The Nine Planetary Boundaries: Atmospheric Stability

Written by
Rae Lewark

The Nine Planetary Boundaries: Atmospheric Stability

Written by
Rae Lewark

Across the 3.8 billion years of the planet’s existence, the ecological landscape has constantly evolved to meet the limits of available resources. In the era of the Anthropocene, the development of The Nine Planetary boundaries by Johan Rockström and Well Steffen given us a frame work to determine the viability of life on earth. By defining the safe operating space for humanity within earth’s systems, among these boundaries, atmospheric destabilization is a future defining concern. The limits of our atmosphere’s operation with changing gas compositions warns us of the consequences of our actions and provides us an opportunity to build a sustainable future.

Figure 1. Definition of the nine planetary boundaries. The current state of risk is identified for each boundary as well as some of the values that are considered that are used to determine the threshold levels

The levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere determine the stability of weather patterns, the path of the jet-stream, and the temperatures experienced across bioregions. As human activities release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere at an unprecedented rate, the need for collective action to mitigate atmospheric stability has never been more urgent. By practicing a “business as usual” mindset, we push civilization closer and closer to inhospitable conditions. The impacts of extreme weather events, polar vortexes in unseasonal areas, and periods of drought cause significant impact to economic and social infrastructure. To combat the unprecedented effects on both economic and social systems, more green house gas is released. This positive feedback loop accelerates the degradation of atmospheric stability, making 100-year events more frequent.


Figure 2. The positive feedback loop created when atmospheric stability is compromised by green house gas emissions requiring increased emissions and subsequent stability loss.

In a time where access to resources has never been more available and scientific information never as accurate, we have everything we need to shift the course of human development. By leveraging technology and redefining the relationships of human development to ecosystems, we can develop economic and social systems capable of mitigating the impacts of atmospheric destabilization.

Atmospheric Stabilization in Action

Carbon Limit

An excellent example of a company deploying Climate-tech, Carbon Limit, is redefining how companies combat atmospheric destabilization through carbon-capture innovation. Through the manufacture of cement, Carbon Limit actively captures excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and sequesters it in construction materials. Reflective of the sequestration process seen in ecosystems, this polyvalent process provides building resources while dually lowering the carbon dioxide percentage in the atmosphere.

A leader in climate-technology, Carbon Limit demonstrates how companies can leverage atmospheric stabilization mitigation while contributing to the economy.

As described by Carbon Limit CEO and Founder Tim Sperry:

“Carbon Limit was created around the idea of decarbonization— a process in which carbon dioxide released into the air is captured, there by reducing the levels of CO2 in the atmosphere -- This process will push us towards the net zero future we need to survive” (CEO Weekly)

Future Considerations

As we stand at a crossroads, we are presented with the opportunity to determine the future of humankind. Instead of fearing the coming changes to the ecological landscape, let us take the opportunity to reframe what it means to be a constituent on this planet. For 3.8 billion years, evolution has determined which species survive and which perish in the wake of ecological change. We are not exempt from these cycles, but we do have the power to stand against or integrate these adaptations into the systems we build.

This momentous task will take all of us.

This shift requires planetary cooperation across international and cultural borders from people, to communities, to corporations. There has never been a time in history where we have been more globally connected. Even within the planetary boundaries, our potential as a species is limitless.  

Butler, D.C., (2017). Limits to growth,planetary boundaries, and planetary health. Current Opinion in EnvironmentalSustainability, 25,

O’Neill, D.W., et al (2018). A good life for all withinplanetary boundaries. Nature Sustainability 1, 88–95.

Rockstrom, J., et al, (2009). Planetary Boundaries: Exploring the Safe Operating Space for Humanity. Ecology and Society, 14(2).

Steffen, W., et al., (2015). Planetary Boundaries: Guiding human development on a changing planet. Science 347,6223. DOI:10.1126/science.1259855.

2017 Studio SE, Ltd.