Planetary boundaries

The earth is a delicate balance, and that balance has to be kept if we wish to maintain a safe and healthy environment for human flourishing. Scientists have identified ten quantifiable boundaries that we should be observing, making it possible to chart our current performance.

As the graphic shows, levels of fresh water use, ocean acidification and so on are all currently within the green safety zone. There are places where these are serious problems, but taking the planet as whole, we’re within the limits. Not so with species loss. The margin of safety is 10 extinctions per million per year, and we’re heading towards ten times that. The limit you may be most familiar with is the CO2 limit of 350 ppm, the subject of much climate campaigning. Less familiar the nitrogen cycle. This is also out of balance, as we remove 120 million tonnes of nitrogen from the air a year and put it back into the world as fertilisers. The rush of chemical nutrients from agricultural land into water sources chokes out all animal life and eventually plants too.

You can read all the detail around this original way of describing our relationship with the environment in this feature in the Nature journal.

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5 Comments on “Planetary boundaries”

  1. Frank Regan January 6, 2010 at 6:41 pm #

    Dear Jeremy Williams,

    I read your article, “God, Monsters and the Promise of Life in Green Christian. I would like your permission to consider it for publication in Renew, newsletter of Catholics for a Changing Church. It will come out in March. I very much hope you can do so. We shall acknowledge in the terms you wish.
    I hope this will be read by you. I have been in touch with the editor of Green Christian who is favourable.

    Thank you for your kind attention.
    Frank Regan, Editor
    Renew

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Book review: The God Species, by Mark Lynas « Make Wealth History - July 11, 2011

    […] The nitrogen and freshwater cycles perhaps less so, but they are also in trouble. I wrote about the planetary boundaries theory briefly here, and when I heard that Mark Lynas’ new book was about expounding and popularising the idea, it […]

  2. Life inside the doughnut | Make Wealth History - February 14, 2012

    […] couple of years ago a group of scientists identified and named the nine planetary boundaries we need to life within. Mark Lynas picked up the concept as the basis for his book The God Species. […]

  3. Rethinking sustainable development | Make Wealth History - April 18, 2013

    […] looks vaguely familiar, one of the authors is Johan Rockstrom, who led the team that drew up the planetary boundaries concept a few years ago, which in turn led to the ‘life within the donut’ idea. […]

  4. Starting again on the idea of limits | Make Wealth History - May 29, 2013

    […] the Stockholm Resilience Centre has given us a potential new start with the idea of planetary boundaries. They gathered a conference of scientists in 2009 and investigated all the areas where human […]

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