Planetary Boundaries

Here are some sources on the “planetary boundaries” idea.

Here are two statements of the idea–the short one we read, and a fuller version:

Here are a series of critiques of the idea from the Breakthrough Institute–the first two have to do (I think) with the attack on the idea prior to the Rio summit in 2012, mentioned by Diana at lunch on Wednesday; the remaining ones concern a debate about the idea last year.

Finally, here is a defense of the idea against criticisms offered by Roger Pielke, Jr., with some of his responses.


Mitigation with Adaptive Benefits

In his article,” Agriculture And Climate Change: An Agenda for Negotiation in Copenhagen” Pete Smith contributes to the discussion over the relative merits of adaptation-based and mitigation-based strategies for practical response to climate change.  As we discussed in class on Monday, adaptation-based strategies have the appearance, to some environmentally concerned thinkers, of something like a cop-out.  If we are capable of developing effective strategies to mitigate dramatic climate change, their thinking goes, then we ought to focus our limited resources and energy on those strategies rather than strategies that are merely adaptive.  However, if some amount of significant climate change is inevitable, then investing in adaptability to those changes is of course of great value.  If resources are exhausted of attempts to mitigate, and those attempts prove to be insufficient, then we will certainly wish we had invested more heavily in adaptation strategies.

In the article, Smith explains how the two types of strategies for responding to climate change need not always be inconsistent with one another.  Smith uses specific examples of how agricultural strategies, such as the reduction of soil carbon dioxide emissions, serve as means of both mitigation and adaptation. In the case of soil carbon sequestration, reductions in carbon emissions are achievable through an increase in soil organic matter content, a practice which at the same time increases the resilience of the soil in the face of climate change.  This practice thus serves as a mitigation strategy as well as an adaptive strategy.

Citation Info: Pete Smith. “Agriculture and Climate Change: An Agenda for Negotiation in Copenhagen.” Accessed online from the International Food Policy Research Institute. (2009)


Carboniferous Capitalism: Buying our way to Safety

Simon Dalby’s work from the Balsille School of International Affairs challenges us to think about the practices our own country, as well as other capitalist nations, has exercised in order to further human security on our planet (“biohumanity”). In geography, these issues are known as “biopolitics”. Balby points out that humanity is at a point where the biohuman can no longer be the focus of our worry, as we have taken over the planet as our own, but that public discourses on humanity currently focus on the security thereof. The main concern of this essay is how human geography may respond to the new circumstances of the Anthropocene, and who gets to make the decisions about what kind of life it will be in the future for Earth’s biosphere. Another important question Dalby introduces is of the environmental dimensions of security. The question is, how do we decide what to do about environmental security without militarizing climate change? We have long been turning danger and emergency into economy in the West – is there feasible a way around this?

Dalby reiterates the idea that “carboniferous capitalism” is what has caused the current environmental problems we are facing, and that this is the emergency – not the climate itself. In other words, we must address the disease, not the symptoms. He goes on to state that “the theme of the Anthropocene is part of the answer to both the limits of the biohuman and the dangers of the ideology of nature” (185). 

Mitigating risks in the Anthropocene is tenuous because risks can be “financialized”. It is interesting too that Dalby talks about Foucault’s ideas of power moving from monarchical control to democracy, as we haven’t seen much Foucault in our readings, and the advent of pastoral practices in “Third World” nations has made it all too easy for the West to think of itself as doing things the “right” way and needing always to intervene. The author points out, as we talked about last week, that creating carbon credit economies only aids in the dispossession and poverty of those in no position to even create a carbon footprint.

Dalby also brings up the point of thinking differently about “Degrees of Risk”, and using new models and attitudes that will help us plan more effectively for changes that are happening much more rapidly in Earth’s biosphere than we have ever before predicted or thought possible. Mainly, he argues that current climate policies are insufficient, and that “rapid de-carbonization of the global economy” must be where our attentions lie.            

Conclusions, as far as I could make them out:

1) Environmental history and ecology continue to be very important, and we must use them in ways that do not treat geopolitical borders as actual fences.

2) The decisions made in the next few years or decades are crucial, for millennia to come; we need to keep our political options open as we learn more and continue changing the planet. The Anthropocene is not a terminal phase, it’s just the current/next one.

3) We have to stop ignoring what is happening to humans in favor of what is happening to the “non-biohuman” and realize that global economy (and ecology) is affecting everyone.

4) We are taking climate emergencies as opportunities for new modes of governance and development – we must be careful not to create a new “disaster capitalism”, at least any more than we already have.


Dalby, Simon. “Biopolitics and climate security in the Anthropocene.” Geoforum 49 (2013): 184-192.

Another paper by this author:

Climate Change and Mental Health

Deakin University in Australia and Beyond Blue, a depression awareness organization, partnered to produce this report, Beyond Blue to Green.

I came across this report while searching for sources for my final project, so I am especially interested in the positive effects of interaction with nature.  That is the main objective of the report, although I am not sure how much it will provide to my topic as it relates to aesthetics and virtue.  For this post, however, I would like to specifically discuss chapter 8: “Climate Change and Mental Health.”

The effects of climate change may have a range of effects across different geographical locations and cultures. Loss of property, health, or lives due to climate-related events have great psychological effects. Many traumatic climate-related events are listed in the report, such as hurricanes, tsunamis, forest fires, droughts, floods, and loss of biodiversity (specifically reefs, tropics, and wetlands).  These all may become more common due to climate change.  Losses and disasters may lead to PTSD, substance abuse, anxiety, fear, depression, and other mood disorders. Instances of suicide are greater after disasters like Hurricane Katrina and the 2004 Asian tsunami.  In our discussions of the effects of these events on groups of people, it is important to remember the psychological effects.

On the other hand, human health and well-being improve through involvement with nature and specifically with environmentalist initiatives. The report does not explain the cause of the correlations, but it is not hard to imagine why.  Exercise, social interaction, aesthetic enjoyment, and improved purpose are some notable reasons off the top of my head why there may be a correlation.

After praising the report as a whole, I would now like to go down a rabbit trail. I find the chapter about climate change to be out of place in the context of the report as a whole.  (Perhaps it was included for the sake of funding.)  The report lists a lot of positive health effects of human interaction with nature, and then it throws in a final chapter about how climate change may increase the prevalence of events that have negative psychological effects.  Nowhere else in the report is it discussed that nature may have negative psychological effects, which leaves one with the (false) impression that if it was not for climate change, nature would always produce positive psychological effects on humans.  The chapter was not needed in a report on “the benefits of contact with nature for mental health and well-being”.  Although everything written in the report may be scientifically defensible, I wonder if some more tact could have been used in presenting it.


Townsend, Mardie and Rona Weerasuriya. “Beyond Blue to Green: The benefits of contact with nature for mental health and well-being.” Beyond Blue Ltd: Melbourne, Australia. 2010.