The Journal Science has concluded that Earth might not be safe for human beings in the coming decades. 18 researchers have said earth could cease to be a “safe operating space” if we keep going at the rate we are.
The researchers looked into what the “breaking points” of the natural world are. Their research suggests that we have already crossed 4 “planetary boundaries“, namely; extinction rate, deforestation, levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and the flow of nitrogen and phosphorous in the ocean. Those boundaries have been well and truly crossed. Now we have to tread carefully not to cross the other 5.
According to the researchers there are 9 planetary boundaries altogether and we’re not far off from crossing the other 5. If we do it will be like “an avalanche warning tape on a ski slope”, according to Scientist Ray Pierrehumbert, an expert on Earth systems at the University of Chicago.
The Washington Post reports:
“What the science has shown is that human activities — economic growth, technology, consumption — are destabilizing the global environment,” said Will Steffen, who holds appointments at the Australian National University and the Stockholm Resilience Center and is the lead author of the paper.
These are not future problems, but rather urgent matters, according to Steffen, who said that the economic boom since 1950 and the globalized economy have accelerated the transgression of the boundaries. No one knows exactly when push will come to shove, but he said the possible destabilization of the “Earth System” as a whole could occur in a time frame of “decades out to a century.”
“The boundary is not like the edge of the cliff,” said Ray Pierrehumbert, an expert on Earth systems at the University of Chicago. “They’re a little bit more like danger warnings, like high-temperature gauges on your car.”
The scientists say there is no certainty that catastrophe will follow the transgression of these boundaries. Rather, the scientists cite the precautionary principle: We know that human civilization has risen and flourished in the past 10,000 years — an epoch known as the Holocene — under relatively stable environmental conditions.
No one knows what will happen to civilization if planetary conditions continue to change. But the authors of the Science paper write that the planet “is likely to be much less hospitable to the development of human societies.”