EM SC 240
Energy and Sustainability in Contemporary Culture

Respecting Planetary Boundaries - Life in the Anthropocene


Before diving into specific sustainability issues, we'll get an overview of some of the key "planetary boundaries," as outlined by Carl Folke In Chapter 2 ofIs Sustainability Still Possible?As you'll see, we'll go over some of these in more detail in this lesson. One important term that Folke does not define, but is important to understand, is ecosystem services. The National Wildlife Federation defines an ecosystem service as "is any positive benefit that wildlife or ecosystems provide to people" (source: National Wildlife Federation). Examples include plants that convert carbon dioxide into oxygen, fisheries that naturally replenish themselves and feed humans, wetlands that filter toxins and mitigate storm impacts, soil organisms that foster plant growth, bees that pollinate food crops and other plants, and bats that control mosquito populations. We could cite innumerable examples, but without ecosystem services, life on earth would not be possible. Further, much of what we depend on for survival is offered for free by nature. Most ecosystem services are performed by the biosphere, which "includes all living organisms on earth, together with the dead organic matter produced by them." (Source: Encyclopedia of Earth).

To Read Now

  • Chapter 2 of Sustainability Still Possible?. "Respecting Planetary Boundaries and Reconnecting to the Biosphere." This is located in the Module tab in Canvas, under Lesson 3.
  • Skim through the most up-to-date status of the 9 Planetary Boundaries. This link takes you to the Stockholm Resilience Center, which is where the 9 Planetary Boundaries concept originated. (Not required, but you can access a downloadable, resizeable image of the Planetary Boundaries here.)
  • (Optional) Feel free to read through some critiques of the 9 Planetary Boundaries concept, as well as responses from the authors. This is not required, but it is enlightening if you are interested in this concept. (Access a .pdf version, in case you cannot access the previous link.)
  • "Ecosystem Services." National Wildlife Federation.

Check Your Understanding

How important are humans to the Anthropocene? Do they play a large role?

Click for answer.
Absolutely essential! The Anthropocene is defined by Carl Folke as "the age in which human actions are a powerful planetary force shaping the biosphere" (p. 19).