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The Economy, The Biosphere and Planetary Boundaries: Towards Biosphere Economics

Crépin, A-S. and C. Folke. (2015) International Review of Environmental and Resource Economics 8:57–100.


Nine planetary boundaries have been proposed, capturing essential biophysical processes that sustain the Earth System and its biosphere in an accommodating state for humanity. Drawing on economics literature, we propose conditions under which remaining within these boundaries is in line with economic policy. We assert that pervasive uncertainties combined with impacts of trespassing planetary boundaries clearly legitimate using safe minimum standards or precautionary approaches. Moreover, information about the risk structure of these processes, including potential large-scale regime shifts, could help refine policies for how to relate to the zones of uncertainty of the boundaries. Planetary boundaries may be interpreted as “growth within limits” especially in relation to the biophysical expansion of the human dimension. Here, we picture them as warning signs creating incentives for shifting development into new directions, new pathways, where growth in human well-being is the focus rather than growth in GDP. In this sense, we reiterate the framework of ecological economics of sustainable scale (i.e., developing within planetary boundaries), efficient allocation, and fair distribution, and emphasize the need for “biosphere economics” to help navigate globalization within the capacity of the biosphere as the complex adaptive system it truly is.

Keywords: biosphere economics, planetary boundaries, precautionary principle, uncertainty

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