Scientists say that humanity is putting a lot of pressure on the Earth system

Scientists say that humanity is putting a lot of pressure on the Earth system

Man transcends seven of the eight boundaries of the Earth System in order to continue living safely and justly on this planet. For example, tens of millions of people are already suffering from high temperatures, a lot of water is extracted from rivers, lakes, and soil in many places, and nature has degraded a lot.

This is written by a group of 51 scientists in an essay in nature, which was published on Wednesday. An urgent systemic shift is needed for a secure and just future “in the way we farm, design cities, produce energy, and consume,” says Joyeta Gupta, second author of the publication and Professor of Environment and Development in the Global South at the University of Amsterdam.

The article is a continuation of it The concept was first coined in 2009 by Planetary boundaries. It assumes that human civilization flourished in the Holocene (the geological era from 10,000 years ago to the present), a period with a relatively stable climate, rich in nature and species, and specific cycles of nutrients and water. But the increasing consumption of the wealthier part of the world’s population in particular threatens to push this system beyond the Holocene boundary, into a new, in many ways more threatening situation with more atmospheric variability, water shortages and impoverished nature.

Nine limits

According to the 29 scientists who developed the concept Planetary boundaries Suggested at the time, man should remain within Holocene Earth boundaries. Then they set nine limits, including the amount of carbon dioxide2 in the atmosphere (as a measure of climate), ocean acidification, the amount of ozone in the stratosphere (as a measure of the ozone hole) and biodiversity loss.

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The concept has been very influential since then, but it has also received a lot of criticism, says Frank Biermann, who was not involved in the publication and is professor of global sustainability governance at Utrecht University. Written three years ago Review article about criticism. Admittedly, some of the nine limits were planetary, such as carbon dioxide2concentration, but others showed large local differences and were also not equally harmful everywhere (eg nitrogen-phosphorus cycles).

“In addition, this concept was devised by Western, mostly male professors from the natural sciences,” says Berman. Their recommendations met with Global South Much resistance, in part because these countries feared restrictions on their economic development.

Criticism continued

In addition, the hudud was seen as very prescriptive. “A small group of scholars has made judgments about concrete values ​​and goals that must, however, be judged by politicians and society as a whole.”

The concept was slightly modified in 2015, but the criticism remained. Subsequently, a committee was formed in 2019 to review the concept Planetary boundaries be judged on. This Earth Committee, co-chaired by Joyeeta Gupta, is now reporting on its findings.

This time, the authors also include scientists from India, Kenya, and China. the term Planetary boundaries I have switched by Earth system boundaries, because global and local processes are analyzed. It was also examined whether the limits were fair, in the sense that they minimized “people’s exposure to great harm”.

critical points

“Earlier, only boundaries were considered in terms of the stability of the Earth system,” says Peter Verborg, one of the article’s authors and professor of environmental geography at VU University Amsterdam. He cites global warming as an example. If the temperature exceeds 1.5 degrees, there is a good chance that tipping points will be triggered in the Earth system, and the risk of damage to the biosphere will increase sharply. “But already tens of millions of people around the world suffer from the vagaries of the weather, especially vulnerable people in poor countries.” Hence the scholars in natureThe maximum warming is already set at 1 degree Celsius.

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They further recommend that 50 to 60 percent of all land on Earth should be made up of “largely intact ecosystems”. Now it is less than 50 percent. In human-adapted landscapes – cities and agricultural areas – each square kilometer should consist of 20 to 25 percent of “diverse semi-natural habitats”. They also put a limit on excess nitrogen and phosphorus that can be applied to farmland around the world, and recommend redistribution of nutrients from overly fertilized soil to unfertilized soil. Air pollution must also be reduced in many places, especially in cities.


Berman finds the Earth Committee “too technocratic”. He also anticipates the criticism needed for this remake of Earth’s Frontier.

Earl Ellis, a professor of geography and environmental systems at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, says she has more problems with this publication than with the original version from 2009. Terms of Justice. This is not the way to discuss the challenges of the Anthropocene.”

Gupta and Verburg assert that the Earth Commission does not prescribe anything. She analyzed the limits that arise from already existing political goals, such as the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. Gupta: “Our publications are a contribution to further discussion on how to achieve these goals.”

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