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Environmental Abuse - Biting The Hand That Feeds Us

Updated on November 18, 2009

Environmental abuse is inexcusable - it is the proverbial biting the hand that feeds us. Abuse occurs when the abuser violates the personal boundaries of their victims. The motivation for doing so is to gain control and power over the abused.

According to a report in Nature written by Johann Rockstrom, and 27 other environmental scientists of the Stockholm Environment Institute, the Earth has nine biophysical boundaries and violating these boundaries could hold catastrophic results for the Earth and mankind as reported in an article on Yale 360.

Graphic courtesy Yale 360
Graphic courtesy Yale 360

Crossing the Boundaries

The fact that we have violated the boundaries of three of these nine thresholds is proof that mankind is guilty of gross abuse of the Earth. Rockstrom helped organize a workshop in Stockholm in April 2008 where environmental scientists talked about the other possible thresholds that might exist on a global scale.

They concluded that there was good evidence for nine kinds of thresholds: climate change, ocean acidity, the ozone layer, freshwater use, the movement of nitrogen and phosphorus, the amount of land used for crops, aerosols (haze and other particles), biodiversity, and chemical pollution.

The boundaries that the scientists identified having been violated are: The movement of Nitrogen, Loss of Biodiversity and Climate Change.

Loss of Biodiversity

Biodiversity is the variation of life forms within ecosystems and is often used as the yardstick to measure the health of biological systems on Earth.

In 2001 the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA) was launched with support from the United Nations. This program’s function is to research the changes to ecosystems over the course of decades and to project these changes into the future.

In 2005 the MA released its first four-year report and warned that across the board the world is degrading its natural resources and that the harmful consequences of this degradation could get significantly worse over the next 50 years.

Loss of Biodiversity

Typical example of deforestation
Typical example of deforestation

Contributing Factors

The findings in the report further stated that the rate of change to the ecosystems in the past 50 years was the most extensive and most rapid in human history.  The main contributing factors were the growing demand for food, fuel, fresh water, timber and fibre which have resulted in extensive and mostly irreversible loss of diversity of life on Earth.

Currently between 10-30% of the mammal, bird and amphibian species on Earth are threatened with extinction, all due to human actions.

Overpopulation, pollution (air- water- and soil contamination) , deforestation and global warming are human-driven contributing factors to loss of biodiversity. The MA warns that human actions are depleting Earths natural resources which will influence the planet’s ecosystem’s ability to sustain future generations.

Society’s Industrial and organic waste has polluted our rivers, oceans and seas as the earth’s waterways have become their rubbish bins. Global warming, for which man is the culprit, will cause the extinction of many plant and animal species that will not be able to evolve quickly enough to keep up with the climate change.

Man has drastically reduced the population of some fish species and destroyed entire forests and their ecosystems. Whales were hunted to the verge of extinction. Invasive species of plants and animals have been moved to habitats where they may flourish and prey on the local species. Agriculture,  housing and industry are destroying the habitats of many plants, animals and microbes.

Massive extinctions caused by human activities has caused the rate at which species are becoming extinct to extend far beyond a safe boundary, according to the scientists. Although species have become extinct  since the beginning of life,  this has previously been happening at a regular and much slower pace. According to the paper by Johan Rockstrom et al the extinction rate should not rise above 10 times the long-term background rate.

Deforestation Contributes to Both Loss of Biodiversity and Global Warming

Just How Far Have We Crossed This Boundary?

Currently the extinction rate is approaching 1,000 times the background rate. If current trends continue as much as two thirds of all species of plants, animals, and other organisms would be lost during the second half of the next century.

In summarizing the reasons for the unacceptably high loss of  biodiversity all fingers are pointing at humanity for crossing the planetary boundaries and tipping the scales.

Climate Change

Until recently the Earth's average global temperatures and concentrations of carbon dioxide have remained reasonably constant, although fluctuations have occurred on a cycle of hundreds of thousands of years. These fluctuations were the cause of the ice ages that came and went.

There have been other natural factors that have influenced global temperatures such as volcanic eruptions and the El Nino cycle. These however only have short and predictable cycles and therefore do not have any long-term effect on global temperatures.

Greenhouse gases (GHG) have been emitted into the atmosphere for thousands of years but these were balanced out by greenhouse gases that were naturally absorbed. This allowed human civilization to develop within a constant climate.

Systematic Diagram of Greenhouse Effect

Global Warming

What Has Changed?

Since the Industrial Revolution the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has increased by more than a third as a result of human activities on Earth. Historically changes of this magnitude would have taken thousands of years. Now it is taking decades. Green House Gas (GHG) emissions and the burning of fossil fuels are increasing the greenhouse effect and warming the Earth.

As a result sea levels are rising, glaciers are melting , cloud forests are drying and wildlife are having a tough time trying to survive and adapt to the climate changes. The greenhouse gases that humans are releasing as we power our modern lives has caused the levels of GHG in the atmosphere to be the highest it has been in the last 650,000 years.

The resultant changes in the Earth’s climate is known as global warming as the increased GHG cause the Earth’s long-term weather patterns to change. The rain patterns and snowfalls are influenced by the increase in the Earth’s temperatures as winds and oceans move the heat around the globe cooling some areas down and warming others.

The end result is that the rhythms of climate are changing and some living things may not be able to adapt to the changes as quickly as they occur.

The heat is not only melting glaciers and sea ice, it’s also shifting rainfall patterns and forcing animals to move to new areas in order to survive..

Pollution and Global Warming Go Hand in Hand

The following changes have already occurred as a result of climate change:

  • Sea levels have risen faster over the last century.
  • Ice is melting worldwide, especially at the Earth’s poles. This includes mountain glaciers, ice sheets covering West Antarctica and Greenland, and Arctic sea ice.
  • On average rain and snowfalls have increased across the globe
  • The Adélie penguins on Antarctica have fallen in numbers in the past 30 years from 32,000 breeding pairs to 11,000.
  • Some foxes, butterflies, and alpine plants have moved to cooler places farther north or higher.
  • Following 20 warm summers Spruce Bark Beetles have flourished  and have destroyed 4 million acres of spruce trees.

How Far Have We Crossed This Boundary?

The findings of Johann Rockstrom,  and 27 other environmental scientists are that we have already put too much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

These levels should be no higher than 350 parts per million. Prior to the Industrial Revolution the concentration was at approximately 280 parts per million but we have crossed the boundary of 350 and are currently up to 387 parts per million

Crossing The Global Warming Boundary Further

Are These The Only Boundaries That Could Endanger Life as We Know It?

There are six more identified boundaries that we may not have crossed. Some may have been crossed already as they have not been measured . Worse yet, are there any unidentified boundaries that we may inadvertently have crossed or are on our way to cross? We never knew about these nine boundaries until very recently. How do we know for sure that there are no other areas where we are biting the hand that feeds us?

Warning - Read this before you watch the Video

I found this short but extremely powerful video on I had second thoughts about adding it to the Hub because I felt that viewers that are offended by the use of the F word may be offended. If you are one of them - don't watch the video but I am warning you that if you miss the Video you may miss a very special message.


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    • watergeek profile image

      Susette Horspool 

      8 years ago from Pasadena CA

      I don't think remorse or regret accomplish anything, really. I know there are a few corporations who just don't give a rap, as long as they're making money. Those are the ones it's hard not to feel resentful toward. I also know people, on both sides, who insist on arguing about the climate change issue and they are the ones least likely to take action.

      Most people respond pretty well when you take the blame out of it and just focus on what we can do to counteract global warming, whatever caused it. That's what I'm looking for - action taken to create a new way of living and producing that respects nature.

    • profile image

      alicia worthington 

      8 years ago

      it took a very long time to read but it healped a lot thx

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Don't we realize that we will be the one who will suffer if we keep on destroying our nature?

    • Sophie's soap box profile image

      Sophie's soap box 

      8 years ago from Australia

      Thank you for this informative, accessible hub. The better educated people are, the more likely they are to make responsible choices regarding their carbon footprint. I do find it distressing however, that some people I know with multiple degrees do not even believe in Climate Change. Even if they think Global Warming is 'cyclical' and nothing to do with human activity, surely they must feel some remorse (or at least regret) regarding the the current and unrelenting overconsumption of resources and the pollution/denudation which results. How selfish and wilfully unenlightened can people be? Obviously very.

    • Laura du Toit profile imageAUTHOR

      Laura du Toit 

      8 years ago from South Africa

      Thanks for the comment CWanamaker. I know we can not undo what we have done but at least we can try to curb the abuse if we educate people on the consequences of their actions.

    • CWanamaker profile image

      Christopher Wanamaker 

      8 years ago from Arizona

      Another great article about climate change. Thanks to many things, including articles like this, I think some things are starting to get better. Don't get me wrong though, we have a LONG way to go to undo all the damage we have done. Thank you.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Wow, nicely written and very helpful. helped me on my research paper!!.

      Thank u SO much!

    • nextstopjupiter profile image


      10 years ago from here, there and everywhere

      Our Mother Earth will survive, with or without us. Let's stop all this madness now and make the world a better place, maybe it is already too late. Thank you for this well written hub!

    • Laura du Toit profile imageAUTHOR

      Laura du Toit 

      10 years ago from South Africa

      Thanks DRG

      If more people would stop denying the facts and try to make out that global warming as we know it is just a natural phenomenon and not man-made then at least the world would probably make a more concerted effort to do something. There are many people who are doing what they can.My question is - will it be enough?

    • DRG Da Real Grinc profile image

      Felix J Hernandez 

      10 years ago from All over the USA

      Great Hub, very resourceful. I feel helpless sometimes knowing that not enough is being done.

    • Laura du Toit profile imageAUTHOR

      Laura du Toit 

      10 years ago from South Africa

      Thanks Sweetie1

      I couldn't agree more about the population explosion.

    • sweetie1 profile image


      10 years ago from India

      simply beautiful..very beautifully written and yes the human population is out of control and yet we are not limiting our number of children.. we humans number far far more than this earth can support. Only way is to produce less children so with time the population goes down.

    • Laura du Toit profile imageAUTHOR

      Laura du Toit 

      10 years ago from South Africa

      Thanks Lady E

      Glad you enjoyed it!

    • Lady_E profile image


      10 years ago from London, UK

      I enjoyed reading this Green Hub - very informative. I think Mother Nature is smiling at you.

      A very important message for us all. Thanks. :)

    • Laura du Toit profile imageAUTHOR

      Laura du Toit 

      10 years ago from South Africa

      Thanks Paradise.

    • Paradise7 profile image


      10 years ago from Upstate New York

      Great hub, very well done. You're a grat writer and researcher, Laura.

    • Laura du Toit profile imageAUTHOR

      Laura du Toit 

      10 years ago from South Africa

      Thank you Ralph - I am truly honored.

    • Ralph Deeds profile image

      Ralph Deeds 

      10 years ago from Birmingham, Michigan

      Your hub is now the top link on my "Global Warming Update 11-17-09)

    • Laura du Toit profile imageAUTHOR

      Laura du Toit 

      10 years ago from South Africa

      Thank you very much Ralph!

    • Ralph Deeds profile image

      Ralph Deeds 

      10 years ago from Birmingham, Michigan

      Very well done!


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