Back in 2009 researchers published the first report on exceeding the boundaries of Earth’s “safe operating space.” In 2015, there was an update. They concluded that the Earth had crossed the line beyond safety on at least four of nine boundaries—climate change, land use, biodiversity, and nutrient flows. Now, the researchers have published an even more disturbing update assessing the planet’s health—Earth beyond six of nine planetary boundaries—in which they add fresh water and forests to the list.
Only three boundaries, stratospheric ozone levels, air pollution, and ocean acidification are still inside the safety zone, and those two latter areas are edging up to the boundary.
The researchers note:
Currently, anthropogenic perturbations of the global environment are primarily addressed as if they were separate issues, e.g., climate change, biodiversity loss, or pollution. This approach, however, ignores these perturbations’ nonlinear interactions and resulting aggregate effects on the overall state of Earth system. Planetary boundaries bring a scientific understanding of anthropogenic global environmental impacts into a framework that calls for considering the state of Earth system as a whole.
Note: Click here for a larger, more readable copy of the graphic.
Chelsea Harvey at E&E News reports:
Crossing these individual boundaries doesn’t mean that the planet immediately falls off a cliff, said Katherine Richardson, a biological oceanographer at the University of Copenhagen and lead author of the new report.
“The world isn’t gonna end tomorrow,” she said. “But the risk that we’re starting up processes that we cannot stop — and will change the planet and its overall health, its overall environmental conditions, drastically and irreversibly — is becoming greater and greater as we cross these boundaries.”
Said Richardson: "The Planetary Boundaries science provides a 'guide for action' if we truly want to secure prosperity and equity for all on Earth, and this goes well beyond climate only, requiring novel Earth system modeling and analysis, and systematic efforts to protect, recover and rebuild planetary resilience. Hopefully, this new study will serve as a wake-up call for many and increase focus in the international community on the necessity of limiting our impacts on the planet in order to preserve and protect the Earth conditions that allow advanced human societies to flourish.”
Since the 1960s, and especially since the 1980s, we humans have been treated to countless wake-up calls. Yet all too many politicians remain determined to sedate us as they continue business as usual sprinkled with greenwashing.