Climate, Environment, food security, Globalization

Planetary Boundaries, Food and Humanity

Let me take an opportunity talking about Planetary Boundaries(PBs), food and humanity. Due to the complex interaction between human activities and the ecosystem the humanity and food system is facing severe threats. The evidences show that after 1950, a massive change in climate has been noticed and came across the surface in a most challenging way. The changing natural settings of ecosystems due to human activities have increased the risks of sudden collapse and irreversible changes. The main drivers of change are the demand for food, water, and natural resources in a face of severe biodiversity loss and leading to changes in ecosystem services.

Johan Rockström is a Professor in Environmental Science
Johan Rockström is a Professor in Environmental Science Image source: SRC
The PBs represent a conceptual framework of the effect of ongoing unlimited human activities on the limited capacity of the earth. There are nine planetary boundaries identified. The nine PBs regulate the stability and resilience of the Earth system. In 2009. the concept was introduced first by a group of 28 scientists which was led by Johan Rockström, Director of Stockholm Resilience Centre (SRC). Further, the United Nations former secretary-general Ban Ki-moon endorsed the concept of planetary boundaries on 16 March 2012. The scientists proposed quantitative planetary boundaries within which humanity can continue to develop and thrive for generations to come. Crossing the boundaries increases the risk of sudden environmental changes. Now, the planetary boundaries framework has generated enormous interest in science, policy, and practice. The nine planetary Boundaries are:
  • Stratospheric ozone: filters ultraviolet rays (UVR) come from the sun and the system is at risk.
  • Biosphere (biodiversity) integrity: infinite human activities on eco-system risks disintegrate the natural order of biodiversity.
  • Chemical: emissions of toxic and long-lived substances such as synthetic organic pollutants, heavy metal compounds, and radioactive materials can have potentially irreversible effects on living organisms.
  • Climate: severe climate change and increasing CO2 has been noticed after 1950.
  • Ocean: increasing CO2 ultimately dissolve in the oceans and forms carbonic acid by altering the ocean chemistry. The increased acidity reduces the number of available carbonate ions.
  • Freshwater: freshwater is severely affected by climate change and human activities such as deforestation, agricultural need, urbanisation, and industrialisation. Yet, human activities is the single most dominant driving force to deplete the water resource.  
  • Land system: Land is fragmented for real estate, agriculture and industrialisation purpose. Deforestation, drought, landslide are massive.
  • Nitrogen and phosphorus: Nitrogen and phosphorus are important elements for the growth of the plant. Due to human activities, the natural cycle of biodiversity, biochemicals such as carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorus have been changed and risk serious consequences.
  • Atmospheric aerosol: The influence of aerosols on climate system through the interaction with water vapor affects cloud formation, atmospheric circulation, and monsoon systems.
Source: Nature international journal of Science  Theplanetary boundary can be understood more easily from the image below
Source:Stockholm Resilience Centre
Red: beyond zone of uncertainty (high risk) Yellow: In zone of uncertainty (increasing risk) Green: Below boundary (safe) Grey: Boundary not yet quantified.  
In the figure, green area represent human activities that are within safe margins, the yellow area represents human activities that may or may not have exceeded safe margins, the red areas represent human activities that have exceeded safe margins, and the grey areas with red question marks represent human activities for which safe margins have not yet been determined (Rockström, J., et al., 2009; Steffen, W., et al., 2015). Due to unlimited human activities on earth, two of the nine planetary boundaries (Biochemical flows and Biosphere integrity) have already crossed their limitation and posed a great threat of sudden collapse. Let’s take an example- a balloon can be the best example of understanding input and limitation. If pumping air is continued in a balloon, sure that it is burst. Hence, there is an urgent need for finding a safe space to perform safe and controlled human activities (population growth and food production) within the limited resources. It is important to understand negative (trade-offs) and positive (synergies) interaction across the systems and how to prevent harmful outcomes. So, exploring a safe place has been the greatest challenge of sustainable development discourse. The concept of safe space will be highlighted in the future post by using a production possibility frontier (PPF) approach. Please share your thoughts.
References Rockström, J., et al., 2009. Planetary Boundaries: Exploring the Safe Operating Space for Humanity The nine planetary boundaries Steffen, W., et al., 2015. Planetary boundaries: Guiding human development on a changing planet  How Defining Planetary Boundaries Can Transform Our Approach to Growth www.anthropocene.info Planetary boundaries research Let the environment guide our development | Johan Rockstrom A fundamental misrepresentation of the Planetary Boundaries framework Climate chaos to continue in 2018, UN chief warns; will the world rise to challenge?  We have 12 years to limit climate change catastrophe, warns UN  An IPCC special report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels and related global greenhouse gas emission pathways  and also

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