What do students need to know about the Ecological Ceiling?

The ecological ceiling covers nine dimensions, which coincide with the planetary boundaries of the Stockholm Resilience Centre. Nine dimensions is a lot of ground to cover. Having said that, I do believe that to appreciate the ecological ceiling, students, and by extension their teachers, need at least a basic understanding of the biogeochemical cycles in particular and the ecosystem of the earth in general.

I believe this for three reasons. The first reason is that when you understand the cycle, this makes it possible for you to understand how humans interfere with it. This is interesting in itself, since it teaches us something about human curiosity and ingenuity. It also teaches us modesty, since our interference in natural cycles often has unintended consequences.

The analyses of human interference allows for an economic perspective: it begs for the questions of efficiency and effectivity. How efficient is it when we first remove nitrogen from the air to produce fertilizers, when we have to remove the excess nitrogen compounds from wastewater to prevent ecological damage? So, the second reason is that insight in the ecosystem could improve the way we make use of it. 

Finally, an overshoot of the ecological ceiling results in actual scarcity. We are already confronted with water shortages both in the Southern and Northern hemisphere, in regions where this has not been a big issue before. In my opinion, this means we have to redefine the economic concept of scarcity. To understand the magnitude of this β€˜new’ concept of scarcity, economics students have to understand the ecosystem of the earth. 

To have students, and yourself, acquire a basic knowledge of ecology I would advise the Crash Course Ecology by Hank Green. Anyone interested in having the twelve lessons subtitled in Dutch, can contact me on the email-address below, so we can work together to get this done. Should you want to go deeper into the planetary boundaries then the MOOC Planetary Boundaries and Human Opportunities by the Stockholm Resilience Centre may be of interest to you.

henny@21steconomics.org – You can also find me on LinkedIn

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