It’s a lecture that will give you a broad introduction of the challenges and content of the course. And it all starts with the rising scientific evidence that humanity has entered a completely new era, what will talk much more about, that science now defines as the Anthropocene, an era where humanity is shaping the entire biosphere. We’ve entered the globalized phase of environmental change.
This is not so surprising and difficult to understand. We have got used to the fact that we are totally globalized in our economy, in our trade, in our communication systems, and now we must recognize that we’re also in the globalized phase of environmental change.
In real time, if someone goes to work emitting carbon dioxide in one part of the world it has, in real time, effects on livelihoods for other individuals in other parts of the world. This is a completely different development paradigm for the world, and we will be exploring what this means for economic development, for social development, for livelihoods, for poverty alleviation in the world. It arises from something quite dramatic.
We’ve all got used to defining sustainable development as the three pillars of development: social, economic, and ecological development – the modern thinking around sustainable development.
Will challenge that concept. We will be putting forward evidence to suggest that we have to redefine development, and we now have to think of the world in terms of providing wealth, development, livelihoods, human prosperity, within the safe, resilient life support systems on Earth.
This is truly a fundamental change. It shifts how we think on economics, how we think about poverty, ethics, and even relationships between human beings on Earth. So we’ll go through many of these dimensions, what we call the social-ecological complex around human prosperity in this new era of global change.
Now normally we discuss large global environmental challenges as something that happens way in the future, something that happens in the next century, or end of this century. What we will walk through during this course is that evidence that, in fact, change is occurring today. It is affecting the economy and livelihoods today. Already at only 1 degree Celsius of global warming, we see evidence, for example, that we can no longer exclude, that the earth system, that has been dampening change could actually change direction and self-accelerate change. For example, by releasing massive amounts of methane, which would mean that the earth system loses resilience and self-accelerates change in a negative direction.
We have actually rising evidence that even social instabilities in the world, such as the Arab Spring, which was an enormous rising of a well-educated, socially-connected new generation rising against a dictatorial rule over many decades. In fact, cannot be explained in terms of going to scale without also factoring in rising volatility of food prices, and enormous food riots arising from climate change combined with lack of phosphorous, and oil price rises.
Probably the first example of how social and environmental changes interplay at the large regional scale causing sudden, abrupt social shifts.
We have the evidence from Australia that twelve years of drought actually affects even global food prices, and certainly policy in that part of the world. And finally when Hurricane Sandy, one and a half years back, suddenly veers in from the Atlantic right in over Manhattan, putting even the Wall Street three meters underwater. A kind of a sarcastic reminder that even a financial system is connected to the environmental system in the world.
Science shows it’s very difficult to explain the sudden and unprecedented veering in of a hurricane if we don’t also factor in the fact that the Arctic has changed so rapidly in terms of warming that the cold weather system holding high pressure air in the Arctic has collapsed, probably pushing down pressures, which may have caused a hurricane veering suddenly in on land instead of moving out in the Atlantic.
These are a few examples that we already today see impacts of global environmental change on society. And the reason for all this is that over just the last 100 years, we have moved from being a relatively small world on a large planet to a situation where we today, with a lot of empirical evidence, can say that we’ve now become a large world on a small planet.
And that this shift is actually very recent, it’s just over the past fifty years. And we’ll be discussing and providing a lot of the evidence around this great acceleration, as we define it.
Now, the fact that we have entered this globalized phase of environmental change, that we have a great acceleration of human pressures, is something that we simply have to recognize.
It’s now time for us to navigate the global phase of change in the world. Humanity is now the driver of change, and therefore we’re in the driving seat. We can actually make a choice. Either we continue on an unsustainable path, or we transition into a sustainable pathway, which we’ll be defining in the following way: as human development within the safe operating space of a resilient and stable planet.
And we’re excited about this because science has advanced so much that we can now define the safe operating space by identifying planetary boundaries. And the new challenge for humanity is therefore to recognize that we can no longer just manage nations, or businesses, or communities. We must now become planetary stewards of human well-being within a stable and resilient planet. And that’s what we’re going to focus on in the sessions in this course.