Putting the Brakes on the Great Acceleration

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In our last blog, we covered the Environmental Bill which sets the scene for the future framework as outlined by law. But how exactly did the environment become such an important topic? Let’s take a look at what triggered the sustainability conversation and what it means.

The Trigger 

The Great Acceleration is a period in history where industrialisation and globalisation (or more simply, ‘progress’) sees the increased use of natural resources at a rapid rate to meet consumer demand. This growth has had its consequences, with the environment being one of the largest impacted. 

It began with the Industrial Revolution of the 1700s, which marked the beginning of a series of advancements to the economy and technology which would alter the shape of society for the next 250-years.  WWF depicts the change in the relationship between humans and the Earth along with its impact during this period in a short informational video:

The Detail

These advances, which can be seen in agricultural techniques, mass production, fossil fuel usage, global communication, urban population and transport innovations, have contributed directly to the changing face of Earth’s geology and ecosystems. The changes illuminate the true scale of the human imprint and have a direct affect on land, oceans, coastal zones and atmospheres. To give context to the degree of our environmental impact, you can reflect on the Earth’s increasing levels of carbon dioxide concentration. Changes to the environment at these increased levels are evidenced in the rise of human-driven change with the present concentration being reached 100 times faster than at any other time during the previous 420,000 years. 

The Great Acceleration uses a set of Socio-economic and Earth system trends from 1750 to 2000 to assess the extent of environmental impact and change.  We can see the unmistakable increase in system pressures correspond with trends like energy use and paper production, indicating that ‘progress’ is not slowing down.

So, what can be done at a global level?  

In response to this, a group of prominent scientists have established a set of nine planetary boundaries (see link below) which should not be breached if humanity is to continue to thrive. The scientists claim that any failure to adhere to these boundaries could bring about environmental changes which are impossible to reverse, and as such we must be mindful not to push the limits of these margins to the point of no return. The boundaries apply to the following areas:

  • Climate Change: Change in weather patterns through the release of CO2 and greenhouse gasses
  • Novel Entities: Introduction of matter into the environment by humans that could have disruptive effects on the earth system (a big one for our industry!)
  • Stratospheric Ozone Depletion: The decrease of the protective layer around the planet
  • Atmospheric Aerosol Loading: Impact that aerosols have on the environment such as cloud formation
  • Ocean Acidification: pH increase in oceans caused by CO2 increase which affects marine life
  • Biochemical Flows: Pollution caused by the production of fertiliser
  • Freshwater Use: The amount of freshwater (drinking water) being used
  • Land-System Change: Changes to land coverage as a consequence of human use
  • Biosphere Integrity: Extinction of species.

It is important to note that global changes do not happen on their own. They are triggered by interacting stresses which cause a threshold to be crossed and a rapid change in state to occur. In order to manage the impact of our socio-eco trends and in turn slow the rapid progress of the Great Acceleration, we must respect and adhere to the limits of planetary boundaries by relating them to our own lives and practices … and that is where we all step in. 

What are we doing?

Now that we are clear on the reasons why change has to come, here at The Pen Warehouse we feel that we need to start altering some aspects of the way we do business. This will include decreasing our use of critical resources such as fossil fuels and finding renewable ways of fueling our lives and enterprises. To see a change, we must be the change.

We have started this change internally and invite you to next week’s content where we will walk you through key developments, discuss how they came about and what it means for the environment.  Follow our EcoSense series to find out more about the steps we are taking towards a shared sustainable future. 

Extra reading

Check out some interesting literature on the subject:

http://www.igbp.net/globalchange/greatacceleration.4.1b8ae20512db692f2a680001630.html https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/2053019614564785?journalCode=anra