Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Scientists outline planetary boundaries: A safe operating space for humanity

28.09.2009
New approaches are needed to help humanity deal with climate change and other global environmental threats that lie ahead in the 21st century, according to a group of 28 internationally renowned scientists.

The scientists propose that global biophysical boundaries, identified on the basis of the scientific understanding of the earth system, can define a "safe planetary operating space" that will allow humanity to continue to develop and thrive for generations to come.

This new approach to sustainable development is conveyed in the current issue of the scientific journal Nature. The authors have made a first attempt to identify and quantify a set of nine planetary boundaries, including climate change, freshwater use, biological diversity, and aerosol loading.

The research was performed by a working group at UC Santa Barbara's National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS), in cooperation with the Stockholm Resilience Centre at Stockholm University.

One important strand of the research behind this article is based in the global project known as IHOPE. The goal of the Integrated History and future Of People on Earth (IHOPE) project is to understand the interactions of the environmental and human process over the ten to hundred millennia to determine how human and biophysical changes have contributed to Earth system dynamics. The IHOPE working group is assembled at NCEAS today.

The scientists emphasize that the rapid expansion of human activities since the industrial revolution has now generated a global geophysical force equivalent to some of the great forces of nature.

"We are entering the Anthropocene, a new geological era in which our activities are threatening the earth's capacity to regulate itself," said co-author Will Steffen, professor at the Australian National University (ANU) and director of the ANU Climate Change Institute. "We are beginning to push the planet out of its current stable Holocene state, the warm period that began about 10,000 years ago and during which agriculture and complex societies, including our own, have developed and flourished. The expanding human enterprise could undermine the resilience of the Holocene state, which would otherwise continue for thousands of years into the future."

Robert Costanza, director of the Gund Institute at the University of Vermont and one of the IHOPE project leaders at NCEAS, said: "Human history has traditionally been cast in terms of the rise and fall of great civilizations, wars, and specific human achievements. This history leaves out the important ecological and climate contexts that shaped and mediated these events. Human history and earth system history have traditionally been developed independently, with little interaction among the academic communities. The Nature article provides evidence of the necessities to establish a thorough, long-term historical understanding of the exchange between human societies and the earth system, in order to set standards for safe navigation within planetary boundaries and avoid crossing dangerous thresholds."

Planetary boundaries is a way of thinking that will not replace politics, economics, or ethics, explained environmental historian Sverker Sörlin of the Stockholm Resilience Centre and the Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm. "But it will help tell all of us where the dangerous limits are and therefore when it is ethically unfair to allow more emissions of dangerous substances, further reduction of biodiversity, or to continue the erosion of the resource base. It provides the ultimate guardrails that can help societies to take action politically, economically. Planetary boundaries should be seen both as signals of the need for caution and as an encouragement to innovation and new thinking of how to operate safely within these boundaries while at same time securing human well being for all."

Lead author Johan Rockström, director of the Stockholm Resilience Centre at Stockholm University, said: "The human pressure on the Earth System has reached a scale where abrupt global environmental change can no longer be excluded. To continue to live and operate safely, humanity has to stay away from critical 'hard-wired' thresholds in Earth's environment, and respect the nature of the planet's climatic, geophysical, atmospheric and ecological processes. Transgressing planetary boundaries may be devastating for humanity, but if we respect them we have a bright future for centuries ahead."

In addition to the authors named above, the group of IHOPE-related scientists who contributed to the Nature article includes systems ecologist Carl Folke, of the Stockholm Resilience Centre, and archaeologist Sander van der Leeuw at Arizona State University. Among other authors are Katherine Richardson, an oceanographic biologist with the University of Copenhagen, and Nobel laureate Paul Crutzen, an atmospheric chemist with the Max Planck Institute, Mainz, Germany.

Gail Gallessich | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.ucsb.edu

More articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation:

nachricht Scientists team up on study to save endangered African penguins
16.11.2017 | Florida Atlantic University

nachricht Climate change: Urban trees are growing faster worldwide
13.11.2017 | Technische Universität München

All articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: A “cosmic snake” reveals the structure of remote galaxies

The formation of stars in distant galaxies is still largely unexplored. For the first time, astron-omers at the University of Geneva have now been able to closely observe a star system six billion light-years away. In doing so, they are confirming earlier simulations made by the University of Zurich. One special effect is made possible by the multiple reflections of images that run through the cosmos like a snake.

Today, astronomers have a pretty accurate idea of how stars were formed in the recent cosmic past. But do these laws also apply to older galaxies? For around a...

Im Focus: Visual intelligence is not the same as IQ

Just because someone is smart and well-motivated doesn't mean he or she can learn the visual skills needed to excel at tasks like matching fingerprints, interpreting medical X-rays, keeping track of aircraft on radar displays or forensic face matching.

That is the implication of a new study which shows for the first time that there is a broad range of differences in people's visual ability and that these...

Im Focus: Novel Nano-CT device creates high-resolution 3D-X-rays of tiny velvet worm legs

Computer Tomography (CT) is a standard procedure in hospitals, but so far, the technology has not been suitable for imaging extremely small objects. In PNAS, a team from the Technical University of Munich (TUM) describes a Nano-CT device that creates three-dimensional x-ray images at resolutions up to 100 nanometers. The first test application: Together with colleagues from the University of Kassel and Helmholtz-Zentrum Geesthacht the researchers analyzed the locomotory system of a velvet worm.

During a CT analysis, the object under investigation is x-rayed and a detector measures the respective amount of radiation absorbed from various angles....

Im Focus: Researchers Develop Data Bus for Quantum Computer

The quantum world is fragile; error correction codes are needed to protect the information stored in a quantum object from the deteriorating effects of noise. Quantum physicists in Innsbruck have developed a protocol to pass quantum information between differently encoded building blocks of a future quantum computer, such as processors and memories. Scientists may use this protocol in the future to build a data bus for quantum computers. The researchers have published their work in the journal Nature Communications.

Future quantum computers will be able to solve problems where conventional computers fail today. We are still far away from any large-scale implementation,...

Im Focus: Wrinkles give heat a jolt in pillared graphene

Rice University researchers test 3-D carbon nanostructures' thermal transport abilities

Pillared graphene would transfer heat better if the theoretical material had a few asymmetric junctions that caused wrinkles, according to Rice University...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Ecology Across Borders: International conference brings together 1,500 ecologists

15.11.2017 | Event News

Road into laboratory: Users discuss biaxial fatigue-testing for car and truck wheel

15.11.2017 | Event News

#Berlin5GWeek: The right network for Industry 4.0

30.10.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

NASA detects solar flare pulses at Sun and Earth

17.11.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

NIST scientists discover how to switch liver cancer cell growth from 2-D to 3-D structures

17.11.2017 | Health and Medicine

The importance of biodiversity in forests could increase due to climate change

17.11.2017 | Studies and Analyses

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>