In 2009, a group of 27 scientists led by John Rockstrom authored a paper called A Safe Operating Safe for Humanity which attempted to define safe boundaries for that must not be transgressed if we are to have a healthy planetary ecosystem.
The authors write:
Since the Industrial Revolution, a new era has arisen, the, in which human actions have become the main driver of global environmental change. This could see human activities push the Earth system outside the stable environmental state of the Holocene, with consequences that are detrimental or even catastrophic for large parts of the world.
To meet the challenge of maintaining the Holocene state, we propose a framework based on ‘planetary boundaries’. These boundaries define the safe operating space for humanity with respect to the Earth system and are associated with the planet’s biophysical subsystems or processes. Although Earth’s complex systems sometimes respond smoothly to changing pressures, it seems that this will prove to be the exception rather than the rule. Many subsystems of Earth react in a nonlinear, often abrupt, way, and are particularly sensitive around threshold levels of certain key variables. If these thresholds are crossed, then important subsystems, such as a monsoon system, could shift into a new state, often with deleterious or potentially even disastrous consequences for humans.
Figure 1: Planetary Boundaries from A Safe Operating Safe for Humanity, Rockstrom et al, 2009
- New approach proposed for defining preconditions for human development
- Crossing certain biophysical thresholds could have disastrous consequences for humanity
- Three of nine interlinked planetary boundaries have already been overstepped