Essay: Bounding the Planetary Future: Why We Need a Great Transition
Johan Rockström, April 2015
We confront an existential risk without historic precedent: human environmental pressures have reached such a pace and intensity that they may cross tipping points, irreversibly altering the state of the Earth system. As the human enterprise becomes more encompassing and interdependent, the prospect of achieving human well-being within the dominant development paradigm grows dim. However, an alternative sustainable development paradigm that pursues social, environmental, and economic goals separately would likewise prove inadequate. Instead, we need an integrated perspective to calibrate the operation of the human system so that it remains within safe parameters for a stable Earth system. The planetary boundary framework contributes to this new paradigm by delineating a safe operating space, in terms of the degree of human perturbation of environmental processes, consistent with maintaining the planet’s stability. The urgency of the challenges ahead demands a two-prong strategy: acting within our current obsolete development framework to bend environmental and social justice curves as much as possible, while simultaneously fostering the longer-term shift in consciousness to values and institutions that equitably integrate people and planet.