Resource depletion is a legitimate concern some have for the future of the human race.
Environmental degradation is obviously not good if we want to keep a sustainable supply of natural resources.
A scientific team has identified nine planetary boundaries, that if crossed, could have severe consequences for our planet and natural resource supply into the future.
This is a short guide summarising those planetary boundaries – what they are, and why it could be dangerous for us to cross them.
Summary – Which Boundaries Have We Already Crossed To Unsafe Levels?
The following 3 are in the high risk range already:
- Biosphere Integrity, genetic diversity
- Biogeochemical flows, nitrogen
- Biogeochemical flows, phosphorus
Land system change, and also climate change, are both in the increasing risk range.
What Are Planetary Boundaries?
They are part of a concept.
- The boundaries present a set of nine planetary boundaries within which humanity can continue to develop and thrive for generations to come
- … these boundaries regulate the stability and resilience of the Earth system
- Crossing these boundaries increases the risk of generating large-scale abrupt or irreversible environmental changes
What Are The 9 Different Planetary Boundaries?
- Climate Change – release of greenhouse gases like CO2 into the atmosphere, leading to Earth’s warming.
- Release of Novel Entities – Emissions of toxic and long-lived substances such as synthetic organic pollutants, heavy metal compounds and radioactive materials.
- Stratospheric Ozone Depletion – filters out ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun. It’s not desirable for the ozone to be depleting.
- Atmospheric Aerosol Loading – aerosols have an impact on the Earth’s climate system.
- Ocean Acidification – CO2 emissions are absorbed by the ocean, leading to warming, altering of the ocean’s chemistry and decreasing the pH of the surface water (amongst other impacts).
- Biogeochemical Flows – the flow of Nitrogen & Phosphorus into the biosphere and oceans. This occurs heavily as a result of agriculture and industrial activity.
- Freshwater Use – human consumption of freshwater and drinking water, and the impact of climate change on the natural hydrological cycle.
- Land-System Change – the change in use of land, such as forests, grasslands, wetlands and other vegetation types that have primarily been converted to agricultural land. There’s many negative impacts to this.
- Biosphere Integrity – Functional Diversity, & Genetic Diversity. Involves loss of biodiversity, and also extinction. Biodiversity loss is the extinction of species (plant or animal) worldwide, and also the local reduction or loss of species in a certain habitat.
How Are We Tracking With Planetary Boundary?
The tracking labels for each boundary can be categorised into:
- Below boundary (safe)
- In the zone of uncertainty (increasing risk)
- Beyond the zone of uncertainty (high risk)
As of 2015, the boundaries fitted into these categories:
- Climate Change – in the zone of uncertainty (increasing risk)
- Release Of Novel Entities – no global quantification
- Stratospheric Ozone Depletion – below boundary (safe)
- Atmospheric Aerosol Loading – no global quantification
- Ocean Acidification – below boundary (safe)
- Biogeochemical Flows – Nitrogen is beyond the zone of uncertainty (high risk), & Phosphorus is also beyond the zone of uncertainty (high risk)
- Freshwater Use – below boundary (safe)
- Land-System Change – in the zone of uncertainty (increasing risk)
- Biosphere Integrity – Functional Diversity has no global quantification, & Genetic Diversity is beyond the zone of uncertainty (high risk)