Checking on Earth’s Vital Signs

↑ Watch Global Sustainability and Planetary Boundaries.

This is a new idea—approach our stewardship of the planet as a doctor approaches the health of a human being, by defining and monitoring the most important vital signs. In a human being, that would include:

  1. Temperature
  2. Pulse
  3. Respiratory Rate
  4. Blood pressure
  5. Blood glucose level
  6. Pain

Now the Stockholm Resilience Center has developed a set of vital signs for the Earth—with boundaries established in each category, just as we have boundaries established for our own vital signs.

Nine planetary vital signs

  1. Climate change (includes temperature)
  2. Biosphere integrity (maintaining or losing biodiversity via species extinction)
  3. Stratospheric ozone level (vital component of the atmosphere)
  4. Ocean acidification level (proper level vital for coral reef and ocean health)
  5. Biogeochemical flows (phosphorus and nitrogen cycles)
  6. Land use and health (includes deforestation and desertification levels)
  7. Freshwater flow and use (clear lakes, rivers meeting the sea, aquifers not depleted, wetlands maintained, etc)
  8. Atmospheric aerosol level (microscopic particles in the atmosphere that affect climate and living organisms)
  9. Presence of novel entities (e.g. organic pollutants, radioactive materials, nanomaterials, and micro-plastics).

Notice climate change is only one of the vital signs—as scientists, they’re viewing climate change as a category of data (temperatures, ice sheet melting rates, etc) that indicates a larger systemic problem.

As the Resilience Center points out, the larger systemic problem has a lot to do with our collective mindset about how our economy and society should work here on Earth. For more details, visit the Stockholm Resilience Center site for info-graphics and videos.

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