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i4n The Earthshot Prize 2023

Planetary Boundaries:
How to live in harmony with nature

Navigating the Anthropocene for Sustainable Living

Since the industrial revolution, our society has harnessed natural resources to meet the demands of a burgeoning population, operating under the assumption that these resources were limitless. However, the repercussions of overconsumption became glaringly apparent as we faced the unsustainable consequences of our actions. Human activity, steering the Earth out of its 12,000-year Holocene state into the Anthropocene, marks a critical juncture in our relationship with the planet.

In 2009, researchers from the Stockholm Resilience Centre, led by Johan Rockström, identified nine pivotal processes governing Earth’s stability. Each process is accompanied by one or more boundaries, delineating the limits to anthropogenic perturbations that our society can impose while maintaining a naturally occurring interglacial state. Staying within these boundaries is imperative for societal safety, development, and thriving. Crossing these boundaries, however, poses a significant risk to Earth’s vital ecosystems, potentially leading to irreversible environmental changes and compromising human well-being.

Most planetary processes are interconnected within the complex Earth’s system and a change in one of the nine planetary boundaries will have effect on various others, often intensifying the change in the initial process observed. We call these effects positive feedbacks. For example, acidification of the oceans, caused by increased CO2 emissions will affect the phytoplankton populations, which will in turn be less efficient in trapping CO2 through photosynthesis thus intensifying global warming and ocean acidification.

The graphs below vividly illustrate the rapid crossing of most of these boundaries in recent years, underscoring the urgency to address and reverse destructive trends on nature. Explore the critical interplay between human activities and the Earth’s resilience, recognizing the need for immediate action to safeguard our planet’s future.

Stockholm Resilience Centre - Planetary Boundaries
Stockholm Resilience Centre

Key Takeaways

  • Anthropocene Era: Our actions have propelled the Earth into the Anthropocene, requiring a paradigm shift in our relationship with the planet.
  • Nine Planetary Boundaries: Explore the identified boundaries crucial for Earth’s stability and resilience.
  • Urgency of Action: Graphs depict the alarming speed at which these boundaries are being breached, emphasizing the imperative to halt and reverse destructive trends.

Further Reading

  • The Doughnut Economy: Social considerations of planetary boundaries
Coralie Delacoste