We confront an existential risk without historic precedent: human environmental pressures have reached such a pace and intensity that they may cross tipping points, irreversibly altering the state of the Earth system. As the human enterprise becomes more encompassing and interdependent, the prospect of achieving human well-being within the dominant development paradigm grows dim. However, an alternative sustainable development paradigm that pursues social, environmental, and economic goals separately would likewise prove inadequate. Instead, we need an integrated perspective to calibrate the operation of the human system so that it remains within safe parameters for a stable Earth system. The planetary boundary framework contributes to this new paradigm by delineating a safe operating space, in terms of the degree of human perturbation of environmental processes, consistent with maintaining the planet’s stability. The urgency of the challenges ahead demands a two-prong strategy: acting within our current obsolete development framework to bend environmental and social justice curves as much as possible, while simultaneously fostering the longer-term shift in consciousness to values and institutions that equitably integrate people and planet.
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2. Lidia Britto and Mark Stafford Smith, “State of the Planet Declaration” (declaration, Planet Under Pressure: New Knowledge Towards Solutions, London, March 29, 2012),www.planetunderpressure2012.net/pdf/state_of_planet_declaration.pdf.
3. Paul Crutzen, “Geology of Mankind,” Nature 415, no. 23 (January 2002),http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v415/n6867/full/415023a.html.
4. Steffen et al., “The Trajectory of the Anthropocene: The Great Acceleration."
5. Patrick Gerland et al., “World Population Stabilization Unlikely This Century,” Science 346, no. 6206 (October 2014): 234-237, http://www.sciencemag.org/content/346/6206/234.abstract.
6. David Griggs et al., “Policy: Sustainable Development Goals for People and Planet,” Nature 495, no. 7441 (March 2013): 305-307, http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v495/n7441/full/495305a.html.
7. Herman Daly, Steady State Economics, 2nd ed. (Washington, DC: Island Press, 1991).
8. Griggs et al., “Policy: Sustainable Development Goals for People and Planet.”
9. NEEM Community Members, “Eemian Interglacial from a Greenland Folded Ice Core,” Nature 493 (January 2013): 489-494, http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v493/n7433/full/nature11789.html.
10. For more detail on the conceptual framework, see Johan Rockström et al., “Planetary Boundaries: Exploring the Safe Operating Space for Humanity,” Ecology and Society 14, no. 2 (2009),http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol14/iss2/art32/; Johan Rockström et al., “A Safe Operating Space for Humanity,”Nature 461 (September 2009): 472-475, http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v461/n7263/full/461472a.html; and Will Steffen, Katherine Richardson, Johan Rockström, et al., “Planetary Boundaries: Guiding Human Development on a Changing Planet,” Science 347, no. 6223 (January 2015),http://www.sciencemag.org/content/347/6223/1259855.abstract.
11. Steffen, et al., “Planetary Boundaries.”
12. Rockström, et al., “A Safe Operating Space for Humanity.”
13. Based on a search on the Web of Science in January 2015.
14. Steffen, Richardson, Rockström, et al., op cit.
15. The update attempts to quantify the aerosol boundary in term of the minimum atmospheric optical depth to avoid disrupting regional climate systems. However, this approach has only been applied to the Southeast Asian monsoon so far. The previous “chemical pollution” boundary (now defined as “novel entities”) remains unquantified.
16. James Hansen et al., “Assessing ‘Dangerous Climate Change’: Required Reduction of Carbon Emissions to Protect Young People, Future Generations and Nature,” PLoS ONE 8, no. 12 (December 2013),http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0081648.
17. Thomas Stocker, “The Closing Door of Climate Targets,” Science 339, no. 6117 (January 2013): 280-282,http://www.sciencemag.org/content/339/6117/280.short.
18. Frank Bierman, “Planetary Boundaries and Earth System Governance: Exploring the Links,” Ecological Economics 81 (September 2012): 4-9, http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0921800912000808; Victor Galaz, Beatrice Crona, et al., “Polycentric Systems and Interacting Planetary Boundaries—Emerging Governance of Climate Change-Ocean Acidification-Marine Biodiversity,” Ecological Economics 81 (September 2012): 21-32,http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0921800911004964.
19. See Giorgos Kallis, “The Degrowth Alternative,” Great Transition Initiative (February 2015),http://greattransition.org/publication/the-degrowth-alternative. See also the commentary from Nicholas Ashford, Maurie Cohen, Herman Daly, Al Hammond, Michael Karlberg, Rajesh Makwana, Mary Mellor, Robert Nadeau, Robert Paehlke, Tilman Santarius, Ernst Ulrich von Weizsäcker, Allen White, and Anders Wijkman.
20. Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee, The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2014); Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler, Abundance: The Future is Better Than You Think (New York: Free Press, 2012).
21. World Wildlife International, Living Planet Report 2014: Species and Spaces, People and Places (Gland, Switzerland: World Wildlife International, 2014),http://wwf.panda.org/about_our_earth/all_publications/living_planet_report/; Kate Raworth, A Safe and Just Space for Humanity: Can We Live within the Doughnut? (Oxford, UK: Oxfam International, 2012),https://www.oxfam.org/en/research/safe-and-just-space-humanity.
22. Jonathan Foley et al., “Solutions for a Cultivated Planet,” Nature 478 (October 2011): 337-342,http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v478/n7369/full/nature10452.html.
23. Mike Gerst, Paul Raskin, and Johan Rockström, “Contours of a Resilient Global Future,” Sustainability 6, no. 1 (2014): 123-135,http://greattransition.org/archives/other/Gerst_Raskin_Rockstrom_Contours_of_a_Resilient_Global_Future.pdf