GEOG 430
Human Use of the Environment

Lesson 1 Reading


Required Reading:

Pearce, F. (2018) Is the way we think about overpopulation racist? The Guardian Newspaper.

Fred Pearce is a Science journalist who writes for a diversity of news outlets. He often draws on ideas from Geography to critique mainstream media content and reporting.

Rockström, J., Steffen, W., Noone, K., Persson, Å., Chapin Iii, F. S., Lambin, E. F., . . . Foley, J. A. (2009). A safe operating space for humanity. Nature, 461, 472. doi:10.1038/461472a.

Johan Rockström and colleagues in 2009 designed a framework to determine critical planetary boundaries for 9 systems. Rockström’s research is very important because it helps us (as humanity) understand in which boundaries pose the greatest threat and where we should focus our mitigation efforts. Climate is already outside the ranges of the Holocene as we have now moved into the era of the Anthropocene. An important conclusion he drew is that the three biggest threats to our planet are the anthropogenic influences in Biodiversity Loss, Nitrogen cycle, and climate change. Human activities now convert more N2 from the atmosphere into reactive forms than all of the Earth's terrestrial processes combined. Rockström set limits to how much influence we can have in each system and both Biodiversity Loss and the Nitrogen Cycle have exceeded those limits already. Nitrogen flow should be reduced to 25% of its current value. Species are becoming extinct at a rate that has not been seen since the last global mass-extinction, with a loss of 2/3rd of mammalian animals since 2016, and 30% of all species threatened with extinction. Climate change is still within a manageable limit, but it is expected to increase exponentially towards that limit due to a wide variety of factors over the next few decades. Although Rockström’s research is very helpful, it is hard to determine the accuracy of the information due to the complex interconnectedness of systems with each other. Many of the systems are reaching what he refers to as “tipping” points. These "tipping" points are considered the point of no return for ensuring these systems stay in a balanced state such as the Holocene conditions that we have observed for the past 10,000 years. This research is important to educate the general public as it provides a great overview of the current state of our world, where it is suffering the most, and where we should focus our mitigative efforts for the future.

NOTE: A link to the Rockström reading is located in the Lesson 1 module in Canvas.