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Exceeding planetary boundaries: the hidden risk you might not have known

Of the four boundaries that researchers say we have already exceeded, climate change is the most well known. But what’s less known is that biosphere integrity is at even higher risk levels.

In the mid-2000s, Johan Rockström, founding director of Sweden’s Stockholm Resilience Centre, gathered an international, interdisciplinary team of scientists to unite behind a single goal: define the boundaries for a “safe operating space for humanity” on Earth. They asked themselves: what are the safe operating limits of our planet, and what changes can we force on it before we trigger rapid, catastrophic environmental harm?

In 2009, the center published the Planetary Boundaries Framework, updated in 2015, which outlined nine key processes, influenced by humanity, that threaten the stability of the entire Earth System. These are: climate change, biodiversity integrity (functional and genetic), ocean acidification, depletion of the ozone layer, atmospheric aerosol pollution, biogeochemical flows of nitrogen and phosphorus, freshwater use, land-system change, and release of novel chemicals (including heavy metals, radioactive materials, plastics, and more).

Together, the stability of these nine processes is essential to maintaining the Earth’s atmosphere, oceans and ecosystems in the delicate balance that has allowed human civilizations to flourish. However, these are also the processes that human activities have impacted most profoundly.

Two of these, climate change and biosphere integrity, are what scientists call "core boundaries". Significantly altering either of these "core boundaries" would "drive the Earth System into a new state".

The researchers then estimated a limit of just how much human activities could exploit and alter each of these processes before the global system would pass a tipping point — a threshold beyond which we risk sending the Earth spiraling into a state that hasn’t been experienced for the entirety of human existence, bringing extreme change that could crash civilization and endanger humanity.

Fast forward to now, and Rockström noted there is little evidence we’ve reversed course to avoid looming tipping points. “If anything, we are even deeper into the transgression of climate, on biodiversity, on land-use, and on nitrogen and phosphorus. So we have not turned around the [2015] trends.”

“…If we just continue our mass extinction, losing more and more species, from phytoplankton to top predators, you will come to a point where the whole planet [system] collapses.” Rockstrom

Source: Stockholm Resilience Centre; Mongabay

Of the four boundaries that researchers say we have already exceeded, climate change is the most well known. But what’s less known is that biosphere integrity is at even higher risk levels.

In the mid-2000s, Johan Rockström, founding director of Sweden’s Stockholm Resilience Centre, gathered an international, interdisciplinary team of scientists to unite behind a single goal: define the boundaries for a “safe operating space for humanity” on Earth. They asked themselves: what are the safe operating limits of our planet, and what changes can we force on it before we trigger rapid, catastrophic environmental harm?

In 2009, the center published the Planetary Boundaries Framework, updated in 2015, which outlined nine key processes, influenced by humanity, that threaten the stability of the entire Earth System. These are: climate change, biodiversity integrity (functional and genetic), ocean acidification, depletion of the ozone layer, atmospheric aerosol pollution, biogeochemical flows of nitrogen and phosphorus, freshwater use, land-system change, and release of novel chemicals (including heavy metals, radioactive materials, plastics, and more).

Together, the stability of these nine processes is essential to maintaining the Earth’s atmosphere, oceans and ecosystems in the delicate balance that has allowed human civilizations to flourish. However, these are also the processes that human activities have impacted most profoundly.

Two of these, climate change and biosphere integrity, are what scientists call "core boundaries". Significantly altering either of these "core boundaries" would "drive the Earth System into a new state".

The researchers then estimated a limit of just how much human activities could exploit and alter each of these processes before the global system would pass a tipping point — a threshold beyond which we risk sending the Earth spiraling into a state that hasn’t been experienced for the entirety of human existence, bringing extreme change that could crash civilization and endanger humanity.

Fast forward to now, and Rockström noted there is little evidence we’ve reversed course to avoid looming tipping points. “If anything, we are even deeper into the transgression of climate, on biodiversity, on land-use, and on nitrogen and phosphorus. So we have not turned around the [2015] trends.”

Read more at: https://www.stockholmresilience.org/
Source: https://news.mongabay.com/2021/03/the-nine-boundaries-humanity-must-respect-to-keep-the-planet-habitable/