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Paper on planetary boundaries co-authored by Oonsie Biggs gains world-wide media attention

05.02.2015 15:36

Leading international newspapers picked up on a recently published article in Science Magazine that was co-authored by Branco Weiss fellow Reinette (Oonsie) Biggs. The study entitled “Planetary boundaries: Guiding human development on a changing planet” revised and updated nine key limits to earth system functioning, called planetary boundaries, within which humanity can develop and thrive.

Since 1950 humankind has increased exploitation of natural resources at a rate unseen in the past 10,000 years. In 2009 scientists first identified nine environmental processes that are critical for maintaining the planet in a state that can support modern human societies. A baseline for the analysis was provided by using the long-term average state of each measure during the Holocene, the latest geological epoch in which modern human civilizations have arisen.

According to the new study, four of the nine boundaries – climate change, loss of biosphere integrity, changes in land use, and altered biogeochemical cycles due in part to fertilizer use – are beyond what is considered safe for human existence on earth. These environmental changes destabilize complex interactions between people, oceans, land and the atmosphere. This won’t cause the earth system to collapse immediately, but could lead to “death by a thousand cuts”, according to Professor Will Steffen, lead author of the study.

Additionally, the researchers identified two core boundaries – climate change and biosphere integrity. Each of the two has the potential on its own to drive the earth system towards a “danger zone,” should they be substantially and persistently transgressed.

Article in Science

New York Times

Le Monde (French)

Carbon brief

Washington Post