Pair of new studies show how various forms of human activity, driven by a flawed economic system and vast consumption, is laying waste to Earth’s natural systems
Humanity’s rapacious growth and accelerated energy needs over the last generation—particularly fed by an economic system that demands increasing levels of consumption and inputs of natural resources—are fast driving planetary systems towards their breaking point, according to a new pair of related studies.
Prepared by researchers at the Stockholm Resilience Centre, the first study looks specifically at how “four of nine planetary boundaries have now been crossed as a result of human activity.” Published in the journal Science* on Thursday, the 18 researchers involved with compiling evidence for the report—titled ‘Planetary Boundaries 2.0‘—found that when it comes to climate change, species extinction and biodiversity loss, deforestation and other land-system changes, and altered biogeochemical cycles (such as changes to how key organic compounds like phosphorus and nitrogen are operating in the environment), the degradation that has already take place is driving the Earth System, as a whole, into a new state of imbalance.
“Transgressing a boundary increases the risk that human activities could inadvertently drive the Earth System into a much less hospitable state, damaging efforts to reduce poverty and leading to a deterioration of human well-being in many parts of the world, including wealthy countries,” said Professor Will Steffen, a researcher at the Centre and the Australian National University, Canberra, who was lead author for both studies.
In addition to the four boundaries that have already been crossed, the study looked at five other ways in which the planetary systems are under assault by human activity. They include: stratospheric ozone depletion; ocean acidification; freshwater use; atmospheric aerosol loading (microscopic particles in the atmosphere that affect climate and living organisms); and the introduction of novel entities into ecosystems (e.g. organic pollutants, radioactive materials, nanomaterials, and micro-plastics).
“I don’t think we’ve broken the planet but we are creating a much more difficult world,” Sarah Cornell, another report author, told Reuters.
In this interview with Wired last year, Johan Rockström, executive director of the Stockholm Resilience Centre, described the idea about planetary boundaries in details: