New Science Suggests More Land-Based Ecosystems Lost than Biosphere Can Bear

An important scientific journal article published today finds that 66% of Earth’s land area must be maintained as natural and agro-ecological ecosystems to sustain a livable environment. Yet about 50% have already been lost, threatening global biosphere collapse. In describing the paper, author Dr. Glen Barry suggests the Ebola epidemic, California drought, and Middle East revolutions indicate planetary boundaries have been exceeded.

Read Scientific Paper Terrestrial Ecosystem Loss and Biosphere Collapse by Dr. Glen Barry – View Once for Personal Use

August 5, 2014
Contact: Dr. Glen Barry,
Citation: Barry, G. (2014), “Terrestrial ecosystem loss and biosphere collapse”, Management of Environmental Quality, Vol. 25 No. 5, pp. 542-563. Abstract
(Madison, WI) – New science finds that two-thirds of Earth’s land-based ecosystems must be protected to sustain the biosphere long-term. Yet about one-half of Earth’s natural ecosystems have already been lost. The scientific review article by Dr. Glen Barry – entitled “Terrestrial ecosystem loss and biosphere collapse” – was published today in the international journal “Management of Environmental Quality”.
The paper proposes terrestrial ecosystem loss as the tenth ecological planetary boundary (along with climate change, biodiversity loss, and nitrogen deposition which have already been exceeded, and six others nearing the limit). It is proposed that 66% of Earth’s land – 44% as intact natural ecosystems and 22% as agro-ecological buffers – must remain intact to sustain the biosphere. This would require ending industrial primary forest logging and restoring old-growth forests to reconnect fragmented landscapes and bioregions. It is necessary to remain within planetary boundaries to ensure humanity continues to be surrounded by a healthy natural environment adequate to sustain the biosphere as well as local livelihoods and well-being.
“It is my hope this paper illustrates the absolute necessity of protecting and restoring large, connected old-growth forests and other natural ecosystems, buffered by agro-ecological ecosystems, to ensure Earth remains habitable. The emerging Ebola epidemic, California drought, and Middle East civil strife are all indicative of what occurs when planetary ecological boundaries remain unrecognized and are surpassed,” states Dr. Barry.
“For the future of the human family and all life, all necessary actions must be taken to protect natural ecosystems, in order to avert biosphere collapse and achieve global ecological sustainability.”
Dr. Barry is an internationally recognized political ecologist, data scientist, and writer living in Madison, and near Green Bay, Wisconsin. He is well-known within the environmental community as a leading global ecological visionary, public intellectual, and environmental policy critic. The abstract can be found, and the paper purchased here: (contact the author for a copy to report upon).
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The paper proposes the first measurable and spatially explicit terrestrial ecosystem loss threshold as part of planetary boundary science. What ecological science knows about biodiversity and old-growth forest loss, abrupt climate change, and ecosystem collapse is reviewed. It is suggested patterns of habitat fragmentation identified in ecosystems and landscapes – that ecological systems “percolate” to a new simplified state and often collapse when ~40% are lost, and noting the critical role of habitat connectivity – also hold true for the biosphere (the sum total of global ecosystems).
Building upon the planetary boundary scientific tradition, the scientific purpose of the journal article “is to propose a measurable terrestrial ecosystem boundary to answer the question: what extent of landscapes, bioregions, continents, and the global Earth System must remain as connected and intact core ecological areas and agro-ecological buffers to sustain local and regional ecosystem services as well as the biosphere commons?”
The paper proposes a new planetary boundary threshold: “…that across scales 60 percent of terrestrial ecosystems must remain, setting the boundary at 66 percent as a precaution, to maintain key biogeochemical processes that sustain the biosphere and for ecosystems to remain the context for human endeavors. Strict protection is proposed for 44 percent of global land, 22 percent as agro-ecological buffers, and 33 percent as zones of sustainable human use.”
Excerpts of the paper’s conclusion include: “It is prudent not to dismiss the possibility that the Earth System – the biosphere – could die if critical thresholds are crossed… Humanity’s well-being depends upon complex ecosystems that support life on our planet, yet we are consuming the biophysical foundation of civilization… Scientists need to take greater latitude in proposing solutions that lie outside the current political paradigms and sovereign powers… By not considering revolutionary change, we dismiss all options outside the dominant growth-based oligarchies”. Dr. Barry goes on to propose a revolutionary global carbon tax to “establish and protect large and connected core ecological areas, buffers, and agro-ecological transition zones throughout all of Earth’s bioregions.”
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[1] Rockstrom et al (2009a), “A safe operating space for humanity”, Nature, Vol. 461 No. 7263.
For more information and how to support Dr. Glen Barry’s pioneering work in political ecology please visit:


  1. Glen, you are absolutely right. We must do everything to work for a miracle — because nothing but a miracle will work.
    My consolation is that there are billions of schools in the universe. When the students burn this one down, we can meet somewhere else.

  2. Thank you for your work, Dr. Barry. This is so tragically disturbing. I feel so ashamed of the way humans have treated and abused our beautiful planet, sadly, mostly for greed or due to ignorance. I appreciate your clarion calls and continued warnings.

    1. Susan, you diagnosis of the disease is exactly right. What we need is to change the global culture so it encourages and fosters what is good in human nature: compassion, cooperation, decency. The current culture rewards greed and aggression. Do have a look around at

    2. A key word above is abuse. Unless we exercise our capacity to sense the signals and communications of the individual organisms each of us abuses, as a culture we will continue to psychopathically abuse.
      While we form coalition and lobby against generalized abuse, no understanding can be formed unless we make it personal:
      using and teaching the senses to recognize communicated (whether inadvertently or intentionally as many organisms evolved to signal through immediately responsive signal) distress.
      While most humans cannot recognize such chemical signals, conspecifics of canids for instance, recognize glandular secretions informing of severe physical or emotional stress. Pachyderms have signals both visible and chemically (smell, for our purposes) detectable of theri states.
      Yet, even most basic biology concerned with avain species does not instruct on differences of bird calls both denoting and connoting highly varied meanings.
      We have isolated ourselves through not reinforcing children’s natural awareness of these and other signals.
      Is, then, failing to either attend to or teaching/sharing our knowledge of signals of other species also abuse. I regard it as such.
      When walking among trees, we see sap flowing form one or more spots through bark. This is indicator of response to invasive activity. Has this ever been taught to you? It is an important signal; I notice that some plants of certain species show major infestations and stresses, while others just feet away have little or none. Do we question why?
      We know that it is of dire importance that genetic variance be maintained for a species to survive, yet persist in refusing diversity to exist in our yards, in agricultural plots during the past century.
      Cascades of distress and loss occur because we are ignorant of signals, of natural interspecific communication.
      Among humans, to ignore children’s distress IS abuse. Extend this awareness in yourself. Through this, you will change the abusive culture.

  3. dear dr barry
    I read your paper “Global Ecosystem Collaps”, and I fully agree.
    my intension is to send you information about the problemsolution which I developped during the last 2 decades. it is called NatureCulture as the reintegration of human world into nature based on natures wisdom/ ecosophy!! enclosed you find my summary from the Green World Forum 2013 & 2014 based on my book NaturKultur in german.
    you can enclose it in your homepage,
    I send more informations if you want…..
    best regards

  4. This is the price we pay when the focus is upon “making as much as possible in a lifetime”. It causes the uprooting of very much of the natural order.We are not taught to respect matter, nature or each other in the scholar system.We are not satisfied with just that what we need for the moment, but always wishing more.Knowledge is power is money is the delusional- , destructive way of thinking which keeps us in its grip.Always analysing, abstracting, calculating, dividing and conquering.Never seeing the whole picture like indigenous people.

    1. Numerous behavioral aberrations occur in overcrowded and overpopulated conditions. THe science of epigenetics is on the verge of giving greater insight into overcompetitiveness.
      Some who study culture understand that competitiveness itself should not be overemphasized.
      the Puebloan peoples prize long-distance running capacities (as do some other cultural groups), and though they engage in running competitions, any who compete and win too often are not looked upon with reverence, but instead are regarded as too selfish, rather like sociopaths, and often avoided.
      Small tribal groups, under Dunbar’s Number of about 150, and the normal bands of hunter-gatherers, about 15-30, required no leadership, instead valuing the accumulated knowledge of skilled adults. Seeking wealth greater than others of the group is also known to be sociopathic – destructive to the society, the future, and the group.
      Some Europeans do not know of some Northh American customs:
      Potlatch, for instance, grew from the need for group generosity. One was socially more admired because one gave away all or nearly all , knowing that one had the skills to easily replace it.
      As you know we are differentially skilled, and even siblings naturally pursue social niches unoccupied by others.
      Money is merely a symbolic representation through which trade occurred. Such things as gold and jewels have no intrinsic value whatsoever (in modern times microelectronics can use gold to electrical advantage, and the element had utility through its being about as hard as tooth enamel…).
      North American trade was largely in nonessentials, and anyone conversant with any tribe knows that trade was a signal – an exchange of gifts.
      Through generosity, and offering gifts mutuallly, one established relationship, became relative, brother, to those who either had greater need of the object, or recognized it as symbol of familial sharing.
      This concept of trade is both more ancient and more natural than greed; Perhaps the long history of semiarid and arid South Asia trade routes caused a slow degradation into accumulation as signal of social status.
      We can only know that we are evolved to vary in types of niches we can occupy, some both enamoured of small and fine work, others enjoying heavy or sustained effort. All were wanted, equally needed.
      Only when evaluatino of poverty became common enough to trump natural familial generosity could the aberrations of the present occur. It is analogous to communicable disease, and perhaps is a communicable disease.

  5. If we replicate the Ecologic Services of the extinct megafauna, since 7 billion of us, (& our livestock), makes us the new Megafauna, then we could build back Soil Carbon with massive increases of Net Primary Production. An ecology not seen for 12,900 years.
    An Ecology not limited by Phosphorous, Sodium & lost Soil-C.
    A great synergy of the work restoring mine scarred lands & developing consumer, Horticultural & Agricultural markets.
    Biochar systems have so many market applications yet to be cultivated; “Carbon Fodder” feeds for Livestock, Plant Chemical Communications, (plant signaling), even Char building materials such as Biochar-Plasters which block Cellphone signals, the potential markets are massive.
    CoolPlanet’s investors & CEOs project (assert) that they will be the first Trillion Dollar Company, based on their $1.50/Gal. cost to produce Bio-Gasoline & Biochar
    For a complete review of the current science & industry applications of Biochar please see my 2014 Soil Science Society of America Biochar presentation. How thermal conversion technologies can integrate and optimize the recycling of valuable nutrients while providing energy and building soil carbon, I believe it brings together both sides of climate beliefs.
    A reconciling of both Gods’ and mans’ controlling hands.
    Agricultural Geo – Engineering; Past, Present & Future
    Across scientific disciplines carbons are finding new utility to solve our most vexing problems
    2014 SSSA Presentation;
    Agricultural Geo-Engineering; Past, Present & Future.

  6. Hi Glen, I tried to contact you through email but it didn’t work on this website from the contact link so I had to use this comment page. I think it is important to get this translated, especially in Spanish. I have a friend from Venezuela who is in the United States who could do it. He is also creating a website news service that will be reporting on South to South news. Venezuela has a new Ministry of Ecosocialism and has embarked on an ambitious conservation program for the protection of its extensive natural resources. Email me if you are interested and I will ask my friend who is in the US currently.

  7. This was a good research, Thanks for sharing, this to date the issue of climate change is being debated in the world. Ecological science as you said knows about biodiversity and old-growth forest loss. In kenya for example the the loss of forests is due to human settlement. The abrupt climate change is now global issue. Your work has reviewed important area. Congratulations!

  8. Soil Biology is our only way to rapidly and massively draw down CO2 from the air to offset our ongoing and past carbon emissions, It Can safely and naturally restore the hydrological cycles by increasing biogenic aerosols and cloud albedo that can readily cool the planet by the 3 watts/m2 needed to offset the now locked in greenhouse warming effects and avoid the Storms of Our Grandchildren.
    The French have lead the way recognizing Soil Carbons’ value and committing to build Soil Carbon by 0.40% annually. Putting them on the road to Carbon Negativity before any industrialized country. 25 nations have signed on to 4p1000. 100 of the 196 countries in Paris submitted plans to reduce CO2 via agriculture, forestry and replacing soil carbon into their programmes.
    A combination of Best Management Practices, (BMPs), for Agriculture, Grazing & Forestry with bioenergy systems which build soil carbon can deliver the giga-tons of carbon necessary into the soil sink bank.
    Ag BMPs; 1 GtC,
    New Forest & BMPs; 1 GtC
    Pyrolitic Bioenergy, Cooking Stoves; nearly 1/2 GtC
    Industrial Pyrolitic Bioenergy; 2+ GtC
    Holistic Grazing; 2+ GtC
    Over 6 GtC,
    So soils & biota can do more than half the 10 GtC reduction job, feeding carbon to life instead of death.
    Carbon Sequestration Cascade;
    Each Black Carbon gram (biochar & humus) can increase Water Retention by 8 grams, and can support 10 grams of Green Carbon, which each can feed up to 10 more grams of fungal mycelium White Carbon growth
    Carbon has been fundamental to life since the birth of our planet. It’s the source of all wealth and the conduit of all joy. Carbon cycles among and between billions of interconnected earthlings, whose fates teeter on the element’s return trip to the soil. Only the generous reciprocity inherent to life macrocycles can restore abundance and harmony to the planet of the living. May we celebrate a happy Intended Anthropocene, anointed in water & Soil rather than Oil and Blood.
    For forest loss in kenya; Clean Biomass cooking is no small thing.
    The World Bank Study;
    Biochar Systems for Smallholders in Developing Countries:
    Leveraging Current Knowledge and Exploring Future Potential for Climate-Smart Agriculture
    has very exacting analysis of biomass usage & sources, energy & emissions.
    Also for Onion farmers in Senegal and Peanut farmers in Vietnam.
    A simple extrapolation made from the Kenya cook stove study, assuming 250M
    TLUDs, (Top-Lite Up Draft) Cook Stoves for the roughly 1 billion folks world wide now using open burning.
    A TLUD per Household of 4, producing 0.52 tons char/Household/yr, X 250M = 130 Mt Char/yr
    Showing sequestration of 130 Million tons of Biochar per year, could be achieved just from cooking.
    In terms of CO2e, these 250M Households reduce 825M Tons of CO2e annually.
    The cascading pulmonary health benefits for woman & children is the very thick icing on this nearly 1/2 GtC Soil Carbon Cake.

  9. While a carbon tax is an important improvement in economically evaluating the true costs of “mining” natural ecosystems, I propose a larger movement to lobby for the ending of the use of public lands for profit and development. These ever-shrinking fragments are the last places that forests and other systems can regenrate without constantly being exploited.
    Thus they constitute the easiest sequestration of carbon replacing that which has been released in excess to atmosphere and ocean sink.
    THe increasing efforts of conservation science in reconnecting fragmented habitats and gene flows are presently being given some lip service by many agenices, with less effort than their reportage suggests.
    This issue points to the necessity of repuposing government agencies to consefvation and preservation.
    Several US states’ Depts of Transportation advertise their participation in habitat reconnection; while the basic plotting of necessary corridors has been done in many cases, no action has yet occurred.
    Last, to Dr. Barry: Thank you for years and decades of effort on these issues! When we contact other nations’ gorvernance to add our voice for ecosystem preservation, it would be best to offer as many alternatives as possible which offer areas for projects to create and sustain long-term environmental health an dprosperity.
    This requires , surely, a redefinition of values and what prosperity means. As a student of cognition and behavior, it is clear to me that most, if not all violent strife has a basis in dissociation from sensory understanding of the relationship of all life. Another issue is of course the overpopulation that leads directly to eusocial behavior ignoring the other life upon which we humans depend.
    Our brains have a large social component, and we interpret other life in a narrow utilitarian fashion when seeking individual niche in our society. Until we can re-establish other species as part of our social ingroup (that is, nondomestic species), perhaps revering and studying the other wild, self-willed animals for insights into their individual intrinsic validity – learning to know more of them without intruding beyond their capacities to tolerate our individual presence, we can revalue them.
    This path, both ancient and scientific, is perhaps our only hope for stemming the loss of species, and revaluing natural ecosystems as their valid homes.
    As you see, this is somewhat of an end-run around the generalities of carbon sequestration, and the rather solipsistic assessment of park and wilderness as exclusively valuable for human health and recreation.
    Overpopulation leads directly to zero-sum thinking and unconstrained competition. Modern technology creates imagery in viewers’ minds of “greener pastures.”
    Humans live largely in fictive constructs held by individuals. We both obsess about imaginary possible personal loss and when believing that we need more, striking out to take it from all others.
    We form coalitions more temporary than do other animals, while those coalitions are now largely concerned with violence. This is an attribute of perceived unrelieved stress.
    Ecologists recognize that each living and abiotic component has value. Much analysis has been directed at comparative value, rather than the more important value of sheer diversity. Here also is where some sociocultural and individual perceptions require change.

  10. Terraforming on a grand scale may be necessary to avert disaster.
    In Sydney Harbour coir sacks of oyster shells are being placed in shoreline mangroves to stabilise them. Meandering rivers estuaries in Northern Australia are armour plated with oyster and mussel beds. Bangladeshi efforts at retaining islands may benefit from bivalve reef construction, just add shells to the sandbags, plant mangroves coconuts and throw in some Norfolk Pines… Biochar advocates here may be interested in looking at the use of oyster shells at the base of plots in high rainfall areas as the shells trap metals by adsorption. Putting humanity to work with carbon credits money in countries vulnerable to climate change could turn this situation around very quickly. Last week on Earth Day India collectively planted 1 billion trees. Phillipines has massive national reforestation project. It’s totally up to us to make it happen. Just stop mowing the lawn, plant trees around you, mulch, share produce in your neighbourhood for starters.

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