Earth Overshoot

Earth Overshoot

Humans breach most of the planetary boundaries: What does it mean — and why it is significant


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Planetary boundaries

Mains level: planetary boundaries and variables, findings of the study, concerns and way forward


What’s the news?

  • The Earth, our only home, is facing a severe health crisis due to the unchecked activities of human beings. A recent study reveals that we have breached six out of nine planetary boundaries.

Central idea

  • Human activities have pushed Earth’s blood pressure dangerously high, imperiling the planet’s well-being. A recent study titled Earth beyond six of nine planetary boundaries, conducted by a global team of 29 scientists from eight countries and published in Science Advances, reveals that we have transgressed six out of nine planetary boundaries, akin to the vital parameters of Earth’s health.

What are the planetary boundaries?

  • The planetary boundaries are a framework developed in 2009 that defines the limits of humanity’s impact on Earth’s essential processes and systems.
  • These boundaries serve as guardrails to ensure that human activities do not push the planet beyond a point where it can no longer maintain the conditions necessary to support modern civilizations.
  • These boundaries help identify the environmental limits within which human societies can thrive without causing irreversible damage to the Earth’s ecosystems.

Nine planetary boundaries and their associated control variables

  • Biosphere Integrity: This boundary relates to the health of ecosystems and the rate of species extinction.
  • Climate Change: It involves the concentration of atmospheric CO2 and the change in radiative forcing, which measures the balance of energy from sunlight compared to thermal energy lost by the Earth.
  • Novel Entities: This boundary focuses on human-made substances not naturally found in the environment, such as synthetic chemicals, plastics, and genetically modified organisms.
  • Stratospheric Ozone Depletion: This boundary concerns the release of human-made chemicals that harm the ozone layer in the stratosphere.
  • Freshwater Change: It examines human-induced impacts on both blue (in lakes and rivers) and green (available in soil for plants) water resources.
  • Atmospheric Aerosol Loading: This boundary tracks various particles from human-made emissions that affect cloud formation and atmospheric circulation.
  • Ocean Acidification: It addresses the long-term reduction in ocean pH due to the absorption of excess atmospheric CO2 by seawater.
  • Land System Change: This boundary evaluates changes in land use, especially the conversion of natural landscapes to agriculture or urban areas.
  • Biogeochemical Flow: It focuses on alterations in the natural flows and forms of nitrogen and phosphorus cycles, essential for plant growth.

Findings of the study regarding the state of planetary boundaries

  • Breached Planetary Boundaries: Out of the nine planetary boundaries identified, six have been breached by human activities. These boundaries include climate change, biosphere integrity, freshwater change, land system change, biogeochemical flows, and novel entities.
  • Remaining Within Constraints: Two planetary boundaries, namely atmospheric aerosol loading and ozone depletion, are reported to remain within acceptable constraints. However, the boundary related to ocean acidification is noted as being close to being breached.
  • Concerns about Nitrogen and Phosphorus: The study emphasizes the issue of an overflow of nitrogen and phosphorus, which falls under the biogeochemical flow boundary. While these elements are essential for life, their excessive use as crop fertilizers is causing problems such as algal blooms and ocean dead zones, where oxygen levels in the water decrease significantly, posing a threat to marine ecosystems.
  • Historical Violations: The biosphere integrity boundary was reportedly violated in the 19th century due to rapid land use changes that significantly impacted various species. Similarly, the freshwater boundary was breached in the 20th century, specifically between 1905 and 1929.
  • Rising Levels of Novel Entities: The study raises concerns about the increasing levels of novel entities in the environment. These include synthetic chemicals like pesticides and plastics that have been released into the environment without adequate safety testing. The presence of these novel entities is seen as destabilizing and harmful to the Earth’s systems.
  • Land System Change: The article highlights that land-use conversion and fires are contributing to rapid changes in forested areas. Notably, deforestation in the Amazon tropical forest has increased to the point of transgressing the planetary boundary.
  • Climate Change: The analysis of climate change indicates that both atmospheric CO2 concentration and radiative forcing are steadily increasing. For instance, the concentration of CO2 currently stands at 417 parts per million (ppm), significantly higher than the pre-Industrial Revolution level of 280 ppm. The safe boundary limit for CO2 concentration is noted as 350 ppm, which was breached in the 1980s.

Can Earth’s health still recover?

  • Unlike tipping points, which can lead to large and often irreversible changes in the climate system, planetary boundaries are described as being more flexible.
  • This means that breaches of these boundaries do not necessarily result in irreversible damage, and corrective actions can bring the Earth back within a safe operating space.
  • For example, the stratospheric ozone depletion boundary is improving. This improvement is attributed to the combined international efforts initiated by the Montreal Protocol in 1987. The successful coordination to address ozone depletion serves as a positive precedent for addressing other breached boundaries.

Two Important Actions for Recovery

  • Ending Fossil Fuel Burning: Curtailing or ending the burning of fossil fuels, which is a major contributor to climate change, is seen as essential. This action would help address the breach of the climate change boundary.
  • Ending Destructive Farming: Implementing sustainable farming practices and reducing the negative impacts of land-use changes, including deforestation, can help restore ecosystems and address breaches related to land system change and biosphere integrity.


  • We are at a critical juncture where concerted global efforts can still heal our planet. We must prioritize sustainability, conservation, and responsible resource management to ensure that future generations inherit a habitable Earth. The time to act is now, for Earth’s blood pressure has risen dangerously high, and the consequences of inaction could be catastrophic.

Also read:

Sustainable agriculture, climate change and nutrition: a complex challenge

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Earth Overshoot

Adopting Sustainable Space Technology


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Space technology Developments

Mains level: Space,Space security and Sustainability.



  • World Space Week this year is themed around ‘Space and Sustainability’. Among other things, the 2022 theme seeks to specifically inspire focus on the challenges the world faces to keep space safe and sustainable.

What is mean by Space?

  • Space is an almost perfect vacuum, nearly void of matter and with extremely low pressure. In space, sound doesn’t carry because there aren’t molecules close enough together to transmit sound between them. Not quite empty, bits of gas, dust and other matter floats around “emptier” areas of the universe, while more crowded regions can host planets, stars and galaxies.
  • From our Earth-bound perspective, outer space is most often thought to begin about 62 miles (100 kilometers) above sea level at what is known as the Kármán line. This is an imaginary boundary at an altitude where there is no appreciable air to breathe or scatter light. Passing this altitude, blue starts to give way to black because oxygen molecules are not in enough abundance to make the sky blue.


What is mean by Space sustainability?

  • Space sustainability is ensuring that all humanity can continue to use outer space for peaceful purposes and socioeconomic benefit now and in the long term. This will require international cooperation, discussion, and agreements designed to ensure that outer space is safe, secure, and peaceful.

What necessitate the sustainable space technology debate?

  • Mounting challenge of Space debris: Challenges are endless in both quantitative and qualitative terms, i.e., they are several and severe, ranging from satellite crowding and collision risk to space debris in the Low Earth Orbit (LEO).
  • Ever increasing satellites: The sense of urgency around space sustainability is already skyrocketing—more than 80 countries currently contribute to the over 6,800 active satellites in orbit, of which many are used for both civilian and military purposes, as well as over 30,000 pieces of orbital debris.
  • Militarization of space: Given the development of new and emerging space technologies, the rapid militarisation and securitisation of space, and the growing distrust amongst nations in the domain, space activity is only set to increase and acquire a more national security-oriented focus.
  • Large scale Development of ASAT: This is already visible in several countries around the world. There has been a recent uptick in the development and testing of destructive anti-satellite (ASAT) weapons, with 26 tests in the past two decades conducted by the four countries that have access to these weapons (US, Russia, China, and India).
  • Massive investment into military space capability: France, which is currently leading the European Council, has also invested several billion euros into military space capabilities, and regularly emphasises the security importance of space for other EU countries.
  • Increasing Defence space commands: Australia set up its Defence Space Command in early 2022 to increase its strategic potential in space, and South Korea deployed a spy satellite to better monitor North Korea in June 2022, giving its military space plan a huge push.
  • However, none of these countries have a sustainability provision in their defence space operations or programmes.


What are the challenges of Security and sustainability of Space?

  • Dichotomy in Security and sustainability: Sustainability and security are two sides of the same coin, but as a result of this inherent dichotomy, they are often juxtaposed against each other.
  • Keeping Security is the priority: The contrast between highly motivated and funded national security efforts and the relatively non-prioritised international engagements around space sustainability is an example of a larger trend of indifference towards sustainable development in favour of higher military spending.
  • SDG on backburner: To substantiate this point, funding for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) was adversely affected due to COVID-19 in 2021, and this reportedly dramatically pushed back progress on the SDGs, but the global military expenditure has consistently been on an upward incline and crossed the US$2 trillion mark for the first time in the same year.
  • Securitization of space: The trade-off between security and sustainability can jeopardise sustainable development within a plethora of issue domains, thus, increasing the likelihood of exhausting limited resources. This in turn could exacerbate the risk of conflict due to the resulting scarce resources, ultimately creating a vicious cycle of securitisation and conflict.
  • Rat race in Space : As a case in point, the incumbent space race has always been marked by competing security and commercial interests, which has resulted in a constant escalation of global government spending on space programmes to its record value of US$98 billion in 2021. Space sustainability, on the other hand, has only seen activity recently, and primarily in an international and voluntary set-up.


What regulations are needed for Sustainable Space?

  • Prioritising peaceful use of space: A Working Group on the Long-term Sustainability of Outer Space Activities was set up by the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS) in 2010, which has 95 UN member states taking part in it. The Group adopted a set of guidelines by consensus in 2019, although it failed to make these guidelines or any other regulations legally binding. It agreed to work over it for 5 years from 2022 onwards, but since the Group uses a consensus-based approach to reach agreements, it is difficult to expect more stringent or extensive regulatory frameworks to emerge from it.
  • Consensus is difficult but necessary: Consensus-based approaches in multilateral forums, especially related to arms or other security objectives, often contrast with individual national security interests of its member states and have been criticised for their slow or ineffective progress.
  • Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons: Another example of this is the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons’ (CCW) Group of Government Experts (GGE) meetings on lethal autonomous weapons systems (LAWS), which have only produced a set of 11 non-binding guiding principles since deliberations around LAWS began in 2014.
  • Space sustainable ratings should be developed: The World Economic Forum, for instance, introduced a new standard called the Space Sustainability Rating (SSR), in 2022, which aims to recognise, reward, and encourage space actors to design and implement sustainable and responsible space missions. It remains to be seen whether countries will respond favourably to tools like the SSR, which are based on a positive reinforcement model, to be more space sustainability-conscious.


  • space sustainability is only at the cusp of becoming actionable. When space experts, intergovernmental organisations, or countries themselves conclude that sustainability should be a part of their space mandate, and when they devise possible methods to help achieve this, they cannot do so in a vacuum. Space sustainability should not become the political football like climate change.

Mains Question

Q.What are the threats to sustainable space technology? Comment on various laws, regulations, forums on sustainable space technology.

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Earth Overshoot

Supreme Court’s basic structure doctrine in a new context


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Various judgements on basic structure

Mains level: Features of constitution

basic structureContext

  • The basic structure doctrine constitutes a high watermark in the assertion of the Supreme Court’s judicial power in the teeth of a determined majoritarian regime.

What is basic structure of Constitution?

  • The basic structure doctrine is one of the fundamental judicial principles connected with the Indian Constitution. The doctrine of the basic structure holds that there is a basic structure to the Indian Constitution, and the Parliament of India cannot amend the basic features.

What is the significance of the basic structure in the Constitution of India?

  • The doctrine of basic structure is nothing but a judicial innovation to ensure that the power of amendment is not misused by Parliament. The idea is that the basic features of the Constitution of India should not be altered to an extent that the identity of the Constitution is lost in the process.08-Dec-2021


  • Courts are empowered under our Constitution to invalidate not only executive orders, but also legislative enactments that violate any part of the Fundamental Rights guaranteed in Part III of the Constitution (Bill of Rights).
  • But as to whether they are also empowered to adjudicate on the validity of constitutional amendments passed with the requisite special majority and following the procedure prescribed in Article 368 the Constitution is silent.

basic structureHistorical developments on evolution of basic structure doctrine

  • Constitution provided a mechanism for parliament to amend the constitution in the form of article 368 but the nature and scope of this amending power was questioned in Supreme Court on multiple occasions. Supreme Court gave a series of judgement which ultimately culminated in probably the most landmark judgement Basic structure doctrine judgement.
  • Shankari Prasad Case
  • Sajjan Singh Case
  • Golakh Nath Case
  • Kesvananda Bharati Case
  • Minerva Mills case
  • I.R. Koelhi

Constitutional Provisions

  1. 1st amendment and 9th schedule
  2. 24th amendment
  3. 42nd amendment


His holiness, Kesavananda bharati, challenged before the supreme court, the validity of 29th CAA which inserted some laws in 9th schedule and affected property of his Hindu Mutt.

What else was at stake?

  1. Supreme Court (R. C. Cooper case) had struck down bank nationalization act of 1969 which had nationalized 14 major banks for illusory compensation though it conceded parliament’s right to nationalise banks in national interest.
  2. Supreme Court had struck down abolition of privy purses which was a betrayal of solemn promise to erstwhile kings by Sardar Patel.

Supreme Court could do all this as it had held in 1967 in Golaknath case that fundamental rights could not be abridged.

Before returning back to Kesavananda, Let’s take a look at the relevant provisions of the constitution and Supreme Court interpretation of the same.

  • Art 13(2) – Any LAW abridging fundamental rights mentioned in part 3 shall be null and void to the extent of contravention
  • Art 368 -Procedure to amend the constitution.
  • Art 19(f) – freedom to acquire hold on and dispose off property.
  • Art 31 – right to property

Both the rights were subject to reasonable restriction in public interest and restriction were subject to judicial review.

Soon after the coming into force of the constitution, states enacted land reform acts #Zamindars challenged them. #Patna high court declared Bihar act as unconstitutional for violating right to property #interim parliament passed 1st CAA.

  1. ART 31B created 9th schedule. Laws inserted under it by constitutional amendment were immune to judicial review.

Other provisions not imp for this article but imp for exams –

  1. Reasonable restrictions against freedom of expression under art 19.
  2. To nullify judgment in State of Madras v. Champakam Dorairajan and giving effect to art 46 (promoting educational and economic interests of weaker sections) amplified article 15 (3)

Zamindars didn’t like it, not one bit. And here comes the 1st salvo

Shankari Prasad v Union of India

Challenged 1st CAA. What was the court’s judgment?

  1. Difference b/w constituent power and ordinary legislative power i.e. amendment not law for the purpose of article 13
  2. art 13 and 368 in conflict # apply DOCTRINE OF HARMONIOUS CONSTRUCTION # ART 13 not applicable to art 368

Govt 1-0 Zamindars

Govt passed 17th amendment and inserted more laws under 9th schedule ‘

Zamindars fired another salvo-

Sajjan Singh vs state of rajasthan

Supreme Court sang Shankari prasad song again

Govt 2-0 jamindars

But Justice Mudholkar was of the view that the every Constitution has certain features which are basic in nature and those features cannot be changed.

2 minority judgements…. utter confusion. And you can see seeds of basic structure were sown here.

Zamindars fired 3rd salvo

Golaknath v. State of Punjab

11 judge bench overturned earlier 2 verdicts by a slender majority of 6-5

Really? What was the logic given here?

  1. Nothing to suggest constituent power to be separate from legislative power and even if distinct, amending power not same as constituent power which is given only to constituent assembly i.e. amendment is law and subject to article 13
  2. Fundamental rights so sacrosanct and transcendental that they cannot be abridged even if whole parliament unanimously decided to abridge them.

But it validated all previous land reform acts as nullifying them would create utter confusion

Govt angry – Zamindars angry

New landlords happy.

Loss – loss to defendants as well as petitioner.

Madam Indira was in power and she did not like this. Not one bit.

Along came 24th amendment to neutralize GOLAKNATH JUDGEMENT

  1. Art 13 inapplicable to art 368
  2. Art 368 provided powers as well as procedure to amend the constitution
  3. Parliament by way of addition, variation or repeal can amend any provision of constitution
  4. President shall give assent to CA bills ( VERY VERY IMP FOR PRELIMS )

But madam Indira wouldn’t just stop here as Cooper judgment (Bank nationalization ) also had to be neutralized.

Smarting from this setback, Madam Indira (the parliament, herself) passed 24th CAA to neutralise GOLAKNATH judgement. But there was also a small matter of reversing Copper judgment in bank nationalisation case so parliament passed 25th CAA.

  1. Art 19f delinked from 31, in effect parliament deciding compensation amount payable instead of courts.
  2. Art 31c  -inserted under which – art 39b and c, most socialist of DPSPs (equitable distribution and prevention of concentration of wealth respectively) precede over 7 freedoms (art 19 ), equality (14), property (31)
  3. Parliament’s power to determine if policy is to give effect to 39b and c not subject to judicial review.

29th CAA had put Kerala land reform act under 9th schedule and his holiness challenged the provisions and all hell broke loose.


Now the 4th salvo

basic structureKesvanada Bharati Case

A 13 judge bench is constituted and what does it do!

  1. Overturned Golaknath i.e. amendment not law, fundamental rights amendable, no implied limit under art 368 i.e. CAA 24 constitutional
  2. Art 25 invalid to the extent it takes away judicial review i.e. 39 b and c above 14, 19 and 31 but subject to judicial review

Most imp decision of all by slimmest of all 7-6 majority stated Parliament can amend any provision of the Constitution but the basic structure should not be destroyed, damaged or abrogated.

What’s the logic?

  1. Expression amendment did not encompass defacing the constitution such that it lost its identity.
  2. In the garb of amendment parliament can not rewrite the constitution.

Court gave relief to govt but reserved for itself power to review all amendment not just those that violate fundamental rights.


Indira Gandhi didn’t like the judgement one  bit. She (via the president) superseded 3 judges to appoint justice A.N. Ray as CJI.

Knives had been drawn and the battle was gonna be very bloody –

  • Navnirman movement of JP (Jayprakash) had gathered steam, Indira was on the back foot and along came the judgement of Allahabad High Court convicting Indira of corrupt electoral practices. Election was declared null and void and  6 years ban to contest election was imposed on her.
  • Supreme Court stayed it and allowed her to remain PM but not to draw salary or speak or vote in parliament.
  • Darkest chapter in democracy’ 21 month emergency was declared on 25th June 1975 without even consulting cabinet (44th amendment made it mandatory for the president to have written advice of cabinet to declare emergency)

Indira Gandhi wasn’t to sit quiet.

CAA 39th – election of president, VP, PM and speaker beyond judicial review

Clownish Rajnarayan challenged the CAA 39.

Indira Gandhi v/s Raj Narain Case

For the 1st time Supreme Court applied basic structure doctrine and considered free and fair election and rule of law to be part of basic structure. #amending act invalidated.

Note here that 4 of the 5 judges on the bench had given dissenting judgment in Bharati case but still applied the same doctrine for Supreme Court judgment becomes law until overruled by bigger bench (art 141).

Then how did Indira continue to be prime minister and contest election again and not get banned for 6 years?

Supreme court accepted retrospective amendment to electoral law i.e. electoral malpractice of Indira was no longer a corrupt practice.

Find out for fun the charges against Mrs. Gandhi for which she was convicted and what a popular British magazine had to say about the judgement.

Along came the mini constitution i.e 42nd amendment act TO ELIMINATE IMPEDIMENTS TO THE GROWTH OF THE CONSTITUTION –

  1. PART 4a fundamental duties
  2. Socialist,secular and integrity word to preamble
  3. New DPSPs were added

And for the purpose of this article amendment to article 368 nullifying basic structure doctrine by adding amendments can’t be challenged in courts and parliament possessing unlimited power of amendment

  1. All DPSPs to take precedence over all fundamental rights not just 39b and 39c.

And Minerva Textile mills of Karnataka fired the 5th and the last salvo

Minerva Mills v Union of India

SC unanimously struck down amendment to article 368 holding limited amending power and judicial review to be part of basic structure.

Court held that constitution is founded on the bedrock of balance b/w FRs and DPSPs. Goals set out by DPSPs have to be achieved without abrogation of means provided by FRs.

What’s the logic?

If a donee was vested with limited power, it could not be exercised to control that very power power and convert into unlimited one.


If a genie grants u 3 wishes, it is understood u can not, as one of the wish, ask for unlimited number of wishes!

Janta govt comes to power and 44th CAA deletes art 31 (b) right to property and 19 (f) freedom to acquire, hold and dispose of property as they were not considered part of basic structure

Right to property now a constitutional right under art 300A.

9th schedule and judicial review

I.R.Coelho vs state of TN

Supreme Court held that acts placed under 9th schedule after basic structure subject would be subject to judicial review to the extent of those acts violating basic structure of constitution.

Impact of basic structure doctrine.

It certainly saved Indian democracy from degenerating into authoritarian regime during those testing times but it has also given immense untold unbridled power to Supreme Court and made it the most powerful court in the world.

As we would later see in the NJAC Verdict (let’s call it 4th judges case), Supreme Court applied this doctrine, many would say for wrong reasons to strike down the act and kept for itself the power to appoint brother judges. In the original constitution only fetters on the power of parliament was art 13.

Relevance –  It was delivered at the time of single party rule both at the centre and most of the states. In the era of coalition politics no govt is going to wield so much power to destroy the constitution and then there is ever present danger of tyranny of unelected.

But only legitimate way to overturn the verdict would be a 15 judge bench so don’t hold your breath for that.

Now is the time for some thought questions

#1. Consider these 2 statements –

  1. Any LAW that is ordinary law violating provisions of constitution would be declared null and void to the extent of contravention.
  2. Any LAW violating art 13 would be declared null and void

Both statements are true…..If amendments were not law, what was the purpose of art 13 (2) other laws would anyway be declared unconstitutional!

#2. Is basic structure doctrine relevant in the present political scenario where no single party is unlikely to enjoy majority in both the houses?

#3. What should be the limits to amending power of parliament? Do u think for very substantial amendments instead of courts, people by way of referendum should determine whether amendment should go through or not?

#4. Whatever happens to original intent theory that constitutional courts have to interpret constitution in accordance with the implied intentions of founding fathers and there is enough evidence to suggest founding fathers thoughtfully kept FRs sacrosanct to prevent their abrogation or as we would see in a later article how supreme court by creative interpretation virtually changed procedure established by law in art 21 to due process of law while founding fathers deliberately kept expression as procedure established by law.



  • By restraining the amending powers of legislative organ of State, it provided basic Rights to Citizens which no organ of State can overrule. Being dynamic in nature, it is more progressive and open to changes in time unlike the rigid nature of earlier judgements.

Mains question

Q. What do you understand by basic structure of constitution? Trace evolution of basic structure in India.

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Earth Overshoot

Earth Day 2020 and its significance


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Earth Day

Mains level: NA

Yesterday, April 22nd was celebrated as Earth Day, an international event celebrated around the world to pledge support for environmental protection.

The Earth Day designation by UN and its first observance have confusing difference. Make note of that. We can expect a question based on that. Also read about Earth Overshoot Day.

What is Earth Day?

  • In 2009, the United Nations designated April 22 as ‘International Mother Earth Day’.
  • Earth Day aims to “build the world’s largest environmental movement to drive transformative change for people and the planet.”
  • Earth Day was first observed in 1970, when 20 million took to the streets to protest against environmental degradation.
  • The event was triggered by the 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill, as well as other issues such as smog and polluted rivers.
  • The landmark Paris Agreement, which brings almost 200 countries together in setting a common target to reduce global greenhouse emissions, was signed on Earth Day 2016.

Significance of this year

  • The year 2020 marks the 50th anniversary of the annual celebrations.
  • This year’s theme for Earth Day is ‘climate action’.

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