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Pervasive Problems

Ecosystems at Every Level Affected
Not just one global ecosystem is under threat. Multiple systems at every level - global, regional and local - are affected. A recent report on the most extensive study of global ecosystems ever undertaken concluded that almost every major ecosystem on the planet is under stress (see  Millenium Ecosystem Assessment). Each of the areas reviewed in Areas of Concern are currently of significant problems. Approaching these areas of concern from a sustainable scale perspective indicates that each could conceivably exceed sustainable scale sometime in the present century. Some of these systems have already been pushed beyond sustainable scale. While these areas of concern are as diverse as oil production and biodiversity loss, there is an underlying commonality - they have a common cause - material throughput as an integral part of the economic process (see Causes of Scale Problems).


Caution Needed
The pervasiveness of scale problems adds to both the difficulties in understanding sustainable scale issues, and the dangers they pose. It is difficult enough to understand a single complex system operating in a relatively stable natural state. The complexities are increased significantly when multiple complex systems are affected simultaneously, and are interacting in novel and dynamic ways. If we have already driven one or more global systems beyond sustainable scale, as many scientists believe, then the risks of a domino effect triggering yet more systems' changes is increased. Considerable caution is required to ensure all global life support systems are maintained in a sustainable range (see Scale Policy Implications).


Pervasiveness of Scale Problems Suggests Focusing on Causes
The pervasiveness of scale problems indicates that it is not simply a few areas that need attention. Altering a few industrial processes, or banning a few toxic compounds will not solve the problem. The causes are more fundamental and widespread (see Causes of Scale Problems). Our current approaches to environmental problems are piecemeal and generally rely on end of pipe solutions, attempting to fix them after they occur. The magnitude and seriousness of sustainable scale problems suggest that focusing on underlying causes would be both more efficient and more effective (see Causes of Scale Problems and Attractive Solutions).

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