Four of nine planetary boundaries breached; scientists dub it as a wake-up call

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A study published in Science suggests that humanity has crossed four of nine so-called planetary boundaries because of its activities and that this should be a wake-up call for policy makers to steer human development such that it honours these boundaries otherwise we might be forced to live in conditions humans have never faced before.

These four boundaries include climate change, the loss of biosphere integrity, land-system change and altered biogeochemical cycles like phosphorus and nitrogen runoff. Researchers claim that all these have passed beyond levels that put humanity in a “safe operating space.”

Steve Carpenter, director of the University of Wisconsin-Madison Center for Limnology and the only U.S.-based researcher on the study titled Planetary boundaries: Guiding human development on a changing planet has said that the crossing over of these levels should be a wake-up call to policymakers that “we’re running up to and beyond the biophysical boundaries that enable human civilization as we know it to exist”.

Carpenter said that for the last 11,700 years until roughly 100 years ago – the Holocene epoch – Earth had been in a “remarkably stable state,” and it was the time when everything important to civilization happened including development of agriculture, rise and fall of the Roman Empire, Industrial Revolution among other things. [Read More: The Anthropocene Epoch began with 1945 atomic bomb test, scientists say]

“But over the last century, some of the parameters that made the Holocene so hospitable have changed”, Carpenter said.

The study looks at all the parameters of planetary boundaries, but Carpenter led the examination of biogeochemical cycle changes and looked at two elements essential to life as people know it, phosphorus and nitrogen. He said that human have changed nitrogen and phosphorus cycles vastly more than any other element and the increase is on the order of 200 to 300 percent. In contrast, carbon has only been increased 10 to 20 percent and looks at all the uproar that has caused in the climate.

Carpenter noted that Wisconsin and the entire Great Lakes region are some of the places overloaded with nutrient pollution, but there are other places where billions of people live that are undersupplied with nitrogen and phosphorus.

Carpenter concluded that it might be possible for human civilization to live outside Holocene conditions, but it’s never been tried before, since civilization can make it in Holocene conditions, so it seems wise to try to maintain them.