Walk down Stokes Croft, by St James Barton, and you will see a panel with 51.02 (N) engraved upon it. This alludes to the global latitude of our city, which alongside our longitude of (02.36W) on the ‘third rock from the sun’ is key to our lives.
Let’s take a short journey into Brian Cox territory:
- Our high latitude (far from the equator) receives less sunlight affecting the types of plants and animals that can live in our particular temperate ecosystem or biome.
- Our planet currently has an axial tilt of about 23.44°. This means that as we orbit the Sun, one pole will be directed away from the Sun at one point and half an orbit later (half a year later) this pole will be directed towards the Sun. Without this we would not have the Earth’s seasons.
- Our planet exists in the ‘Goldilocks’ zone, the habitable region around our sun, not to hot or cold, but “just right”.
- The moon determines our tides while the roughly circular orbit of the Earth and other planets within our Solar System allows Earth’s temperature to remain stable.
- Our current climatic era is known as the Holocene, has been beneficial to humankind over the past 12,000 years.
This illustrates that our planetary boundaries are real and relevant. It also means ensuring that humanity’s use of natural resources does not stress critical Earth system processes.
In fact, the biggest source of planetary-boundary stress today is excessive resource consumption by roughly the wealthiest 10% of the world’s population, and the production patterns of the companies producing the goods and services that they buy.
Around 50% of global carbon emissions are generated by just 11% of people. Meanwhile, 57% of global income is in the hands of just 10% of people.
Adding to the pressure created by the world’s wealthiest consumers is a growing global ‘middle class’, aspiring to emulate today’s high-income lifestyles. By 2030, global demand for water is expected to rise by 30%, and demand for food and energy both by 50%.
The Stockholm Resilience Centre originally published the concept of nine planetary boundaries, beyond which lies unacceptable environmental degradation. These are climate change, biodiversity loss, land use change, freshwater use, nitrogen and phosphorous cycles, ocean acidification, chemical pollution, atmospheric aerosol depletion and ozone depletion.
In this context we have to tackle food, energy and income poverty. Nearly 900m people face hunger, 1.4 billion live on less than $1.25 per day, and 2.7 billion have no access to clean cooking facilities.
Oxfam believes these must be and can be achieved with almost no impact on our planetary boundaries. If we are to achieve sustainable development, human deprivation and environmental degradation must be tackled together within humanity’s two major operating boundaries – “social boundaries” and the above “planetary or environmental boundaries” – which are inextricably linked.
The eleven social foundations are set out in the UK Governments’ social priorities for the forthcoming Rio+20 conference– food security, income, water and sanitation, health care, education, energy, gender equality, social equity, voice, jobs and resilience.
Together, the two sets of boundaries create an area – shaped like a doughnut – that defines an environmentally safe and socially just space for humanity to thrive in. Oxfam Policy researcher, Kate Raworth in A safe and just space for humanity draws together some of these issues to create a new paradigm for 21st-century action. This simple visual framework (above) brings together the social, environmental and economic priorities that underpin inclusive and sustainable development. Kate explains some of the ideas in this video…
We can have the future we want. We can provide enough food, we can bring electricity to the 19% of people who currently lack it, and we can end income poverty.
‘It’s the economy stupid’ is now a common political cliché but traditional growth models are on trial. Current policies have largely failed to deliver on both accounts: far too few benefits of GDP growth have gone to people living in poverty, and far too much of GDP’s rise has been at the cost of degrading natural resources.
The aim of this June’s Rio+20 Conference must be to promote an economic development model that eradicates poverty while reducing global resource use, to bring it back within planetary boundaries. Social justice demands that this double objective be achieved through far greater global equity in the use of natural resources, with the greatest reductions coming from the world’s richest consumers.
Read Kate’s blog for more discussion around these issues: see http://oxf.am/oef
Roger James is a campaigner for Oxfam South West in Bristol…