Planetary Boundaries

We would need at least three planets if everyone lived and consumed like the average European today.

Many of the systems on Earth created by humans, such as farm systems, production systems, transport systems and our consumption culture, work and flourish today at the expense of ecological systems, rather than in balance with them.

Consumption of resources means that we consume resources and spread them from one place on earth to another at a faster pace than the Earth’s natural system can handle. An example of this rapid spread is our consumption of oil from the bedrock (lithosphere) that leads to carbon dioxide emissions in the air (atmosphere).

This proliferation of substances and resources also occurs naturally, but it is the speed and size of this change in the system that our consumption causes, which is unnatural and unsustainable.

Nine planetary boundaries within which humanity can safely operate

In 2009, 28 internationally renowned researchers identified and quantified a set of nine planetary boundaries within which humanity can continue to develop and feel good in the future. If we cross these limits, abrupt or irreversible environmental changes can occur with serious consequences for humankind.

The nine planetary boundaries identified are:

  • Climate change
  • Change in biosphere integrity (biodiversity loss and species extinction)
  • Stratospheric ozone depletion
  • Ocean acidification
  • Biogeochemical flows (phosphorus and nitrogen cycles)
  • Land-system change (for example deforestation)
  • Freshwater use
  • Atmospheric aerosol loading (microscopic particles in the atmosphere that affect climate and living organisms)
  • Introduction of novel entities

Source: Stockholm Resilience Center

Further reading about planetary and social boundaries at the FP2P blog


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