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Page added on January 30, 2015

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Planetary Boundaries

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The Planetary Boundaries framework was first introduced in 2009, when a group of 28 internationally renowned scientists identified and quantified the first set of nine planetary boundaries within which humanity can continue to develop and thrive for generations to come. A Jan 2015 update by the researchers say a fourth of these boundaries – forests – have been breached.

According to a report on the update in the Scientific American (Humans Cross Another Danger Line for the Planet):

Five years go an impressive, international group of scientists unveiled nine biological and environmental “boundaries” that humankind should not cross in order to keep the earth a livable place. To its peril, the world had already crossed three of those safe limits: too much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, too rapid a rate of species loss and too much pouring of nitrogen into rivers and oceans—primarily in the form of fertilizer runoff.

Now we have succeeded in transgressing a fourth limit: the amount of forestland being bulldozed or burned out of existence (see map below). Less and less forest reduces the planet’s ability to absorb some of that carbon dioxide and to produce water vapor, crucial to plant life. And the ongoing loss alters how much of the sun’s energy is absorbed or reflected across wide regions, which itself can modify climate.

A separate paper published by the group in Anthropocene Review, titled The trajectory of the Anthropocene: The Great Acceleration, updates a striking set of 24 graphs that show that almost all the damage to earth by humans has occurred since 1950, in lock step with rapid economic growth worldwide. This “Great Acceleration” of social, economic and environmental drivers basically says that although growing population adds stress to the earth’s systems, greater consumption through rising living standards is responsible for even more of the burden.

Read more about Planetary Boundaries research at the Stockholm Resilience Centre website.

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3 Comments on "Planetary Boundaries"

  1. Rodster on Fri, 30th Jan 2015 7:36 pm 

    To hell with the planet, gotta keep BAU moving forward.

  2. Davy on Fri, 30th Jan 2015 8:52 pm 

    Pretty amazing what Asia has done to her forests. It may be past the point of no return there. Here in the US as FF decline I know the forest cutting will resume from necessity. I collect old pics of my region and it is startling to see what the beginning of the 20th century looked like here in the Ozarks. The timber barons stripped the best trees in as little as 20 years. I pray we can have some kind of sustainable harvest structure but considering the amount of people that seems unlikely.

    The FF bonanza allowed beautiful forest to regrow in the MO Ozarks. There are some really amazing trees now. The white oak is my favorite. I cut allot of wood for heat and for habitat management. These old oaks are dying from lightning and wind storms and they have to be removed. Forestry is tough work and work I wonder how I will be able to do someday with just an axe and crosscut saw. Getting old is not for sissies. Chainsaw is tough work but nothing like an axe and hand saw. Maybe in a few years I can bribe my boys to do the work.

  3. Makati1 on Fri, 30th Jan 2015 9:43 pm 

    If the US turned to wood heat, the forests would be gone by the second winter. Add in the wood for shelter, cooking, and misc uses and it would never come back. That is true everywhere, but in tropical climates, less wood is used and more grasses like bamboo.

    Then there is the change in climate that is going to affect the forests more than humans in the long run. As it warms, insect pests from the south are moving north. I know that the West was fighting pine beetles in the 60s and has not been able to do more than control their damage somewhat. I saw the damage when I worked for the US Forest Service then, in their control program near Yellowstone. When the control programs end due to lack of funds, the Western forests will disappear in a few years, I think.

    The Gypsy moths will kill off the Eastern forests in the same time. Hundred year old oaks take a few years to die from moth damage, but they do.

    We have exceeded the limits of our petri dish … and are going to now pay the price of our wasteful lifestyle.

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