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Human development is at odds with our environment

Watch an animation to understand climate change and ocean acidification. Examine the ideas of planetary boundaries and planetary squeezes.

Development can have a high cost for the planet.

The exploitation of natural resources introduces a clear tension between maintenance of environmental sustainability and human development.

Looking at the whole spectrum of human development over the past 10,000 years, particularly the past 100 years, it is difficult to measure the real impact that human development has had on the environment.

One way to do this is to use the notion of planetary boundaries developed by the Stockholm Resilience Institute.

Planetary boundaries infographic, select the image to download an accessible PDF version
© Deakin University based on data from Fig 3. Steffen, et al (2015)

The planetary boundaries graphic represents significant negative impacts that humans have had on the environment. The boundaries are environmental limits within which life on earth can operate safely (Steffen et al, 2015).

Research by Steffen et al (2015) shows that four of the nine planetary boundaries have now been crossed, namely climate change, biosphere integrity, land system change and alternation of biogeochemical cycles.

You can learn a little more about the details of the planetary boundaries by reading the Stockholm Resilience Institute’s explanation.

Your task

Start by watching this animation to understand climate change and ocean acidification.

Next, examine the ideas of planetary boundaries and planetary squeezes in Johan Rockström’s 2010 TED talk.

What do you think the link is between planetary squeezes and the crossing of the four boundaries and how have we got to this point?

Share and discuss your thoughts with other learners in the comments.


Steffen, W, Richardson, K, Rockström, J, Cornell, S.E, Fetzer, I, Bennett, E. M, Biggs, R, Carpenter, S.R, de Vries, W, de Wit, C.A, Folke, C, Gerten, D, Heinke, J, Mace, G. M, Persson, L. M, Ramanathan, V, Reyers, B, Sörlin S 2015 ‘Planetary boundaries: Guiding human development on a changing planet’, Science 13 Feb 2015: Vol. 347, Issue 6223.

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Introduction to Sustainability and Development

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