Let’s not tip the Earth off its balance!
By Tresa George Karimpanal
In its 4.543 billion years, the Earth has gone through drastic transformations. There were constant environmental changes happening over every few centuries before the earth got to its present environmental stability. For over the 10,000 years the Earth has remained in this period of environmental stability known as the Holocene. This period has seen human civilizations develop and evolve to adapt to these stable environmental surroundings. Over the last few centuries the anthropocentric nature of human development and activities has posed a serious threat to this stability.
During Holocene changes did happen in the earth through a long natural process and in a manner that supported human existence, but the rapid industrialization, strong dependence on fossil fuels and the extensive human activity is now pushing the Earth’s system to shift to the Anthropocene state, where the Earth’s biogeochemical systems could change in an irreversible manner that may not support the human life.
In 2009 Johan RockstrÖm and his team came up with a set ofparameters and the values that need to be maintained to keep the earth’s conditions favourable for human life. They initially identified 9 Planetary Systems that are consequential to maintain this balance namely:
Climate change: The changes in global climate caused due to the increased concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
Ocean acidification: A large amount of industrial emissions are ultimately dissolved in the oceans altering the natural pH of surface water.
Stratospheric ozone depletion: The ozone layer has been thinning out due to pollution from industrialisation.
Biochemical flows: Nitrogen and Phosphorous cycles.
Global fresh water usage: The fresh water cycles are constantly being depleted and polluted.
Change in land use: Land all over the planet is being converted for human use.
Biosphere integrity: Loss of plant and animal (both terrestrial and marine) species.
Atmospheric aerosol loading: Aerosols affect cloud formation and patterns of atmospheric circulation.
Novel entities: Pollutions caused by the emissions on toxic compounds such as syntheticand organic pollutants, radioactive materials, also genetically modified organisms, nanomaterials, and micro-plastics.
They then came up with a safe operating space for each of these systems that should not be crossed and called them the planetary boundaries. These values have a safe space between themselves and the actual thresholds of the planetary systems, crossing beyond which might change the system permanently [RockstrÖm, 2009].
Presently 4 of the 9 planetary boundaries – Climate change, Biosphere integrity, Biochemical flows, and Changes in land use – have been crossed due to human activities. While the levels of Climate Change and Changes in land use have just crossed their limits, Biosphere integrity and Biochemical flows have crossed the boundaries exponentially. Of the four that have crossed the boundaries climate change and biosphere integrity are among the core boundaries, which the scientists believe are interconnected to and have influence over all the other systems, hence if one goes over the threshold can disrupt the entire balance resulting in uncertain repercussions. These are all the impacts of the unchecked human activities and the rat race for development and urbanization. Hence, if we are not mindful of our actions and choices, it won’t be long before the Earth is tipped off balance.