Bang or Whimper, This is the Way the World Ends

Amanda Heflin, Staff Writer

There is a chance that earth could become uninhabitable for human beings in the coming decades, according to 18 researchers who published a paper in the journal Science, earth has surpassed four planetary boundaries.

“The Planetary boundary approach aims to define a safe operating space for human societies” Will Steffen and the 17 other researchers said in the paper “Planetary boundaries: Guiding human development on a changing planet” published in the journal of Science.

“There are certain things that if we change our environment and we change it too far, then it could cause catastrophic effects,” Dr. Kent Montgomery, Associate Professor at Texas A&M University – Commerce, said. “That is where the idea came to set these boundaries.”

The researchers set theoretical limits on the changes that are made to our environment, either by humans or caused naturally. It is thought that once we surpass the breaking point of the boundary, the damage is already done and we will not be able to fix the problem at that point.

The boundaries that have been surpassed include: extinction rate, deforestation, level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and the flow of nitrogen and phosphorous, which is used in fertilizers that cause contaminated runoff water to flow into the ocean.

A key player that is considered with problems like this is climate change. Depending on the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, it can cause a higher amount of radiation to reach earth, causing the average temperature to increase. “We get hit by so much radiation or solar flux [that] if you increase that, the sun won’t increase, but the amount of radiation that then gets reradiated back into space, which helps balance us, gets stopped by the atmosphere, and then that causes long term global climate issues,” Montgomery said.

When climate issues arise, food for the world is the number one concern, as human life subsides off agricultural for sustenance.

“What happens when you get global warming is generally you don’t lose all of the climate belts, but the climate belts will shift,” Dr. Hayden Fox, assistant dean of science and engineering at Texas A&M University – Commerce, said.  “Right now, so much of the food is raised in the latitudes with Kansas, Nebraska and Iowa. With a good shift in global temperatures, that agricultural belt may shift northward. Now Canada has a better climate for the bread basket then the US.  Food production has kept ahead of world population; we’ve always had enough food to feed the whole world. The reason people starve to death is transportation problems.”

With the increase of the extinction rate, there are many scenarios that could play out.

“A sixth mass extinction could be feasible,” Dr. Johanna Delgado-Acevedo, assistant professor for environmental science at Texas A&M University, said. “Species evolve, some are created and some are extinct. The extinction rate has increase at an exponential rate in the past decades.”

But there are scientific achievements out there that can do some sort of reversal or help decrease the rate at which some of these limits are passed. One thing we have done in the past is the banning of CFCs, a chemical agent that was causing the destruction of the ozone layer that protects earth from harmful radiation from space and the sun.

“There are people out there doing stuff to save the world if something was to happen,” Adam Torres, sophomore said. “Colonization of is looking  more feasible with SpaceX  [an independent program Founded by Elon Musk that sends supplies to the international space station on a regular basis].”

With all of the claims that this may cause the end of the world, one thing to remember is that all of these are hypotheses. No one has proven that it is the end of the world, and I feel fine.