Unintended Consequences

Results from actions that were not expected or intended. Unintended consequences are often negative and are due to systems being more complex and interconnected than we may realize—especially environmental and social systems.
The Precautionary Principle is an attempt at helping individuals, organizations, and societies to be more mindful of the effects of their decisions before taking action or making changes. It is being increasingly adopted by organizations around the world.

  • karin.meyer

    A shift away from the “systems within systems” thinking so common throughout the Industrial Age and the rise of “whole planet” awareness should engage our global community to embrace the complex interconnectedness of “what happens to you in your community, affects me and mine.” This concept will be important to remember as the unintended effects of climate and ecosystem changes negatively impact our global community. A poignant example, first quantified by The Climate Initiative study, Exodus: An Emergent Crisis in the Global Arena (July 1995), are a new and fast-growing population of environmental refugees displaced from their homelands by shrinkage or disappearance of habitable lands due to soil erosion, water pollution, drought, increased deforestation, and desertification, at a time in the future rising oceans. Clearly, pushing the limits of stable, fertile environments resulting in lost habitat is a tragic unintended consequence shifting ecosystems responding to climate change brought about by past industrial systems. As our global community moves to address such changes, we must understand the rise in unintended consequences will grow affecting everyone on the planet.

  • J. Doherty

    While the Earth has always endured natural climate change variability, we are now facing the possibility of irreversible climate change in the near future. The increase of greenhouse gases in the Earth?s atmosphere from industrial processes has enhanced the natural greenhouse effect. This in turn has accentuated the greenhouse ?trap? effect, causing greenhouse gases to form a blanket around the Earth, inhibiting the sun?s heat from leaving the outer atmosphere. This increase of greenhouse gases is causing an additional warming of the Earth?s surface and atmosphere. A direct consequence of this is sea-level rise expansion, which is primarily due to the thermal expansion of oceans (water expands when heated), inducing the melting of ice sheets as global surface temperature increases.
    Forecasts for climate change by the 2,000 scientists on the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) project a rise in the global average surface temperature by 1.4 to 5.8°C from 1990 to 2100. This will result in a global mean sea level rise by an average of 5 mm per year over the next 100 years. Consequently, human-induced climate change will have ?deleterious effects? on ecosystems, socio-economic systems and human welfare.At the moment, especially high risks associated with the rise of the oceans are having a particular impact on the two archipelagic states of Western Polynesia: Tuvalu and Kiribati. According to UN forecasts, they may be completely inundated by the rising waters of the Pacific by 2050.According to the vast majority of scientific investigations, warming waters and the melting of polar and high-elevation ice worldwide will steadily raise sea levels. This will likely drive people off islands first by spoiling the fresh groundwater, which will kill most land plants and leave no potable water for humans and their livestock. Low-lying island states like Kiribati, Tuvalu, the Marshall Islands and the Maldives are the most prominent nations threatened in this way.“The biggest challenge is to preserve their nationality without a territory,” said Bogumil Terminski from Geneva. The best solution is continue to recognize deterritorialized states as a normal states in public international law. The case of Kiribati and other small island states is a particularly clear call to action for more secure countries to respond to the situations facing these ‘most vulnerable nations’, as climate change increasingly impacts upon their lives.