In their final reply to Montoya et. al's criticism of the planetary boundaries framework, Rockström, Richardson and Steffen characterise the exchange with Montoya et al. as doubly frustrating because the criticism is factually wrong and because "there is more that unites us than divides us." Illustration: F. Pharand-Deschênes/Globaïa

Bildtext får vara max två rader text. Hela texten ska högerjusteras om den bara ska innehålla fotobyline! Photo: B. Christensen/Azote

Planetary boundaries

A doubly frustrating exchange

A final reply to Montoya et. al's criticism of the planetary boundaries framework


In an article in TREE we have responded in detail to Montoya et al.'s earlier misunderstandings and apparently deliberate misinterpretations of the planetary boundaries framework. TREE allows original authors to have a final reply to rebuttals of articles, which they (Montoya et al.) have used. Their reply is, again, based mainly on personal biases void of objectivity and dominated by personal attacks.

As we have stated before, we find this destructive exchange with Montoya et al. doubly frustrating. Not only because it is factually wrong, but also because we are convinced that there is more that unites us than divides us. We are both scientific communities engaged in sustainability science for human wellbeing. Instead of throwing provocations in public, it would seem much more constructive to focus on sharing scientific evidence, concepts and methods and, through collegial exchange and collaborations, move the global sustainability science frontier forward.

It is very easy to sort out the only attempt at substantive critique in this final reply by Montoya et al., namely that we are accused of using multiple terms and concepts that are not defined properly. We would recommend them to read carefully the 2015 planetary boundaries science paper (Steffen et al., 2015), where we clarify definitions and the overall framework. In particular, Table 1 defines, for each planetary boundary, the Earth System process on which the boundary is based, the control variable(s), the planetary boundary itself (with the zone of uncertainty), and the current value of the control variable. All of these terms are carefully defined in the paper. This has been done in collaboration with leading scientists around the world, e.g., building on the biodiversity/biosphere integrity planetary boundaries advancements made by Mace et al. (2014), which led to the widening of the boundary to include both genetic and functional diversity, both clearly defined in Steffen et al. (2015).

Drawing on such collaborative efforts by leading scientists is how we can best advance the rapidly moving frontier on global sustainability science, with planetary boundaries as one scientific framework to help us understand and navigate the Anthropocene.

Johan Rockström
Katherine Richardson
Will Steffen

Published: 2018-03-20

Related info

Structured order of exchange:

Planetary Boundaries for Biodiversity: Implausible Science, Pernicious Policies

Planetary Boundaries: Separating Fact from Fiction. A Response to Montoya et al.

Why a Planetary Boundary, If It Is Not Planetary, and the Boundary Is Undefined? A Reply to Rockström et al.

References for final reply

G. M. Mace, B. Reyers, R. Alkemade, R. Biggs, F. S. Chapin III, S. E. Cornell, S. Díaz, S. Jennings, P. Leadley, P. J. Mumby, A. Purvis, R. J. Scholes, A. W. R. Seddon, M. Solan, W. Steffen, G. Woodward, Approaches to defining a planetary boundary for biodiversity. Glob. Environ. Change 28, 289–297 (2014). doi:10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2014.07.009

Steffen, W., Richardson, K., Rockström, J., et al., 2015. Planetary Boundaries: Guiding Human Development on a Changing Planet. Science, 347 (6223): DOI: 10.1126/science.1259855


Latest news