Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Have We Crossed the 9 Planetary Boundaries?

The world needs to awaken itself to the looming catastrophe of global warming,” said Jeffrey Sachs, Director of the Earth Institute, at a recent meeting in Muscat. “We must provide a safe operating space where vested interest and lobby-driven policies will not see the world marching into disaster.” Just what is a safe operating space for human civilization?

Twenty-eight scientists from around the world defined a “safe planetary operating space” circumscribed by 9 planetary boundaries within which humanity can continue to thrive and develop. The 2009 report by the group led by Johan Rockström, Director of the Stockholm Resilience Centre, examined the non-negotiable planetary conditions that humanity needs to respect and maintain in order to avoid catastrophic environmental changes.

For the last 10,000 years, the Holocene geological epoch, conditions on earth have been stable and favorable to the development of human civilization. But some scientists believe that mankind entered the Anthropocene epoch during the Industrial Revolution in the 18th century, as human population and development began to critically impact the global environment.

While scientists have warned of specific environmental tipping points in the past, the 9 planetary boundaries concept looks at the global system as a whole and how separate biophysical processes interact. One of the report authors, Jonathan Foley, Director of the Institute on the Environment at the University of Minnesota, likened man’s ignorance of the planetary gestalt to driving full speed at night over a mesa without lights or a map. We know the cliffs are out there, but we don’t know where. The 9 planetary boundaries are an attempt to create that much needed map. (more)