Spring 2018: Introduction to Mitigation and Adaptation Studies

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Class 3 (01/17/2018): Degradation of the Earth's Life-Support System

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Modified from the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment: Over the past decades, humans have changed ecosystems more rapidly and extensively than in any previous period in human history, largely to meet rapidly growing demands for food, fresh water, timber, fiber and fuel. This has resulted in a substantial and largely irreversible loss in the biodiversity. The changes that have been made to ecosystems have contributed to substantial net gains in human well-being and economic development, but these gains have been achieved at growing costs in the form of the degradation of many ecosystem services, increased risks of nonlinear changes, and the exacerbation of poverty for some groups of people. These problems, unless addressed, will substantially diminish the benefits that future generations obtain from ecosystems. The degradation of ecosystem services could grow significantly worse during the first half of this century and is a barrier to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. The challenge of reversing the degradation of ecosystem while meeting increasing demands for services will involve significant changes in policies, institutions and practices that are not currently under way. Many options exist to conserve or enhance specific ecosystem services in ways that reduce negative trade-offs or that provide positive synergies with other ecosystem services. Human actions are depleting Earth’s natural capital, putting such strain on the environment that the ability of the planet’s ecosystems to sustain future generations can no longer be taken for granted. In order to reduce the degradation of many ecosystem services over the next decades, substantial changes in policy and practice are required but are currently not underway.

Reading List

Barnosky et al., 2012

Hassan et al., 2005

Rockström et al., 2009a

Rockström et al., 2009b

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