The answer to life, the universe and everything?

Hosted by the Leeds Institute for Data Analytics


Humanity faces the challenge of how to achieve a high quality of life for over 7 billion people without destabilizing critical planetary processes. Using indicators designed to measure a ‘safe and just’ development space, we quantify the resource use associated with meeting basic human needs, and compare this to downscaled planetary boundaries for over 150 nations. We find that no country meets basic needs for its citizens at a globally sustainable level of resource use. Physical needs such as nutrition, sanitation, access to electricity and the elimination of extreme poverty could likely be met for all people without transgressing planetary boundaries. However, the universal achievement of more qualitative goals (for example, high life satisfaction) would require a level of resource use that is 2–6 times the sustainable level, based on current relationships. Strategies to improve physical and social provisioning systems, with a focus on sufficiency and equity, have the potential to move nations towards sustainability, but the challenge remains substantial.



Dr. Julia Steinberger researches and teaches in the interdisciplinary areas of Ecological Economics and Industrial Ecology. Her research examines the connections between resource use (energy and materials, greenhouse gas emissions) and societal performance (economic activity and human wellbeing). She is interested in quantifying the current and historical linkages between resource use and socioeconomic parameters, and identifying alternative development pathways to guide the necessary transition to a low carbon society. She is the recipient of a Leverhulme Research Leadership Award for her research project “Living Well Within Limits” investigating how universal human well-being might be achieved within planetary boundaries.

Before coming to the University of Leeds in 2011, Dr Steinberger was a Senior Researcher at the Institute of Social Ecology in Vienna (SEC), where she investigated sustainable cities and the links between material use and economic performance. She has held postdoctoral positions at the Universities of Lausanne and Zurich, and obtained her PhD from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She has published over 38 internationally peer-reviewed articles since 2009 in journals including Nature Climate Change, Environmental Science & Technology, PLOS ONE and Environmental Research Letters.


Dr Steinberger’s presentation will focus on her recent Nature Sustainability paper ‘A good life for all within planetary boundaries’. This paper was produced by Dr Daniel O’Neill, Dr Andrew Fanning, Dr William Lamb and Dr Julie Steinberger.

This event is free and open to all but booking is required.

If you’d like to attend please contact Hayley Irving with your name, occupation and faculty/organisation