Advanced human societies emerged during an unprecedented period of stability on Earth. During the 12,000 years prior to the Industrial Revolution, our planet’s surface temperature varied by less than 1° Celsius (1.8° Fahrenheit) above or below the average for that entire period. As a result, life — both human and wild — thrived. But over the past two centuries, humanity has dramatically increased greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere, pushing us outside this “safe” climate zone; outside the conditions for which civilization has been designed. Unfortunately for us, climate change represents just one of nine critical planetary boundaries, which the imprudent actions of our species risk dangerously destabilizing and overshooting. The nine planetary boundaries, counterclockwise from top: climate change, biosphere integrity (functional and genetic), land-system change, freshwater use, biogeochemical flows (nitrogen and phosphorus), ocean acidification, atmospheric aerosol pollution, stratospheric ozone depletion, and release of novel chemicals (including heavy metals, radioactive materials, plastics, and more). Image courtesy of J. Lokrantz/Azote based on Steffen et al. 2015 (via Stockholm Resilience Centre). A safe operating space for humanity In the mid-2000s, Johan Rockström, founding director of Sweden’s Stockholm Resilience Centre, gathered an international, interdisciplinary team of scientists to unite behind a single goal: define the boundaries for a “safe operating space for humanity” on Earth. They asked themselves: what are the safe operating limits of our planet, and what changes can we force on it before we trigger rapid, catastrophic environmental harm? In 2009, the center published the Planetary Boundaries Framework, which outlined…This article was originally published on Mongabay Läs mer

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