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Earth’s limits must be respected

Once upon a time.  That’s the way of the fairy tale author when they begin a new book or short story. 

It seems that fairy tales are not limited to children’s book authors.  There are many adults in positions of influence and power who believe in myths and fairy tales as well.  These adults include economists and politicians who have created for us the economic endless growth myth and a story that the Earth’s limits are not to be believed, let alone respected.

People once believed the planet could always accommodate us, says Steven Lade (ANU) and his co-authors (Griffith University, Queensland).  That the resilience of the Earth system meant nature would always provide. But we now know this is not necessarily the case. As big as the world is, our impact is bigger.

In: It’s not just climate – we’ve already breached most of the Earth’s limits. A safer, fairer future means treading lightly, Lade et al., (The Conversation, 1 Jun 2023) report that: Research released today, an international team of scientists from the Earth Commission, of which we were part, identified eight “safe” and “just” boundaries spanning five vital planetary systems: climate change, the biosphere, freshwater, nutrient use in fertilisers and air pollution. This is the first time an assessment of boundaries has quantified the harms to people from changes to the Earth system. 

“Safe” means boundaries maintaining stability and resilience of our planetary systems on which we rely. “Just”, in this work, means boundaries which minimise significant harm to people. Together, they’re a health barometer for the planet.

Assessing our planet’s health is a big task. It took the expertise of 51 world-leading researchers from natural and social sciences. Our methods included modelling, literature reviews and expert judgement. We assessed factors such as tipping point risks, declines in Earth system functions, historical variability and effects on people.

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