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 Conservationists are sounding the alarm: parrots much more threatened than assumed
15.09.2017 | Justus-Liebig-Universität Gießen

nachricht A new indicator for marine ecosystem changes: the diatom/dinoflagellate index
21.08.2017 | Leibniz-Institut für Ostseeforschung Warnemünde

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: The pyrenoid is a carbon-fixing liquid droplet

Plants and algae use the enzyme Rubisco to fix carbon dioxide, removing it from the atmosphere and converting it into biomass. Algae have figured out a way to increase the efficiency of carbon fixation. They gather most of their Rubisco into a ball-shaped microcompartment called the pyrenoid, which they flood with a high local concentration of carbon dioxide. A team of scientists at Princeton University, the Carnegie Institution for Science, Stanford University and the Max Plank Institute of Biochemistry have unravelled the mysteries of how the pyrenoid is assembled. These insights can help to engineer crops that remove more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere while producing more food.

A warming planet

Im Focus: Highly precise wiring in the Cerebral Cortex

Our brains house extremely complex neuronal circuits, whose detailed structures are still largely unknown. This is especially true for the so-called cerebral cortex of mammals, where among other things vision, thoughts or spatial orientation are being computed. Here the rules by which nerve cells are connected to each other are only partly understood. A team of scientists around Moritz Helmstaedter at the Frankfiurt Max Planck Institute for Brain Research and Helene Schmidt (Humboldt University in Berlin) have now discovered a surprisingly precise nerve cell connectivity pattern in the part of the cerebral cortex that is responsible for orienting the individual animal or human in space.

The researchers report online in Nature (Schmidt et al., 2017. Axonal synapse sorting in medial entorhinal cortex, DOI: 10.1038/nature24005) that synapses in...

Im Focus: Tiny lasers from a gallery of whispers

New technique promises tunable laser devices

Whispering gallery mode (WGM) resonators are used to make tiny micro-lasers, sensors, switches, routers and other devices. These tiny structures rely on a...

Im Focus: Ultrafast snapshots of relaxing electrons in solids

Using ultrafast flashes of laser and x-ray radiation, scientists at the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics (Garching, Germany) took snapshots of the briefest electron motion inside a solid material to date. The electron motion lasted only 750 billionths of the billionth of a second before it fainted, setting a new record of human capability to capture ultrafast processes inside solids!

When x-rays shine onto solid materials or large molecules, an electron is pushed away from its original place near the nucleus of the atom, leaving a hole...

Im Focus: Quantum Sensors Decipher Magnetic Ordering in a New Semiconducting Material

For the first time, physicists have successfully imaged spiral magnetic ordering in a multiferroic material. These materials are considered highly promising candidates for future data storage media. The researchers were able to prove their findings using unique quantum sensors that were developed at Basel University and that can analyze electromagnetic fields on the nanometer scale. The results – obtained by scientists from the University of Basel’s Department of Physics, the Swiss Nanoscience Institute, the University of Montpellier and several laboratories from University Paris-Saclay – were recently published in the journal Nature.

Multiferroics are materials that simultaneously react to electric and magnetic fields. These two properties are rarely found together, and their combined...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

“Lasers in Composites Symposium” in Aachen – from Science to Application

19.09.2017 | Event News

I-ESA 2018 – Call for Papers

12.09.2017 | Event News

EMBO at Basel Life, a new conference on current and emerging life science research

06.09.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Rainbow colors reveal cell history: Uncovering β-cell heterogeneity

22.09.2017 | Life Sciences

Penn first in world to treat patient with new radiation technology

22.09.2017 | Medical Engineering

Calculating quietness

22.09.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>