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Observations

Observations

Opinion, arguments & analyses from the editors of Scientific American

Is Earth past the tipping point?

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Earth graphic from Foley videoBiodiversity loss. Land use. Freshwater use. Nitrogen and phosphorus cycles. Stratospheric ozone. Ocean acidification. Climate change. Chemical Pollution. Aerosol loading in the atmosphere.

A team of 30 scientists across the globe have determined that the nine environmental processes named above must remain within specific limits, otherwise the "safe operating space" within which humankind can exist on Earth will be threatened. Amid some controversy, the group has set numeric limits for seven of the nine so far (chemical pollution and aerosol loading are still being pinned down). And the researchers have determined that the world has already crossed the boundary in three cases: biodiversity loss, the nitrogen cycle and climate change.

Jon Foley, director of the University of Minnesota's Institute on the Environment, and a leader of the group, lays out the limits and their implications for human action in an article in Scientific American's April issue.

He also discusses the issues in a podcast with our own Steve Mirsky.

Foley's team was so moved by the research effort that it put together a compelling video (see below) dramatizing the situation, generated entirely with typography, graphics and energizing music. You can learn more about the team's work at its research site, too.

Image: Earth graphic from Foley video

 

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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