The urgent need to engage systemically with environmental, social and economic considerations is formally and globally recognized. In 2009, a comprehensive piece of research led by Johan Rockström was published identifying nine planetary boundaries that if transgressed would lead to unpredictable instability in Earth systems. Alarmingly, at least three planetary boundaries have already been crossed: rate of human intervention in nitrogen cycles, the rate of biodiversity loss and climate change. Each transgression is serious in its own right, however because changes in earth systems are non-linear, their potential effects include the dramatic and asymmetrical impact upon other boundaries, threatening the collapse of the larger systems.
Rockstrom’s team’s work on planetary boundaries, however, reflects hope and agency in how it describes the presence, within the planetary boundaries, of “a safe operating space for humanity”. While adhering to the boundaries, within this space a diversity of initiatives and approaches to sustainability are not only possible, but needed.