Six of nine planetary boundaries breached: Report

Human activities have accelerated the death of the planet. A recent study by the journal Science Advances has found that the Earth has crossed 6 of the 9 planetary boundaries, a framework of different thresholds that tell just how endangered a planet is.

It seems that humans are in a race against time to kill of the planet Earth, and are leaving no stone unturned to accelerate the process through which we reach Armageddon.

A recent study has found that thanks to our activities, the Earth has crossed 6 of the 9 planetary boundaries that determine how healthy a planet basically is. Crossing the 9th boundary would mean that the planet’s health is fatally critical and on the verge of a major collapse.

The update of the planetary boundary framework reveals that human activities are increasingly impacting the planet, elevating the risk of triggering significant alterations in Earth’s overall conditions.

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This framework defines nine “planetary boundaries,” which are crucial components of the global environment responsible for regulating the stability and habitability of our planet, according to the researchers.

The extent to which these safe boundary levels are breached is a direct result of human-driven activities that affect these environmental components, the researchers assert.

The planetary boundaries framework draws upon the latest scientific insights into how the Earth system operates, aiming to delineate a “safe operating space” for humanity. It sets limits on the degree to which human actions can influence critical processes without the risk of potentially inducing irreversible changes in Earth’s conditions, which are essential for our well-being.

The researchers emphasize that, for the first time, they have presented metrics for all of these boundaries. Their findings reveal that six of these boundaries are being exceeded, and the transgression is escalating for all of them, except for the degradation of Earth’s ozone layer.

The study, published in the journal Science Advances, represents the third update of this framework and involves the collaborative efforts of 29 scientists from eight different countries.

An important takeaway from this study is the need for more attention to be directed towards understanding the interactions between these boundaries. Focusing solely on human-induced climate change is insufficient if we aim to safeguard the Earth system from irreversible harm, noted Johan Rockstrom, Director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) and the original proponent of this framework in 2009.

The planetary boundaries are basically limits that define that Earthly processes are happening within the healthy levels — think of how we use a waist-to-hip-ratio or body-mass-index to decide a healthy human. You can also think of it as the Earth’s blood pressure.

So far, we’ve breached the safe operating space for the following factors:

  • Climate change, with atmospheric carbon dioxide levels being the primary metric.
  • Freshwater use, discerning if Earth’s excruciatingly limited freshwater resources are being utilised in a sustainable manner.
  • Land-system change, which includes human-alteration of landscapes. Primarily concerned with deforestation, this boundary calculates the amount of forested land remaining.
  • Biosphere integrity, accounting for the extinction rate of species on the planet.
  • Biogeochemical flows, which concerns itself with the nitrogen and phosphorus cycles, such as how excess fertiliser use and dumping can disrupt sensitive ecosystems severely dependent on these cycles.
  • Novel entities, such as the addition of synthetic chemicals and substances (such as microplastics and nuclear waste) into the Earth, whose impact on the Earth system as a whole remains largely unstudied.
  • The three fortuitous boundaries we haven’t yet crossed include stratospheric ozone depletion, atmospheric aerosol loading and ocean acidification. We need to work overtime to ensure these remain within the safe operating zones as the Earth turns and tosses through the pangs of climate change over the next few decades.

Even as we lose species by the hour or gain degrees by the year, a me-first attitude has ensured that we constantly feel the stress of cramming before an important deadline. Except the consequences are far worse and overarching any exam can prove to be.

It is time to shed this poor demeanour towards the only planet that has accepted us thus far. The research authors hope that this warning study will serve as a wake-up call, and more countries, organisations and individuals will realign themselves to help protect the planet in a scientific and sustainable manner. After all, as resilient as Earth is, there is only so much our blue rock can endure in such hazardous times.

Tags: Climate Impact, Earth, PIK, Planets