Planetary boundary according to the international team of researchers has published a report on “safe operating space for humanity.” And humans, according to the scientists, have crossed four out of the nine so-called “safe operating space” as a result of the activities that endanger our world. According to the 18-member researchers, events like climate change, land-system […]
Planetary boundary according to the international team of researchers has published a report on “safe operating space for humanity.” And humans, according to the scientists, have crossed four out of the nine so-called “safe operating space” as a result of the activities that endanger our world.
According to the 18-member researchers, events like climate change, land-system change, altered phosphorus and nitrogen cycles as visible in biogeochemical activities, and loss of biosphere integrity have all contributed to push man and civilization beyond planetary boundaries – and this will not bode well for the future of humanity.
In a report titled Planetary Boundaries: Guiding human development on a changing planet, and that will be discussed next week at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, the only US-based researcher on the team, Steve Carpenter, director of the University of Wisconsin-Madison Center for Limnology, states that “we’re running up to and beyond the biophysical boundaries that enable human civilization as we know it to exist.”
According to Carpenter, the Holocene epoch period which existed 11,700 years ago was a “remarkably stable state” for the Earth because “everything important to civilization” occurred within this period. This was the period in which agriculture grew, the period that saw the rise and fall of the Roman Empire, the witnessing of the Industrial Revolution, and a general development of all human endeavors – until of course 100 years ago, when the conditions that made the Holocene epoch the most hospitable for humanity started to be eroded by man.
Although the research team focused on climate change and loss of biodiversity among other environmental issues, Carpenter focused on biogeochemical cycle changes that reflect in the levels of phosphorus and nitrogen, two essential elements for agriculture and life.
Both of these elements are used as crop fertilizers, but the rise of industrial agriculture has caused an increase in the amount of elements or these chemicals entering the ecosystems. “We’ve changed nitrogen and phosphorus cycles vastly more than any other element,” Carpenter says. “(The increase) is on the order of 200 to 300 percent. In contrast, carbon has only been increased 10 to 20 percent and look at all the uproar that has caused in the climate.”
Increase in the use of nitrogen and phosphorus are presently beyond what obtained in the Holocene period, and this has been quite detrimental to the quality of water and marine life. Phosphorus loading causes harmful algal blooms and oxygen-starved dead zones in rivers and lakes; the nitrogen flowing down the Mississippi River has been found to be responsible for the “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico.
“There are places that are really, really overloaded with nutrient pollution,” Carpenter said. “Wisconsin and the entire Great Lakes region are some of those. But there are other places where billions of people live that are undersupplied with nitrogen and phosphorus.” Underscoring the fact that phosphorus and nitrogen among other natural chemicals are not evenly distributed across the Earth. “It’s a distribution problem. We’ve got certain parts of the world that are overpolluted with nitrogen and phosphorus, and others where people don’t even have enough to grow the food they need.
“It might be possible for human civilization to live outside Holocene conditions, but it’s never been tried before,” Carpenter says. “We know civilization can make it in Holocene conditions, so it seems wise to try to maintain them.”