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Syndrome of Modern Global Change

The syndrome of modern global change is a direct result of humanity's activities over recent centuries that have significantly change the physiology of the planetary life-support system. As discussed under the baseline, the Holocene was a period of exceptional stability of the climate. It also was a period of stability for many other variables that characterize the planetary physiology, including the flows in the carbon cycle, the water cycle, and the cycles of nutrients such as nitrogen and phosporous. Likewise, changes in the land cover and, conesequently, albedo were very small compared to pre-Holocene times. With this stability, the Holocene provide a safe operating space for humanity (Rockström et al., 2009).

The Holocene can be characterized by boundaries in many of these variables. Rockström et al. (2009) identified nine global boundaries for this safe operating space, and they were able to quantify seven of them (Figure 1). Unfortuantely, two of those boundaries have already been crossed and several others are likely to be crossed in the near future.

Figure 1: Global boundaries of the safe operating space for humanity. From Rockström and Klum (2015).



Rockström, J., Klum, M, 2015. Small Planet, Big World. Yale University Press.

Rockström, J., Steffen, W., Noone, K., Persson, Å., Chapin, F. S. III, Lambin, E., Lenton, T. M., Scheffer, M., Folke, C., Schellnhuber, H., Nykvist, B., De Wit, C. A., Hughes, T., van der Leeuw, S., Rodhe, H., Sörlin, S., Snyder, P. K., Costanza, R., Svedin, U., Falkenmark, M., Karlberg, L., Corell, R. W., Fabry, V. J., Hansen, J., Walker, B., Liverman, D., Richardson, K., Crutzen, P., Foley, J., 2009. A safe operating space for humanity, Nature, 461, 472-475.

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