A safe operating space for humanity

The Spaceship Earth image so popular following the moon missions focused much creative thought on the importance of preserving our living space, with discussions ranging from adequacy of food, preservation activities and Malthusian discussions of population growth vs. resources. Recently, however, the focus has turned to climate change and the impact of fossil fuel usage on rising temperatures.

A group of scientists, however, has noted that all these discussions are flawed in that they focus on only one or two variables important to our planetary ecosystem. They fail either to view the breadth and complexity of the ecosystem or to show the deep interactions between these. Writing in Nature this week they “propose a framework based on ‘planetary boundaries’. These boundaries define the safe operating space for humanity with respect to the Earth system and are associated with the planet’s biophysical subsystems or processes.” Violating these boundaries will, they predict, eject us from the relatively stable conditions of the Holocene ere (the last 10,000 years).