Living Sustainably

Critical developments

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1. The nine Planetary Boundaries

If we exceed these boundaries, abrupt or irreversible environmental changes can occur.

If we do not exceed them, humanity will be able to evolve and thrive over generations.

The nine planetary boundaries
Stockholm Resilience Centre

The 9 planetary boundaries:

  1. Loss of biosphere integrity (biodiversity loss and extinctions)
  2. Climate change

  3. Land system change

  4. Nitrogen and phosphorus flows to the biosphere and oceans [Nutrient cycles]

  5. Chemical pollution and the release of novel entities

  6. Freshwater consumption and the global hydrological cycle

  7. Ocean acidification

  8. Stratospheric ozone depletion

  9. Atmospheric aerosol loading

We have already shot past 4 of the 9 planetary boundaries. 

A new study concludes that chemical pollution has also crossed the planetary boundary.
Linn Persson et al. 2022. Outside the Safe Operating Space of the Planetary Boundary for Novel Entities. Journal of Environmental Science & Technology.

A recent reassessment of the planetary boundary for freshwater indicates that it has now been transgressed.
Stockholm Resilience Centre. Freshwater boundary exceeds safe limits. Published 2022.04.26

And ocean acidification is nearing the boundary. 

We do not know

  • whether the loss of livelihoods on Earth caused by the pollution will continue to progress gradually, or
  • whether and when individual systems will suddenly and unexpectedly tip over.

The research concludes that the world is already in danger of passing 5 of the 16 climate tipping points with the current level of global warming: 

(1) The melting of the Greenland ice sheets and (2) the West Antarctic ice sheets, (3) widespread abrupt thawing of permafrost, (4) a collapse of convection in the Labrador Sea, and (5) a massive die-off of tropical coral reefs.

2. Some examples of critical developments

  • In just 200 years, the world's population has grown from 900 million to 8,000 million people.
    By the year 2100, according to the UNO an estimated 9,000 - 10,000 million people are to live on our Earth.

© Arthimedes | Shutterstock, Inc. [US] 2018   

  • The exploitation of valuable mineral resources and the overfishing of the oceans are progressing without restraint, regardless of the legitimate needs of future generations.
    The extraction of raw materials also causes major environmental pollution.

  • In the past 150 years, almost half of the fertile soil on Earth has disappeared.
Our Earth - Available agricultural land:
Source: UN - World Prospects: The 2015 Revision

  • Every day, about 100 living species die on our planet.

    Globally, the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations) estimates that 75 % of crop diversity was lost in the 20th century. 
    Swiss academies factsheets Vol.15 No.1. 2020. Variety is the source of life: Agrobiodiversity benefits, challenges, and needs.

  • Plastic, pharmaceutical products, pesticides, etc. are spreading in nature across the globe. 
    Currently, about 350,000 artificial substances are available; the production of such chemicals has increased about 50-fold in the decades since 1950. The effects on organisms and ecosystems are known from only a small fraction.
    Lars Fischer. Künstliche Chemikalien gefährden Bewohnbarkeit der Erde. 20.01.2022

  • We pollute drinking water worldwide with serious consequences for millions of people.
    Around 2,000 million people currently have no access to clean drinking water.
Our Earth - Percentage of salt water, fresh water and drinking water:

  • Our protective shield against harmful solar radiation - the ozone layer - has already been weakened.

  • Globally, wetlands of the size of India have disappeared, mainly through conversion to farmland.
    Half the wetlands in Europe, continental US and China have been destroyed in the past 300 years, with some areas - including the UK, Ireland and Germany - losing more than 75%, new research shows.
    Source: Fluet-Chouinard, E., Stocker, B.D., Zhang, Z. et al. Extensive global wetland loss over the past three centuries. Nature 614, 281-286 (2023).
    Wet peatlands store enormous amounts of carbon. They cover only about 3% of the world's land area, but store twice as much carbon as all the world's forests together.

  • We are changing the climate, with serious consequences for both us humans and nature.

© Photobank gallery | Shutterstock, Inc. [US] 2019 © Ranglen | Shutterstock, Inc. [US] 2018 © Scharfsinn | Shutterstock, Inc. [US] 2019 

  • Globally, the proportion of livestock has increased to 65% and that of us humans to 32%. The proportion of all wild animals, however, has dropped to 3%.
    [Percentage of biomass of all vertebrates].

© Peter Hermes Furian | Shutterstock, Inc. [US] 2018 

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