Reconnecting human development to the biosphere. This is really fundamental for the future of humanity. The biosphere, as you all know, is this thin layer around the Earth that is the only place in the huge universe that we as know have hosts life. So we live on this small, little round ball in this immense universe and have the chance to be alive for up to eight, nine, ten decades. We’re part of this biosphere, we’re imbedded in it. That’s what I’m going to talk about today and try to connect you, and your not only thoughts, but also your bodies and hopefully emotions to being part of this planet and feel humble about it.
And old model which is still used a lot is to look at the economy as the center of the universe. And if we listen to news and television programs there’s a lot of focus on what’s going inside the economy and our financial systems. And they operate and run our daily activities. But in that model we had three factors of production for the economy; it was land, labor, and capital.
And land basically was agricultural land in those days when Adam Smith developed those theories. But during the mid and late 1900s land was removed basically from the economic model because it was no longer a limiting factor for economic and social development. Basically it was labor and capital that were the limiting factors. So basically the whole biosphere was lost from the way we think about operating the economy in our models.
So in the late ’80s we started something called ecological economics to try to reconnect land, which we later called natural capital, into the model of economic development. So we extended land, labor, and capital to natural capital, cultural capital, and human-made capital as three critical factors of production for how the economy is operating.
And today when you hear a lot of talks about the green economy, you hear a lot about efforts to value nature and ecosystem services. It’s about making the natural capital visible in the way we operate the economy. From the level of big companies in their books and all the way to how we measure GDP in economic development.
But the real model we should strive for is a model where we look at the economy as a part of society, and society as part of the planet. Quite obvious model but it’s sort of forgotten in our contemporary society.
So I believe that we in two, three generations have created mindsets on Earth that pretend as we are not living on the planet, that pretend as if we are independent on the Earth that we’re living on. That’s why we are using this model, where the economy is part of society and part of the overall planet; part of the Earth’s life support systems, or the biosphere. And to us that’s a fundamental conceptual figure. It’s almost like an icon for how society should relate to the little round ball we’re living on. And it’s become very obvious now in the Anthropocene that that’s the case.
So humanity now, as you all know, we’re living in this biosphere in the Anthropocene where we are a global force in shaping the planet, not just in terms of how many we are. In the early 1800s we were about 1 billion. When I was born around 3, 4 billion, and now about 7.5 billion people. So that’s the scale and how we operate those things. Then the connectivity we are totally intertwined through global society. All over the planet, and through information technology, we have been able to speed up our activities in an enormous way.
So we’re living on this little round ball and shaping it fast and have forgotten about it, which is not very smart for a species that calls herself, himself homo sapiens, the smart monkey actually. So we’re a wise band. So I think it’s really high time to reconnect our value systems and worldviews, and the way we operate to the little round ball, and this thin layer of life that we are part of.
We are now moving a new terrain. We have gone through the great acceleration of expanding our actions, and now are moving into a new terrain of new dynamics where issues that have been treated separately; like climate, human health, and economy; are very much intertwined, they are really tied together.
And they are also connected through new types of shocks. So if we get an oil crisis together with, food crisis for example, together with the financial crisis, there are no types of patterns playing out on Earth that we have not seen before.
So these domains that are often thought about as separate are actually completely intertwined already. And now we’re moving into another phase where we’re going through a next great acceleration where people in countries that have not been fairly poor are moving out of poverty moving into a middle class situation. We also have developments in information technology and microbiology and genetics that are moving really, really fast, that it’s hard to envision what it will look like in the decades to come.
And those are fantastic opportunities, fantastic possibilities for humanity. But my point here is that if those possibilities and those actions are not connected to the planet we live on, they may not be opportunities, they may be things will increase the risk for something not very pleasant for humanity.
So the challenge is really to use our innovative capacities, our fantastic gift that we have of thinking, and reflecting, and developing innovations, in line with the biosphere that we’re part of and depend on.
So the reconnecting idea or the reconnecting path is not a simplistic one, it’s a very profound one of increasing the opportunities for well being of people anywhere on Earth and increasing the pathways for good human life.
And that’s why we need to probably transform our paths today into new pathways to be able to do that. But there’s a lot of hope and a lot of science in that direction already going on on Earth. If you just go back the last ten years and see how businesses are waking up; how the climate issue have opened up space for these type of redirections and transformations; and how green technology and different lifestyles; and the way we eat things, and go back to more safety and healthy foods; and these type of paths are actually moving fast now. And that’s very hopeful in that sense.
So the whole idea of reconnecting is really about doing something very obvious; to appreciate being life on this little round ball, to reflect on it, and reconnect ourselves. A big challenge when we are living in urban areas. About 50, 60% of people are in urban areas today and are not always connected to the broader planet on a daily basis.
I will illustrate what I mean also by changing these pathways for reconnection, reconnecting to the biosphere by a picture where you see a lot of details, but a lot of areas in between where you have no idea what they say.
So this may illustrate where we are today in society when it comes to knowledge generation and understanding that we are very good at understanding details, but have a harder time with seeing the bigger pictures because of the enormous amount of information, the enormous amount of activities that we are operating with.
So when we aim at looking at the bigger picture, it may sometimes become quite blurry and unclear. And in knowledge generation and science that’s often a very explorative, but also very exciting phase when you think you’re onto something but you don’t really know what it will look like.
But hopefully when the picture becomes clearer you will most likely be quite surprised. The world may not look like what you actually think it looks like. And this whole idea of reconnecting to the biosphere is about that actually. It’s about basic, very simple truths about part of a planet that we have forgotten part, that are not part of our conceptions and reality today but are profoundly important for our future.
We tried to develop new ways of reconnecting people to the biosphere. And a recent project that was just launched in June this year is an art science book called Reflections on People and the Biosphere, where we match some of those texts of being part of the biosphere with photographs taken from the same spot on an island in the Baltic Sea in Europe. And it’s quite amazing how one single place can provide such a palette of impressions. And that’s something to think about when we are running around hectically and efficiently on Earth to look outside the window, to see the different nuances going on there, a rainy day, sunny day, sunset, dawn, beautiful light, the birds flying, and let it move into your body and fill you up, and reconnect yourself to the planet in that way.
And in that book actually we’ve been using some music lyrics also from classic music writers. And here’s one from the Beatles that I thought was breathtaking when I read it again actually, from a tune called “Because.” It goes like this: Because the world is round it turns me on. Because the wind is high it blows my mind. Because the sky is blue it makes me cry.” Thank you very much.