The limitations of life on earth

Our lonely little sliver of biosphere on our sole habitable planet (so far) has its limits. But what are they? How can we know?

From the September 2009 edition of Nature:

The framework presented is an attempt to look holistically at how humanity is stressing the entire Earth system. Provocatively, they go beyond the conceptual to suggest numerical boundaries for seven parameters: climate change, ozone depletion, ocean acidification, biodiversity, freshwater use, the global nitrogen and phosphorus cycles, and change in land use. The authors argue that we must stay within all of these boundaries in order to avoid catastrophic environmental change.

… But even if the science is preliminary, this is a creditable attempt to quantify the limitations of our existence on Earth, and provides a good basis for discussion and future refinement.

The actual article, “A safe operating space for humanity” is worth a read if you have access. Interesting concept, even if the numbers themselves are incredibly preliminary.


08 2011

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  1. Emma #

    It is interesting and encouraging that they are starting to quantify this. I think the concept should be intuitive and I’m constantly amazed that people see our world as limitless, even today. Surprisingly even in academia this has only been a fringe issue. Yet this surely is a ‘spaceship earth’ and as a speck of rock hurtling around the sun it’s astonishing that anybody should think otherwise!

    • 2

      Emma — I agree re: the concept being intuitive. I do wonder whether they have taken innovation into account (or whether it’s even possible to). I wonder if they had written this in the 1930s or 40s whether they’d have missed the Green Revolution entirely. In that sense this is most interesting as a historical document as it shows what we were thinking about our limitations and will let us compare those expectations to later realities. So the specifics are hard, and maybe so hard as to make it misleading and/or not worthwhile, but the general idea is indeed intuitive.

  2. gregorylent #

    science isn’t yet equipped to know much beyond itself, and in that way is the cause of many problems …. but here is the story … earth is multi-dimensional. people are multidimensional. consciousness, for sure, is multidimensional…

    true evolution is the accessing of higher and higher dimensions of our own beings, and in that we see the earth with new eyes.

    it’s been going on for a few centuries now, and beginning to accelerate nicely. this bit of plastic and metal i am whacking on to write this is evidence of the flow… as is the collapsing of no-longer-useful institutions you witness going on out the window ..

    my point? forget “quantifying the limitations”!

    • 4

      Did you read their article?

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