Natural Limits

The Earth has a finite carrying capacity.

Scientists are providing increasingly compelling evidence of environmental change and stress. Around the world glaciers and ice sheets are retreating, the overall health and diversity of wildlife is declining, human numbers are increasing and natural resources are over-exploited. If these trends continue unchecked there is an increasing danger of long term social and economic catastrophe.

Does it make sense to talk about the environment crisis? The Gaia theory proposed by James Lovelock highlights how natural systems are self-regulating and will always find a balance. Other people argue that technology will solve environmental problems and continue to enhance our standard of living.

Trying to make predictions is fraught with difficulties. However, current levels of consumption already exceed the carrying capacity of the planet. The resources we use in a year take eighteen months to regenerate. 

Ultimately, thinking about sustainability challenges us to consider our relationship with nature. Do we stand apart from nature or are we part of it? It also alerts us to our responsibility to the future. Will the Earth that we pass on to our children be significantly poorer than the one we ourselves inherited? The way that we answer such questions will draw on notions of equity, inclusion and social justice.

Earth Sale

1) What points do you think these cartoons are making? In what way do they add to your understanding?

View the cartoons »

2) Watch this video about environmental degradation on Esater Island

Do you think it is valid to apply the lessons from Easter Island to the challenges which face us today?

3) Now find out how Hans Gosling thinks about development by watching the following video:

"The relationships between people and wildlife are of great concern if we believe that biodiversity has value in maintaining an ecologically balanced world for generations to come. This need for co-existence brings amazing opportunities as well as challenges, which pervade the realms of many disciplines."
Tutor in Geography and Life Sciences

"Sitting around the fire making and preparing the food made me realise just how important food and fire are to humanity in the bigger sense. This is the bigger picture which provides the context for why the environment is so fundamental to humanity."
Childhood Studies tutor reflecting on Forest School training

a) Do you agree that the environment is fundamental to humanity? If so, why?

b) Do you think that experiencing nature directly can have a positive impact on our thinking?

Lovelock, J. (2010) The Vanishing Face of Gaia, New York: Basic Books

Meadows, D.H., Randers, J., and Meadows, D. L. (2005) Limits to Growth: The 30 year update, Abingdon: Earthscan

WWF (2016) Living Planet Report 2016 available at

Visit for a humanistic approach to the environment and sustainability:
Visit the website

Hicks, D. (2017) A Climate Change Companion, Chepstow, UK: Teching4abetterworld

Making Connections »

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Find out more about sustainability in practice at Canterbury Christ Church

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To hear how our students are engaging with sustainability at Canterbury Christ Church, find us on facebook and wordpress.

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Last edited: 05/12/2017 00:17:00