The Summary is
Although Earth has undergone many periods of significant environmental change, the planet's environment has been unusually stable for the past 10,000 years. This period of stability — known to geologists as the Holocene — has seen human civilizations arise, develop and thrive. Such stability may now be under threat. Since the Industrial Revolution, a new era has arisen, the Anthropocene, in which human actions have become the main driver of global environmental change. This could see human activities push the Earth system outside the stable environmental state of the Holocene, with consequences that are detrimental or even catastrophic for large parts of the world.
- New approach proposed for defining preconditions for human development
- Crossing certain biophysical thresholds could have disastrous consequences for humanity
- Three of nine interlinked planetary boundaries have already been overstepped
During the Holocene, environmental change occurred naturally and Earth's regulatory capacity maintained the conditions that enabled human development. Regular temperatures, freshwater availability and biogeochemical flows all stayed within a relatively narrow range. Now, largely because of a rapidly growing reliance on fossil fuels and industrialized forms of agriculture, human activities have reached a level that could damage the systems that keep Earth in the desirable Holocene state. The result could be irreversible and, in some cases, abrupt environmental change, leading to a state less conducive to human development. Without pressure from humans, the Holocene is expected to continue for at least several thousands of years.
The inner green shading represents the proposed safe operating space for nine planetary systems. The red wedges represent an estimate of the current position for each variable. The boundaries in three systems (rate of biodiversity loss, climate change and human interference with the nitrogen cycle), have already been exceeded.