Human activities push earth’s planetary boundaries to the brink

A recent study has revealed that human activities are exerting an increasingly significant impact on our planet, heightening the risk of causing drastic changes to Earth’s overall conditions. This study, which updates the framework known as “planetary boundaries,” emphasizes the importance of these nine boundaries in maintaining the stability and livability of our planet for all its inhabitants.

The researchers highlight that the breach of safe boundary levels is primarily a result of human-driven activities that directly affect these crucial components of our global environment. By considering the latest scientific knowledge about Earth’s functioning, the planetary boundaries framework aims to establish a “safe operating space” for humanity. It sets forth limits on the extent to which human activities can impinge upon critical processes without risking irreversible alterations to the Earth’s conditions, which are indispensable to our survival and well-being.

The researchers emphasised that they have presented metrics for all boundaries for the first time. They found that six of the boundaries have been exceeded, and the transgression is increasing for all boundaries except the degradation of the Earth’s ozone layer. The researchers highlighted the need for a global focus on climate and the development of Earth system models that accurately depict the interactions between boundaries, particularly Climate and Biosphere Integrity. They expressed the urgency of this priority. The study, which involved 29 scientists from eight different countries, represents the third update of the framework. Katherine Richardson, the study’s leader and a professor at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark, explained that the trend of increasing transgression of the boundaries is concerning. The study was published in the journal Science Advances.

“Crossing six boundaries in itself does not necessarily imply a disaster will ensue but it is a clear warning signal. We can regard it as we do our own blood pressure,” Richardson said.

“A BP over 120/80 is not a guarantee of a heart attack but it increases the risk of one. Therefore, we try to bring it down. For our ownand our children’ssakes we need to reduce the pressure on these six planetary boundaries,” the researcher added. A An important conclusion of the study is that more focus is needed on interactions between the boundaries.

“Focus on human-caused climate change is not enough if we want to protect the Earth system from irreversible harm,” said Johan Rockstrom, Director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK), and original proposer of the framework in 2009.

“Next to climate change, integrity of the biosphere is the second pillar of stability of our planet. Our research shows that mitigating global warming and saving a functional biosphere for the future have to go hand in hand,” said co-author Wolfgang Lucht, Head of PIK’s department of Earth System Analysis. 

(With inputs from PTI)