title: Course - Planetary Boundaries

Created by: Stockholm Resilience Center

The Quadruple Squeeze

  1. Population increase
    • Set to reach 9B by 2050
    • Most of damage to the Earth is being done by 20% of population (rich)
      • As more people enter the middle class this pressure will increase
  2. Climate Change
    • 450 ppm (GHG concentration) is what’s normally described as the danger zone
      • We entered it in 2014
    • Carbon remains in the atmosphere for 1,000 years
  3. Ecosystem Crisis
    • We’ve lost 60% of the Earth’s Ecosystem Services that support human life and the Earth’s ability to cope with climate change
  4. tipping points
    • This is reducing the resilience of the Earth
      • So negative impact may become increasingly stronger (through Reinforcing Feedback Loops)
      • For example: Rainforest rain is mostly self-generated, the more you destroy it, the less rain it will generate, the weaker the forest becomes.
        • Once these loops are set in place they accelerate and can cause abrupt changes
      • Another example is the ocean dead zones that occur (seemingly) abruptly from overfishing

The Great Acceleration

  • The great acceleration started really taking off in the 1950s
  • All the graphs of human activity show the same exponential curve
    • Population, GDP, GHG emissions, Deforestation, Ocean acidification etc…
  • All these exponential curves put us at risk of abrupt tipping points
  • The extend and adoption of solutions is also following an exponential curve

![World Energy Use](assets/World Energy Use.png)

9 Planetary Boundaries

  • The boundaries that should not be crossed for us to keep the Earth in its currently desirable state (Holocene)

Planetary Boundaries

  1. climate change (TRANSGRESSED)
  2. Biodiversity loss (TRANSGRESSED)
  3. Chemical Pollution -Novel Substances-
  4. Ocean acidification
  5. Ozone Depletion
  6. Land and Water Use Change
  7. Biogeochemical loading: Global Nitrogen and Phosphorus Cycle
  8. Global freshwater use
  9. Aerosol Loading

Other facts

  • 40% of land area is now food production land

Geological Ages and the Anthropocene

Geological Ages


the period in which humans are the dominant force of geological change on Earth

  • We’re heading to 3C increase in temperature by the end of the century

What would make a good anthropocene?

  • Fairness
    • No matter who your parents are, you’ll have the same opportunities as everyone else
  • Prosperity
  • Sustainability

We need to research to see how we can integrate these three and how they can support one another


Resilience 101 → resilience

Course - Planetary Boundaries

Social-ecological systems

We can’t think of ecological systems as standing on their own as they are intrinsically connected to the social systems that humans create around them. Ecosystem services are generated by social-ecological systems

Social-Ecological surprises

  • Nature building resistance to DDT
  • Toxins biomagnified in food chains
  • Oil and food prices contributing to Arab Springs?
  • Fishing population collapses (haven’t recovered in over 20 years)

Ecological surprises can occur at all scales, and can connect across scales. Example of birds migrating to a new place because of agriculture, disrupting the ecosystem in a far away place. Teleconnections are what allows changes in one part of the World to affect another one

Global Governance of the Earth System

Sustainable Development Goals

  • Not about a global government
    • A set of partnerships, agreements between state and non-state actors
    • Complex interactions

Increase in Multilateral Environmental Agreements

  • Rapid increase of international agreements and more actors agreeing to them
    • Fragmentation (too many agreements to keep count and keep a system view)
    • Increasing complexity of agreements
      • GRIDLOCK: too many actors involved, no ability to make changes

Addressing Global Governance

Four approaches that can start out independently but can evolve and combine with each other

  1. Deep Institutional Reform
    • Reforming the pillars of Global Governance to enable it to better deal with the challenges
  2. Network Revolution
    • Investing in relationships among state and non-state actors
    • Club approach
      • Fewer countries creating more ambitious goals while creating benefits among themselves
      • Hope that more countries want to become part of the club
    • Polycentricity
      • Several independent bodies of decision-making that collaborate
  3. Legal Transformation
    • Re-defining or creating laws (around human rights, or Planetary boundaries)
      • Law proposals can evolve non-linearly (from a small fringe talking about a law change it can quickly evolve to the law being passed)
  4. Cosmopolitan Democracy
    • Allow increased participation of citizens in global decision-making process

Energy Transition

![World Energy Use and Source](assets/World Energy Use and Source.png)

  • To date increased growth has been correlated to higher energy use
    • We still expect higher demand for energy in the future
  • Energy return on investment on oil has gone down dramatically
    • More expensive to extract oil today
  • We start to see exponential rise in adoption of renewable energy

Urbanization and Food Production

  • Food Systems
  • Need for better management of land
    • Expected large increase in Megacities (>10M)
    • Expected large increase in medium sized cities
    • Agricultural land needed to satisfy food demands
  • Some cities are going to shrink
    • Provide opportunities for positive changes (sustainable use of land)
  • Climate change will increase deadly heat waves in cities
    • These can be alleviated by increasing vegetation within cities
  • Majority of population will be young people
    • Opportunity for education towards Earth stewardship
  • Urban citizens are disconnected with the source of their food
  • 20% of decrease in number of farmers
  • Cities need to figure out how to feed themselves
    • Tokyo is a great example of productive fields around the city area
    • Copenhagen and Canberra instead decided to import their food and leave surrounding areas more pristine
    • We already saw in the past how countries became reluctant to export food during droughts


Related: biosphere stewardship | complex adaptive systems