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Planetary Boundaries

Johan Rockström, Sarah Cornell, Garry Peterson, Carl Folke, Lisa Deutsch, Kevin Noone, Victor Galaz, and Thomas Elmqvist

A thriving global society relies on the stability of the Earth and its resilience across oceans, forests, waterways, biodiversity, the atmosphere and more. So how do we shape sustainability at a global scale? The boundaries set by the planet’s natural resources, the resilience of those resources, and the human activities that impact sustainability all come into play.

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A thriving global society relies on the stability of the Earth and its resilience across oceans, forests, waterways, biodiversity, the atmosphere and more. So how do we shape sustainability at a global scale? The boundaries set by the planet’s natural resources, the resilience of those resources, and the human activities that impact sustainability all come into play.

In this massive open online course, see the rapidly evolving trends in global environmental change and the responses aimed at slowing or eliminating these changes. Get an overview of what is seen by some scientists as our current geological epoch – the Anthropocene, or an age of global change driven most significantly by humans. Learn how unsustainable patterns of production, consumption and population growth have challenge planetary resilience, all in support of human activity – and how our societies can develop in a just and safe way within the planet’s boundaries.

This course is for:

  • Anyone new to the concept of sustainable development who wants to understand the interplay between human actions and what the planet can support.
  • Graduate students and advanced undergraduate students interested in the key concepts and practices of sustainability, environmental science, responsible consumption and related topics
  • Sustainable development practitioners – as well as private-sector actors, such as those who work in corporate sustainability and responsibility – who want a concise overview of the latest developments in the field

What's inside

Learning objectives

  • The anthropocene: what it is and why it matters
  • Tipping points: the big three boundaries of the planet
  • Resilience thinking: understanding the social-ecological implications of sustainability
  • Global governance: how do we move forward as a planet for sustainability?

Syllabus

Module 1: Introduction and the Big Picture
Module 2: Welcome to the Anthropocene
Module 3: Social-Ecological Systems and Resilience Thinking
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Module 4: Planetary Boundaries Framework – Part 1
Module 5: Planetary Boundaries Framework – Part 2
Module 6: Planetary Boundaries and Global Equity
Module 7: Moving towards Global Sustainability within Biophysical and Social Boundaries
Module 8: Conclusion

Good to know

Know what's good
, what to watch for
, and possible dealbreakers
Explores global environmental change and sustainability, which are highly relevant to environmental science and sustainable development professions
Taught by distinguished instructors from Stockholm University recognized for their work on sustainability
Develops an understanding of the Anthropocene and global change, which are essential for professionals working in sustainable development
Covers the Planetary Boundaries Framework, which is a widely recognized tool for assessing global sustainability
Provides knowledge of resilience thinking, which is important for understanding and managing social-ecological systems
Examines the concept of global governance, which is crucial for driving sustainability efforts on a global scale

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Reviews summary

Planetary boundaries well received

Learners say this course is a real gem that has made a difference in their perspective about the world. Students say that the course does a good job at explaining the state of the earth in a comprehensive and understandable manner. While these reviews are positive and glowing, they provide limited detail as to what makes this course particularly valuable.

Career center

Learners who complete Planetary Boundaries will develop knowledge and skills that may be useful to these careers:
Environmental Policy Analyst
An Environmental Policy Analyst researches, analyzes, and develops environmental policies. They may work for government agencies, non-profit organizations, or private companies, providing advice on how to protect the environment and promote sustainable development. This course may be helpful for Environmental Policy Analysts, as it provides an overview of the latest developments in the field of sustainability, including the concept of planetary boundaries and the challenges of global governance.
Climate Scientist
A Climate Scientist studies the Earth's climate system, including the atmosphere, oceans, and land surface. They may work for government agencies, universities, or research institutions, conducting research on climate change, its impacts, and potential solutions. This course may be useful for Climate Scientists, as it provides an overview of the latest developments in the field of sustainability, including the concept of planetary boundaries and the challenges of global governance.
Environmental Lawyer
An Environmental Lawyer specializes in environmental law, which governs the protection of the environment and natural resources. They may work for government agencies, private companies, or non-profit organizations, providing advice on environmental regulations, litigating environmental cases, and advocating for environmental protection. This course may be useful for Environmental Lawyers, as it provides an overview of the latest developments in the field of sustainability, including the concept of planetary boundaries and the challenges of global governance.
Sustainability Consultant
A Sustainability Consultant helps organizations to develop and implement sustainable practices. They may work with businesses, governments, or non-profit organizations, providing advice on how to reduce environmental impact, improve social responsibility, and promote economic sustainability. This course may be helpful for Sustainability Consultants, as it provides an overview of the key concepts and practices of sustainability, as well as the latest developments in the field.
Sustainability Manager
A Sustainability Manager develops and implements sustainability programs for organizations. They may work for businesses, governments, or non-profit organizations, providing leadership on environmental, social, and economic sustainability issues. This course may be helpful for Sustainability Managers, as it provides an overview of the key concepts and practices of sustainability, as well as the latest developments in the field.
Environmental Economist
An Environmental Economist studies the economic impacts of environmental policies and regulations. They may work for government agencies, private companies, or non-profit organizations, providing advice on how to design and implement policies that promote environmental protection and economic development. This course may be useful for Environmental Economists, as it provides an overview of the latest developments in the field of sustainability, including the concept of planetary boundaries and the challenges of global governance.
Corporate Social Responsibility Manager
A Corporate Social Responsibility Manager develops and implements corporate social responsibility programs for businesses. They may work for businesses of all sizes, providing leadership on environmental, social, and economic sustainability issues. This course may be helpful for Corporate Social Responsibility Managers, as it provides an overview of the key concepts and practices of sustainability, as well as the latest developments in the field.
Environmental Scientist
An Environmental Scientist studies the environment and how to protect it. They may work for government agencies, private companies, or non-profit organizations, collecting data, conducting research, and making recommendations on how to reduce pollution, conserve natural resources, and protect ecosystems. This course may be useful for Environmental Scientists, as it provides an overview of the latest developments in the field of sustainability, including the concept of planetary boundaries and the challenges of global governance.
Renewable Energy Engineer
A Renewable Energy Engineer designs, installs, and maintains renewable energy systems, such as solar panels and wind turbines. They may work for government agencies, private companies, or non-profit organizations, helping to develop and implement renewable energy projects. This course may be useful for Renewable Energy Engineers, as it provides an overview of the latest developments in the field of sustainability, including the concept of planetary boundaries and the challenges of global governance.
Nonprofit Program Manager
A Nonprofit Program Manager develops and manages programs for non-profit organizations. They may work for organizations of all sizes, providing leadership on a variety of issues, including environmental protection, social justice, and economic development. This course may be helpful for Nonprofit Program Managers, as it provides an overview of the key concepts and practices of sustainability, as well as the latest developments in the field.
Hydrologist
A Hydrologist studies the Earth's water resources. They may work for government agencies, private companies, or non-profit organizations, conducting research on a variety of topics, including water quality, water quantity, and water management. This course may be useful for Hydrologists, as it provides an overview of the latest developments in the field of sustainability, including the concept of planetary boundaries and the challenges of global governance.
Soil Scientist
A Soil Scientist studies the Earth's soils. They may work for government agencies, private companies, or non-profit organizations, conducting research on a variety of topics, including soil chemistry, soil physics, and soil management. This course may be useful for Soil Scientists, as it provides an overview of the latest developments in the field of sustainability, including the concept of planetary boundaries and the challenges of global governance.
Environmental Educator
An Environmental Educator develops and delivers educational programs on environmental issues. They may work for schools, museums, nature centers, or non-profit organizations, teaching people about the environment and how to protect it. This course may be useful for Environmental Educators, as it provides an overview of the latest developments in the field of sustainability, including the concept of planetary boundaries and the challenges of global governance.
Geographer
A Geographer studies the Earth's physical and human geography. They may work for government agencies, private companies, or non-profit organizations, conducting research on a variety of topics, including climate change, land use, and natural resource management. This course may be useful for Geographers, as it provides an overview of the latest developments in the field of sustainability, including the concept of planetary boundaries and the challenges of global governance.
Oceanographer
An Oceanographer studies the Earth's oceans. They may work for government agencies, private companies, or non-profit organizations, conducting research on a variety of topics, including ocean circulation, ocean chemistry, and marine life. This course may be useful for Oceanographers, as it provides an overview of the latest developments in the field of sustainability, including the concept of planetary boundaries and the challenges of global governance.

Reading list

We've selected 14 books that we think will supplement your learning. Use these to develop background knowledge, enrich your coursework, and gain a deeper understanding of the topics covered in Planetary Boundaries.
Introduced the concept of planetary boundaries, and classic text in the field of environmental studies. It is essential reading for anyone interested in the topic of planetary boundaries.
Provides a perspective from more than 30 years ago on topics similar to what the course covers. This would be useful additional reading.
Provides a comprehensive overview of the politics of sustainability. It valuable resource for anyone interested in learning more about the political dimensions of sustainability.
Provides a chilling account of the potential consequences of climate change. It must-read for anyone who wants to understand the risks posed by climate change.
Provides a comprehensive overview of the ethics of sustainability. It valuable resource for anyone interested in learning more about the ethical dimensions of sustainability.
Provides a comprehensive overview of the history of extinction on Earth. It valuable resource for anyone interested in learning more about the threats facing biodiversity.
Classic text in the field of environmental studies. It helped to raise awareness of the dangers of pesticides and other chemicals.
Gives a sociological perspective on climate change and related topics. This would add more depth to the course.

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