Owen Gaffney, director of communications at the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme (IGBP), Stockholm, Sweden, delivered a riveting featured session at the 2011 ASTC Annual Conference in Baltimore on Sunday, October 16. Using striking visualizations, Gaffney showed how human impact on the planet has increased exponentially since 1950—a phenomenon known as the Great Acceleration. Human impact, he explained, is determined by the intersection of population, affluence, and technology.
“Humanity has pushed the planet so much that we’ve reduced its resilience,” Gaffney said. “We’re getting close to the edge.” He said that we need to stay within nine boundaries, and we’ve already crossed three of them: climate change, the nitrogen cycle, and biodiversity loss.
Although he cited some grim statistics, Gaffney also sounded an upbeat and hopeful note. He held up the improvements in the ozone hole over Antarctica as a positive example. “This shows we can act globally on these issues, and this action can be effective.”
In that vein, Gaffney invited science centers to host their own events aligned with Planet Under Pressure: New Knowledge Toward Solutions. Gaffney is directing communications for this major scientific conference, which will be held in London in March in advance of the UN summit on sustainable development, Rio+20. ASTC is working with Planet Under Pressure to provide support and resources for participating science centers, as well as to develop 12 debates to be held on four continents.
Gaffney concluded, “We risk crossing a planetary threshold, but solutions exist. We need to act.”