5.1: Planetary Boundaries and the Anthropocene

The idea of 'planetary boundaries' and the new geological epoch of the 'Anthropocene' has captured the imagination of many policy makers and commentators and dominated discussions around the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

In this part of the module, Prof Melissa Leach (Director of the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) and former director of the STEPS Centre), articulates the problems with these concepts and how a STEPS pathways perspective might help to foreground issues of social justice and politics in these on-going international policy discussions.

Essential reading

  1. Rockström et al, (2009) A safe operating space for humanity, Nature 461, 472-475 (article available on request)
  2. Kate Raworth, A safe and just space for humanity: Can we live within the doughnut?, Oxfam, Oxford (OA)
  3. Leach, M., K. Raworth and J. Rockstrom (2013), Between social and planetary boundaries: navigating pathways in the safe and just space for humanity, in World Social Science Report Changing Global Environments. ISSC and UNESCO, Paris (OA)
Questions to guide reading
  1. On what basis do Rockström and his co-authors define planetary boundaries? How does the more recent version by Steffen et al (2015) (see additional reading, below) adapt the argument?
  2. On what basis does Raworth challenge Rockström et al’s planetary boundaries idea? What does she argue must be added?
  3. How do Leach et al take this further still via the application of a Pathways Approach?

Lecture: Planetary Boundaries, Politics and Pathways (introduction)

In this brief introduction (1 minute), Melissa Leach outlines her talk. Watch this first and then view the next two videos in order they appear.

Welcome to the Anthropocene

The makers of this film describe it as "A 3-minute journey through the last 250 years of our history, from the start of the Industrial Revolution to the Rio+20 Summit."



Johan Rockström: Let the environment guide our development


Planetary Boundaries, politics and pathways (full lecture)

The rest of Melissa Leach's lecture picks up the ideas in the videos about the Anthropocene and Planetary Boundaries, and looks at neglected political questions.


Additional reading


Go to the next section > 5.2: Resource Politics

Last modified: Thursday, 2 February 2017, 2:52 PM