts as a credit that can decrease your monthly phone bill.
Posted September 18, 2013.
What do we mean by Sustainability? Sustainability as a concept has a long and changing history. Perhaps the most famous definition is from the 1983 Brundtland Commission report:
"Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”
However, this definition actually talks about "sustainable development". Is that what we mean today? Probably not. Sustainability's definition and meaning is still evolving. This evolution is occurring because we are beginning to understand just how complex Sustainability actually is and how difficult a concept it is to embody. It was thought in the 1980's that the environment, the economy and society were the keys. A lot of energy went into trying to fit these concepts into graphic images. Below are a few of the thousands of conceptual models of sustainabilty one can find on the internet. There are both subtle and not so subtle differences between them. Everyone has a different idea of what Sustainability means.
But Sustainability has outgrown such simple conceptual models. Sustainability issues are more complicated than we thought and we need to rethink some of these basic assumptions.One way to consider Sustainability is to examine its underlying concepts. First and foremost, Sustainability is not about maintaining the status quo. Nor is Sustainability the latest management fad.
Rather, Sustainability embraces a process that considers complex system attributes and what happens when complex systems are impacted by human intervention. Sustainability is also concerned about equilibriums of ecosystems and their tipping points and humanity's impacts on critical equilibriums. Sustainability includes issues such as global warming and the accompanying climate change. It is concerned with species loss and extinction, desertification, and deforestation as well as such issues as non-biodegradable materials, energy efficiency, and dwindling water resources. Most importantly, Sustainability is about humanity and humanity's future. Now, more than ever, we need to understand how our current practices are impacting future generations and their ability to survive under the coming changes brought about by current human activities. We need to understand the impacts of our choices. To help us understand the impacts of our choices, new fields of study are evolving. Fields such as Sustainable Design, Sustainable Engineering and Sustainable Infrastructure are providing new tools that measure impacts and provide new ways of achieving goals by working within system equilibriums. DWR will be incorporating these and other concepts in its business practices and in its mission in the years to come. The future of all Californians depends on it!