Planetary boundaries update

The Stockholm Resilience Centre here has updated its research on the limits to growth of the impact of human activity on the planet as a whole. As we enter what some are seeing as the post-globaisation phase of geopolitics as Trump and other nationalistic political leaders take power, the analysis of overall human impact on the planet remains off most mainstream politcal agendas.

“Four of nine planetary boundaries have now been crossed as a result of human activity, says an international team of 18 researchers in the journal Science (16 January 2015).

The four are: climate change, loss of biosphere integrity, land-system change, altered biogeochemical cycles (phosphorus and nitrogen).

Two of these, climate change and biosphere integrity, are what the scientists call “core boundaries”. Significantly altering either of these “core boundaries” would “drive the Earth System into a new state”.

In a deep and original study of the Anthropocene Era – “The Shock of the Anthropocene” – two French academics, Bonneuil and Fressoz spell out three phases of this new geological era:

  1. 1750-1950 Thermo-Industrial Revolution that saw the exploitation  of cheap fossil energy raising atmospheric CO2 emissions above the 277 ppm at the end of the climatically stable Holocene lasting around 12000 years during which human civilisations flourished. by 1950 CO2 global levels were at 311 ppm.
  2. 1950-2000 The Great Acceleration during which exponential growth of human population and industrial impact based on cheap energy multiplied enormously leading to CO2 levels of 380 ppm.
  3. 2000-present Tipping Point Phase in which CO2 levels in 2016 exceeded 400 ppm and points of no return (to long-term environmental sustainablity) across at least three planetary boundaries are evident.

The planetary boundary research offers evidence about tipping points.  How to spread awareness of their imminence to the changing leadership of our most powerful nations, some of whom seem keen to accelerate the rush to exceed planetary boundaries?

The Antarctic ice sheet offers one specific example of a tipping point arising from global warming that seems on course to raise sea levels around the planet. This article on what is happening to the Antarctic ends as follows:

“The only practical conclusion to be drawn is that climate warming has already gone to far, and the objective must be to achieve a level of greenhouse gases, and of global temperature, well below that currently prevailing.”

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