The Human Quest: Prospering Within Planetary Boundaries – Book Review

/ Gabriel Thoumi

Icarus, according to ancient Greek myth, attempted to escape Crete by flying using wings that his father constructed from feathers and wax. Icarus willfully flew too close to the sun causing his wings to melt resulting in him falling into the sea and drowning.

Sprawl outside Albuquerque, New Mexico, U.S. Photo by: Jeremy Hance.
Sprawl outside Albuquerque, New Mexico, U.S. Photo by: Jeremy Hance.

Icarus, according to ancient Greek myth, attempted to escape Crete by flying using wings that his father constructed from feathers and wax. Icarus willfully flew too close to the sun causing his wings to melt resulting in him falling into the sea and drowning.

Icarus died from what modern psychologists describe as narcissism—narcissism is too much self-absorption and foundational indifference to the plight of others.

A new book, The Human Quest: Prospering Within Planetary Boundaries—by Johan Rockström and Mattias Klum with foreword by President Bill Clinton—describes in detail the nine planetary boundaries we now face. Filled with exquisite photos, easy-to-read prose, and clear and concise diagrams, the authors eloquently describe where we are at and scenarios for where we could go.

The nine planetary boundaries, from climate change, stratospheric ozone depletion, ocean acidification, interference with the global nitrogen and phosphorus cycles, land-use change, global freshwater use, rate of biodiversity loss, aerosol loading in the atmosphere, to chemical pollution, like Icarus’ wax and feather wings, are explained in a manner to inform effective decision-making today.

Yet, where do we stand after generations of scientific analysis and mitigation efforts to combat our overreaching these nine planetary boundaries?

We stand on the brink of a substantial and significant triple bottom line “people, planet, profit” surprise filled with unknown—and possibly disastrous—outcomes. And as President Bill Clinton states, “the embrace of sustainable economies is too episodic and fragmentary,” so are we Icarus, self-centered flying so close to the sun that the wax on our wings melt, and we crash and drown in a watery grave?

Or will we engage in a paradigm shift that results in universally applying economic valuation models based on the nine planetary boundaries described by Rockström and Klum? Engaging in financial valuation bounded by the natural limits our Earth places on the ecosystem we co-inhabit with our planet’s amazing creatures needs to be the new business as usual.

We have a fiduciary duty to listen to this clarion call, consider its ramifications, and discuss incorporating these outcomes into our financial systems.

I highly recommend The Human Quest: Prospering Within Planetary Boundaries because it frames this choice for us—shall we continue exhibiting the folly of Icarus or instead shall we engage in our fiduciary duty and develop a systematic approach such that all global economics are based on sustainability, as President Bill Clinton suggests?

How to order:

The Human Quest: Prospering Within Planetary Boundaries

Hardcover: 320 Pages

Publisher: Princeton University Press

ISBN, ebook: 978-91-87173-25-7

ISBN, hardcover 978-91-87007-14-9

Authors: Johan Rockström and Mattias Klum

Forward: Bill Clinton

Photos: Mattias Klum

Gabriel Thoumi, CFA is a frequent contributor to Mongabay.com.

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