Welcome to the October 2011 edition of Ecocities Emerging, an initiative of Ecocity Builders and the International Ecocity Conference Series.
“Why are we here?” It’s a question often posed philosophically. Posed practically, the answer is pretty straightforward – we’re here because our planet supports conditions for life, including human life. Alarmingly, humans are now impacting living systems to a point where our life-sustaining conditions are being undermined. The deeper and more urgent question at this point is: “How do we stop doing this — and what can we do to support and sustain both people and planet?”
We know that the answer to this question must be framed within the limits of what the planet can provide while maintaining stable life supporting conditions. Scientists at the Stockholm Resilience Centre have outlined nine planetary boundaries as comprising a “safe operating space” for humanity. Drawing upon current scientific understanding, quantifications have been proposed for seven of them:
1. climate change;
2. ocean acidification;
3. stratospheric ozone;
4. biogeochemical nitrogen (N) cycle and phosphorus (P) cycle;
5. global freshwater use;
6. land system change; and
7. the rate at which biological diversity is lost.
The two additional planetary boundaries for which thresholds have not been yet established are:
8. chemical pollution and
9. atmospheric aerosol loading.
(More information here, including an address from United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urging world leaders to apply planetary boundaries thinking.)
We have already transgressed 3 planetary boundaries: climate change, rate of biodiversity loss, and changes to the global nitrogen cycle. We are in a critical predicament. The question remains inanswered. Can humanity – cities and citizens – exist, even thrive, within the boundaries? We believe that we can. Cities, we believe, can save the earth.
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