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Chemical pollution reportedly passes safe limit for humanity

A study on Earth’s cocktail of chemicals suggests pollution levels are threatening the stability of ecosystems on which life physically depends.

Fear mongering really isn’t our thing, but we would be remiss not to bring you the unfiltered facts.

Though it can’t be verified officially, researchers have reason to believe humanity has now likely breached planetary boundaries of chemical damage – the point at which natural ecosystems stop functioning as they were intended.

If you’re picturing acid rain falling from the sky, or scrambling for gas masks on Etsy, it isn’t quite that bad yet. That doesn’t mean to say that we shouldn’t be concerned or angry, mind.

It has long been known that chemical pollution damages the biological processes that underpin life on Earth. For example, pesticide levels in the air wipe out insects that may form the basis of entire ecosystems and food chains. Heard of the butterfly effect?

We recently covered a story on how leaving CFC compounds behind since the 1980s helped reverse damage to our ozone, but the bigger picture regarding mankind’s chemical cocktail isn’t looking so positive.

By measuring the rate at which some 350,000 chemicals are produced and released into the environment – and that’s ignoring the unregistered ones – scientists have surmised that the process is too widespread to investigate the impacts precisely.

Technically, there’s no pre-human baseline for chemicals, like we have for the climate crisis and pre-industrial levels of carbon dioxide. However, had we drawn one up decades ago, researchers are adamant that we’d have failed to protect it.

‘There has been a fiftyfold increase in the production of chemicals since 1950 and this is projected to triple again by 2050,’ claims Patricia Villarrubia-Gómez, a research assistant at the Stockholm Resilience Centre which partook in the study.

‘The pace that societies are producing and releasing new chemicals into the environment is not consistent with staying within a safe operating space for humanity.’

The most worrying aspect about chemical damage is that we’re entirely unprepared for the effects. Strictly speaking, this is uncharted territory and science is all but blind to how it will manifest in the context of our many ecosystems. All we know, is it won’t be good.

‘In this situation, where we have a low level of scientific certainty about effects, there is a need for a much more precautionary approach to new chemicals and to the amount being emitted to the environment,’ says Sir Ian Boyd, a professor at the University of St Andrews.

Looking at plastic waste alone, arguably the biggest scourge of modern civilisation, we’ve actually found ourselves in a situation where its total mass exceeds that of all living animals. 8.7 million known species that is, according to estimates… let that sink in for a second.

The chemical boundary represents five of nine boundaries that science claims have been crossed, with the others being global heating, the destruction of wild habitats, loss of biodiversity, and excessive nitrogen pollution.

Hopefully, now we have some inkling as to the extent of chemical damage, we can at least begin to consider it in global climate policy going forward.