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In-Depth Review: Planetary Boundaries and Human Opportunities

Detailed review by Class Central user Kier Mitchel E. Pitogo on a course that will help you become a proper planetary steward and ensure global sustainability.

Kier Mitchel Pitogo

Review by Kier Mitchel E. Pitogo. He finished a Bachelor’s degree in Marine Biology. He is an advocate for the conservation of sea turtles in the Philippines and works as a research assistant in the Origins of Human Uniqueness project of Arizona State University. His MOOC Transcript.

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It is indeed true that the earth is what we all have in common. This adage is from Wendell Berry, a novelist and an environmental activist. The earth is the core of this particular course that I will be talking about in the next paragraphs.

When I first learn that MOOCs exist, and that is way back 2014, I took courses in Animal Behavior and Marine Megafauna because as a biology student, animals have a special place in me. And after those animal-themed courses, I became fond of taking MOOCs and tried to learn a variety of discipline, which includes an intriguing title I came across in Class Central – Planetary Boundaries.



Honestly, as what others would say also, Planetary Boundaries is really new to my auditory senses. I’ve never read it on books, never came across in Wikipedia, nor have heard it from the University. This triggered my curiosity and enrolled immediately, not knowing I’m seven weeks late. Yes seven weeks because this is a twelve week course offered by the Stockholm Resilience Center, Stockholm University, Sweden though the Sustainable Development and Solutions Network (SDSN.edu). I was thinking that catching up for seven weeks is tiresome but when I looked through what’s inside, it gave me a spectrum of ideas that were very interesting to learn. And when I say very, like the title of the course itself, I mean most of the topics were foreign yet sounds mentally stimulating.


Before going through my experience, I’ll give an overview of what Planetary Boundaries (PB) is. The PB is a framework that was created in 2009 and was designed to define a ‘safe operating space for humanity’, within which humans could continue to thrive and develop, and transgressing these boundaries can create irreversible environmental changes. To shorten, these are phenomena that really can cause detrimental damage to our planet if not controlled. A group of twenty-eight internationally renowned earth system scientists identified these boundaries and provides quantification for each. And those who took the course are so fortunate because our very own lead instructor, Dr. Johan Rockström, is the co-leader.


I considered the lectures average, as you only need focus to grasp the idea of every lecture. In the first three weeks, you will be introduced on introductory part to give you reasons like, why is there PB and what are we needing to learn about it as inhabitants of this planet. You will be hearing more unusual terms like anthropocene, social-ecological system, and resilience thinking. I do suggest that you write each in your notebook and use it everyday. Do practice retrieval method to recall these terms and you feel like you’re a newbie earth system scientist, until you get used to it. From week four to week six, you will delve deeper in each of the boundary and know them better, which will let you feel like your knowledge about this world is expanding its boundary to planetary level. You’ll get to know why is there a climate change and ocean acidification in an earth system science’ perspective, how rapid is the loss of biosphere integrity, how aquaculture and upland farming can become detrimental to the environment, why zoonotic diseases spread and able to reach urban areas, why is there an energy imbalance in the atmosphere, and what biomagnification and bioconcentration has to do with the environment in planetary level. These are only part of a bigger system you will be looking at as you learn major topics of PB.


These topics would have been so difficult without the aid of the professors. Johan Rockström, Director of the Stockholm Resilience Center (SRC), talked with persuasiveness and brevity, which makes everything easier. He let the learners to understand how important the concepts are and that’s why I consider my learning intake as not so strenuous. All instructors were also really great in delivering their sensible talk that provides information you’ll never get easily elsewhere. I want to acknowledge them each in this review: Sarah Cornell, she has a good background in marine and atmospheric biogeochemistry; Garry Peterson, an environmental science professor with focus on resilience and social-ecological systems; Carl Folke, Director of Beijer Institute of Ecological Economics and Founder/Science Director of SRC; Lisa Deutsch, Senior Lecturer in Stockholm Resilience Center; Kevin Noone, a professor of Meteorology; Victor Galaz, Associate Professor and Senior Lecturer in Political Science; and Thomas Elmqvist; a professor in Natural Resource Management. They are all excellent in their respective fields and were really inspiring as you listen to their lectures full of learning and enthusiasm.


The totality of this course was great! Don’t worry about the assignments and quizzes because they’re easy if you just listen carefully. There will be reading assignments but consider those as extensions of learning Planetary Boundaries. The last activity I created was I made a 2-minute video about the subject matter. It’s not necessary but I needed to do it because it’s an extra point. I forgot to mention that those who finished the course with a rating of 90% or those who performed exceptional services as part of the community of students would have the chance to receive a signed copy of either of the books authored by Carl Folke (Reflections on the Bioshpere) and Johan Rockström (The Human Quest). I finished the course with a completion rank Planetary Steward and have received a certificate of proficiency for it. On the 24th of March 2015, I have received an e-mail titled ‘#PBMOOC Book Prize Award Winner Confirmation’ and I couldn’t explain the joy I felt knowing that I was not only became environmentally aware after the course but I also have a signed copy of Sir Johan’s book, which arrived fresh from Sweden two months after.

The experience is different from other MOOCs because it changed my perspective on how the world operates. This opened my mind to a planetary-level of problems and makes me more sympathetic to the issues in environmental status quo. Because I felt anew with what I’ve learned, I chose ‘Planetary Boundaries: A Marine Biologist’s Concern’ as a topic in the seminar I’ve conducted in my University, and this was an important requirement to get my degree in Marine Biology. Up until the end of my seminar, my instructors in this course continued to help enriching my knowledge through e-mail discussions and they even suggested important readings and gave latest literature about Planetary Boundaries.


The Planetary Boundaries is one of the available courses that teach you things you need to learn, which reinforces your curiosity, and puts you in a position where you feel responsible to your own actions. If you just look through what’s inside of every detail, you’ll be amazed of what this course can offer to you. As you engage to this learning, you contribute to the diversity of ideas around the world that makes up the complex yet worthwhile philosophies that guides every planetary steward. And just like what Wendell Berry said, the earth needs the utmost protection, as she is everything’s home.

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