Arquivo de etiquetas: Antropoceno

Antropoceno XII – Resiliência, feedbacks, interações e transição

I’m going to talk about feedbacks, interactions, and regime shifts in social-ecological systems. And this is basically the idea of how ecosystems, or social-ecological systems, can go from being organized in one way to being organized in a very different way.326

And this is a concept that’s been around for a long time in ecology, and is in many other fields under many different names. And the term I’m going to use is regime shifts, but this also can be talked about in terms of tipping points, alternate ecological states, or critical transitions.

And what I mean when I say a regime shift, I use the definition, which is focused on people and the way they interact with nature. So thinking about, some change in a social-ecological system where you go from getting one set of ecosystem services to a different set.323

And this persists over a time that matters for people, so usually at least a couple of years. And there’s some kind of stickiness to this that makes it, not just go back to where it was before, but there’s something that keeps it in this new type of state. So this is showing in this figure where you’re going from one set of ecosystem services to another, and there’s some really, distinct change over time, which persists.

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So, why is this important? Why is this a useful concept? Well, there are two reasons why it’s useful.

  • One is that a lot of ways people think about the world are based on sort of gradual or linear change, when that isn’t always true, how things happen. So, it’s at least sometimes useful to think well, what happens when we have changes that are abrupt and persistent?
  • The other one is that these types of changes often have much bigger impacts on people. If a fishery, so say like the Newfoundland cod fishery, ends up closing as the Newfoundland fishery’s been closed for 20 years, this has huge impacts on both individual fishermen, but also the ability of towns to survive. So, these impacts can have very big consequences. Also when these occur they’re not easy to reverse. So once you’ve gone over these thresholds it’s much harder to come back; both in terms of the amount of effort, and in terms of costs in human resources and money. Finally, one of the other things that’s very tricky about regime shifts is that they’re very difficult to predict, even when we know they can occur.

So say, for example, people who study lakes. We still don’t know when exactly they’re going to occur, because they are non-linear and difficult to predict. So this means we often need to think about managing things differently.

And this requires thinking about the context, the history, and the possibility of surprise rather than just trying to get things right or trying to adjust to some kind of thermostat or dial to get the optimal outcome. So it’s really quite a different way of thinking about things when regime shifts occur.

So, what is a real example of regime shift? Well, one of the best studied ones in the world is coral reefs. In coral reefs all over the world there’s been shifts from diverse coral reefs, which are: dominated by coral, have rich fish populations, often have ability to support lots of tourist industries and protect the coast from storms, to algae-dominated reefs where there’s much less fish often, much smaller fish, and not a diverse community of things. And this can have big impacts for both the ability of local people to persist, and on the conservation of nature.

But not all big changes that you see in nature are regime shifts. For example, stuff can change around a lot, but if it returns to where it was before it’s not really regime shifts. This figure is trying to show an example of this. If you have something changing over time and you get maybe a storm, or you get some invasion of a new species and the system changed in the response, that’s not a regime shift.

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A regime shift is when you get a big shift, which doesn’t go back to where it was before. And so you can see evidence for these regime shifts in time series stayed over time, but you can also guess that often it can be quite ambiguous of actually whether you’ve got a regime shift of not. And it can take some time to resolve this. So often there’s some uncertainty about what’s going on with regime shifts.

But one of the key things of regime shifts is that they’re maintained by feedbacks. And this figure here is showing an example of one of the other classic types of regime shifts, which is the change of shallow lakes from being clear water to being turbid and full of algae.

And there’s feedbacks that maintain both of these regimes, and it’s the competition between these different types of feedback; between a benthic-dominated, clear water regime, and a pelagic-dominated murky water regime that controls how likely you are to have one of the regime shifts to occur. And when you have these regime shifts occur different feedback dominate. So to understand regime shifts requires understanding feedbacks.

A simple way of thinking about this is that these types of regime shifts are generic features that you can expect to occur in all types of complex self-organizing systems, where you have lots of different processes interacting with one another. That’s because a whole bunch of different feedback processes interact. And a way of simplifying this is these sort of ball and cup diagrams, representing a whole set of complex interactions as a ball, which is representing your system, or your ecosystem or social-ecological system, and a landscape where the shape of the landscape is determined by the interacting feedback loops.

So this is saying you can think about how regime shifts occur in two ways.

  • One is where you have shocks, which cause the feedback process to be overwhelmed, and a system to shift from one state to another. For example, a big pulse of nutrients coming into a lake can cause a lake to shift from being clear water to being turbid water.
  • The other less obvious one is changes in the feedback processes themselves that can reduce the resilience, or the ability to persist in one of the states. So this could be, for example, changes in the fish community of a lake could reduce the ability of the lake to cope with nutrient inputs.

So all these kind of inputs that formerly wouldn’t cause a shift in a lake start to be able to cause a shift in a lake, and maybe unexpectedly you get a big shift which you can’t go back to because the feedback processes have changed.

And this is often one of the key features of regime shifts, is this gradual erosion of resilience where shocks that previously could be coped with, can’t be coped with. And this is also one of the things that makes predicting regime shifts so difficult, because even if you fully understand these slow processes the actual triggers of the regime shifts are these very difficult to predict, or almost unpredictable, shocks. But often it’s quite difficult to understand these slow processes.324

So just to kind of wrap up, what does this mean for management? Well, there’s basically three different ways you can kind of think about managing regime shifts, and this goes with thinking about the shocks and slow variables.

  • The first one is to try and think well what are all these perturbations that are affecting a system and how can you reduce the ability, the exposure of the system to these perturbations? For example, reducing fishing can enhance the ability of coral reefs to persist, or reducing land processes that are putting nutrients into a coral reef can decrease these shocks.
  • Similarly you can think about maintaining the feedback loops, or enhancing the feedback loops, that are managing these sort of slow variables that increase the resilience of a system to regime shifts by, for example, ensuring there’s a diverse set of fish, there’s lots of different types of coral structure.
  • But finally, and especially something that’s really key to think about in the Anthropocene, as we’re changing processes all around the world, is: well, what are the possibilities of novel regimes, as new species enter a system, new types of human activities? What are novel types of regimes that we either want to really avoid, or we’d like to restore systems to?

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So it’s sort of three different ways of thinking about both these fast and slow processes as more normal ways, and then for the Anthropocene trying to think about what are novel outcomes we want to, achieve or avoid.321

Antopoceno XI – Resiliência Socio-ecológica

Today we see  why we need to study and understand social-ecological systems, and not just social systems or ecological systems.

So I start out a little bit with what is the social-ecological systems approach?

To us it’s a concept where people are looked as being part of the planet we’re living on. That may seem extremely self-evident, but it’s not always clear when you look at the relations between people and nature.

Really this point that people and nature are intertwined, and humans are really an embedded part of the planet, and shaping the planet now from local to global scales. And especially the global scale has become a fairly recent one where we are now in the Anthropocene era.

And at the same time, as we are shaping the planet, we are also fundamentally dependent on the capacity of this little round ball that we’re living on to supply us with the basics of food, water, and a lot of ecosystem services, like recycling of basic nutrients and minerals salts that our body needs, or other types of services like regulating the climate.

So, I thought of giving you a few examples of these ecosystem services. Some classical ones often talked about are things like pollination of crops, or seafood production, the capacity of marine systems to produce the food we get from the sea. Carbon sinks are of course a lot of discussed in relation to the climate issue. How can we draw down carbon that we emit into nature through marine systems or through forests? And also regulation of water cycles through rainforests, or the role of parrotfish and other big fish on coral reefs in regenerating reefs after they’d been hit by cyclones. So ecosystems supply an enormous amount of services that people depend upon. And I’d like to use the idea of ecosystem services to illustrate social-ecological systems.

So first let’s move into an area in southern Madagascar. It’s an area where people are poor and live in very worn down landscapes. So if you look from a map of southern Madagascar what you see is really worn down  landscapes. But if you would increase the resolution through a GIS system, or another remote sensing system, you would start to see that there are green spots in the landscapes, like small forest remnants here and there, many of them. And what’s interesting is that these green spots, they connect biodiversity in the region. So everything like lemurs, and a lot of other species need those green small areas. And they also have natural beehives in them and the bees go out in the fields and increase the food production by 30 to 40 to 50% in those regions. So what would you do if you were an ecologist and you would like to protect those green spots? And we would presumably contact the big international conservation NGO, and go to the government of Madagascar and try to make those into protected areas, excluded by humans. So the reason they are there is social and cultural, and not ecological. And actually the whole culture there is dependent on those services generated by those green spots, but they are protected by the belief systems and the worldviews of this culture.

So some key things to think about in relation to that story is that ecosystem services are not just generated by the ecological system or the ecosystem, but by a social-ecological system. And this is quite obvious now when we’re living in the Anthropocene, where people are everywhere shaping all ecosystems all over the planet. And they are complex systems, social-ecological systems, and they are connected across levels; from the local to the global, in time from history to the future. And as we are now living in this interconnected planet I think that the social-ecological is everywhere, it’s not just an exception. There are no ecosystems, there are no social systems, it’s only social-ecological systems.

Let’s take you to the other case, which is a classical one described in anthropology and other social sciences as one of the really good success stories of collective action, where people actually have come together as stewards of a marine resource: the lobster. And the lobster has not been overexploited, which is very unusual in fisheries, as you may all know. And in Maine, people from the lobster fishers have developed norms and rules, and are connected up to the State domain and to global markets, and have a very lucrative industry there around the lobster. So, it has really been described as a fantastic collection action success story, no over-fishing, and beautiful collaborations. But if you expand the horizon from the single lobster to the whole ecosystem in which the lobster lives you discover that the lobster is there largely because all the other species that ate the lobster have been overexploited. So the lobster has taken off like an insect population in the sea and become a huge, vast monoculture. And as you know monocultures are susceptible to shocks and crisis like diseases, for example. And for the south in Cape Cod, about 80%, 75 to 80% of the lobster population has been wiped out due to shell disease. And that seems to be moving up towards Maine now. So the lesson here is that if you create simplified ecosystems for production of a commodity that has a high market value right now, you create vulnerable systems sensitive to these types of shocks.

And that moves us to the whole idea of resilience thinking. Resilience is the capacity to be able to deal with change, to live a change and to make use of change, not only incremental and sudden change, but also shocks and crisis, to turn crisis into opportunities basically.

And in the Maine case they have reduced the resilience of the ecosystem so much that they are susceptible to these type of crises. And the question is to what extent they will be able to deal with it.

Resilience is often divided in three parts.

  • The first part is about persistence, how do we continue to live and develop in the face of these changes?
  • The second part is about adaptability, basically how do we continue to develop on the same path that we are on, and adapt on the path in the face of changing conditions?
  • And the third, which is a very critical one now when we are in the Anthropocene, is how we can shift pathways, development directions into novel ones or new ones?

And we call that transformation; how we can transform societies into new development paths in line with the way the planet operates for human well-being, and for a good life for people on Earth.

The core of resilience thinking, a metaphor for resilience thinking, could actually be from the music industry. A person like Madonna, for example, who has been going through lots of changes on her career path, and actually complete changes in the way she do the music, but still remained on the path of being an artist for a very long time. So, that’s an example of being resilient in the face of change, and also created innovation and novelty in the music as part of that.

Another way to think about resilience, and what we often use, is some type of diagram called the ball and the cup. Where we have found by looking at the real world cases – we often do, we often try to look at the real world, and not just do theories around it.

We have studied several places on the planet with these type of interactions, and we find that they often go through a cycle of three phases.

  • Where they first start to build resilience they know that they’re on a path that’s not sustainable, they try to build resilience to get out of the path, but they can’t do it because they’re locked by other laws, or social norms, or government policies, or business activities.
  • But then suddenly there’s a window of opportunity where the forces aligns, and they can shift over the whole governance structure into a new pathway.
  • And that requires skillful leadership and other actors, and then they can after that start to build resilience of the new path they’re on to be able to continue on that path and live a change. So, the Great Barrier Reef in Australia is one example. A lot of landscapes in southern Sweden are other examples. And also the whole agricultural revolution in in Latin America, a third one.

So here I tried to talk tried to talk about social-ecological systems and gave you two examples of why we need to think about people and nature as totally intertwined, and especially in the Anthropocene. And we’re operating through a new interdisciplinary, or transdisciplinary platforms in the world called sustainability science, which is more defined by the problem that it addresses rather than by the discipline it employs.

So any discipline where any knowledge system or any understanding that can contribute to dealing with these problems of sustainability are part of sustainability science. And the social-ecological approach is a critical one for sustainability science and resilience thinking, another critical way of operating on that pathway311

Antropoceno X – Resiliencia Socio-ecológica

You’ve now worked yourself through deeply into the Anthropocene, including how to turn it into something good, where we humans become wise stewards of planet Earth.

Now this is actually key for the continuation of our modules; the recognition that the insights of the Anthropocene is neither good nor bad. It’s the recognition that we are now in the driving seat, determining our own future.

With this as a base, we will now move into the next module, where we will be probing much more in detail what :

  • we mean with social ecological systems,
  • how humans and nature are interwoven,
  • how societies and ecosystems are interdependent,
  • and how our world depends on a sustainable and resilient Earth.

We’ll also be exploring new concepts of positive and negative feedbacks, regime shifts, teleconnections, and tipping points.

So it will be a challenging  and will see the tools to understand and be able to address some of the more applied opportunities further on.

 

Antropoceno IX – Imaginar o antropoceno

The recognition that humanity is now a force of change at the planetary scale, the evidence that we’re putting exponential and never seen before levels of pressure on the planet is probably the most important message from science to humanity.

So of course it raises the question whether in fact we’re standing on solid scientific grounds when we, based on this evidence, conclude from science that we’ve entered a whole new geological epoch, the Anthropocene.251

The reason why this is important is far away from only being a question of semantics, of whether we in school teach our children that we are in the Anthropocene rather than the Holocene. It is of profound importance because if we recognize that we are in the Anthropocene, if we recognize that we are in the driving seat of changing, and defining the conditions for world development, it also profoundly shifts our attention in terms of economic growth, in terms of social well-being, in terms of development.

So, it is important to look into, a bit deeper, what are the different discussions? What’s the case behind the onset and our thinking on the Anthropocene?

But I would argue, that there’s no doubt whatsoever that this citation holds. That in this current era, whether or not we have an onset of the Anthropocene, over the last hundred years or the last fifty years, the 21st century is in no doubt a situation for humanity where we are defining what nature is.  There’s no untouched, virgin system or piece of nature anywhere left in the world. Everything is influenced by and interconnected between humans. That’s why we never anymore talk about environmental systems and social systems. We talk of social-ecological systems.252

But it should also be recognized that the notion of the Anthropocene has really taken off. It is a notion that has gone way beyond just the scientific domain. It is true it originates from science, and has been articulated very eloquently, and based on the latest evidence from science, but is also increasingly recognized outside of science, in both popular literature and in movies and media, and in different debates around development in the future. So, it’s truly something that is increasingly recognized as a core part of our development paradigm. It, for example, opened the entire Earth Summit in 2012 where the United Nations gathered world leaders in the Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development. The “Welcome to the Anthropocene” film was the starting point of that summit. One major question is, ‘So when in fact did we enter the Anthropocene?

And this graph, which looks quite detailed, and is worth really looking into a bit more profoundly, shows that humanity has of course had an enormous influence on the Earth system for millennia, particularly over the last ten thousand years. Since we entered the Holocene, we invented agriculture eight thousand years back which was the starting point of a transformation at very large scale based on plowing land, cutting forests, starting to take out fresh water from our rivers, and starting to anthropogenically manage the Earth system. We’ve transformed 40% of land areas into agriculture. That has occurred over thousands of years. So many scientists argue that the Anthropocene in fact starts, and as the onset, with the invention of agriculture eight thousand years back.254

But then we have the very important evidence that up until very recently all these changes that have occurred for thousands of years had very little impact on the Earth system as a whole. And this graph summarizes all those pressures and shows that it’s not until we enter the last hundred years, from the 1900s onwards, fifty years into the larger, let’s say going to scale with our Industrial Revolution, that we start seeing the curves bending upwards.

This to me is an argument, which many scientists share, that the onset of Anthropocene in fact is more recent. Even though we have managed large tracts of land and water over millennia, it’s not until just the last fifty, sixty years that the exponential pressures start rising, from the point of the great acceleration in the mid-1950s.

Now the reason why this is important to recognize is again taking one step back to just remind ourselves that the Holocene, portrayed here in terms of ice core data in both the Arctic and Antarctica, has been so extraordinarily stable. So we have this, this sleeping, stable Earth system, which for ten thousand years has remained very stable and also in a predictable way providing a good support for human development. And it’s only then in the last fifty, sixty years that the curve starts moving away from this stable condition. Now to set the exact onset date is not easy, of course. And just let me share with you a few propositions, which are shown in this very nice summary of the different suggestions.255

One is a very exact point, namely the 16th of July 1945. This was the moment of the so-called Trinity experimental detonation of the first nuclear weapon. This US experiment of the nuclear detonation is according to geologists a potential onset point for the Anthropocene because the stratigraphic conditions for geological epoch is in fact that it does leave a layer, a traceable layer, in the sediments that geologists in the future could trace back. And in fact a nuclear detonation would provide such stratigraphic evidence to the future.

So that would be 1945. I would argue that the strongest candidate though is 1955, which is the point when we start the acceleration of human pressures, which shown – which manifest themselves in the exponential curves of pressures. But this is just to give you a few examples of the debates going on within science with regards to the onset of the Anthropocene.

But the conclusion is actually not subject to very large uncertainty, I would argue. Whether it started eight thousand years back, or 16th of July 1945, or in the mid-1950s, the evidence is overwhelmingly clear that we as humanity today constitute the overriding force of change on planet Earth superseding the pace and magnitude of the natural changes, which have occurred over the past millions and billions of years, but today the change is in pace and magnitude unprecedented. And this is the Anthropocene. And whether we like it or not we now have the opportunity to take responsibility in Anthropocene, and attempt to navigate this into what we could call a good Anthropocene, allowing ourselves for sustainable development within a safe operating space.256

Antropoceno VIII – Imaginar o futuro

We’re all living in the Anthropocene today, and I believe that there’s no way that our children will not be living in the Anthropocene, that we have, at least in the terms of centuries, we have transformed the planet in such a way that there’s no going back.

So if we’re going to talk about how we want to live, or anyone wants to talk about how we’re going to live in the future, we have to imagine living in the Anthropocene.242

And what I think is that we haven’t thought enough about living in the Anthropocene, and unfortunately we lack thinking about how we would like to think we would live in the Anthropocene. And there’s a paucity of, especially thinking of more positive visions, of what the Anthropocene could mean.

And this doesn’t mean that the Anthropocene is good, but it is, and good for people, but it means that we have to think about how we can make the Anthropocene, whoever “we” is and whatever “good” means, as good as it can be for us.

So one of the ways I like to think about the Anthropocene is through also popular representations of the future, and, at least in the English-speaking world, there’s been a boom in dystopian literature in the last ten years. And it’s interesting when you try to look through different visions of the future, of how rarely you see positive visions of the future. And these range from, things like, embodied in stuff like Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, a novel and a movie, to “Mad Max,” and all these other films about a collapsed world where the biosphere is severely degraded, and humanity in on the way out, and there people are just struggling to survive.243

In another sense you have this, with the widespread exception of the Anthropocene, there’s been an idea we’re living on engineered Earth, and these futures often downplay the fact of how much we have transformed the planet, but how much we rely upon the biosphere to keep our civilization functioning, which is absolutely essential.

And we need to, in this sense, have more futures that try and think about both how humanity can better fit with the biosphere, and what could it look like if the world didn’t collapse?

There are some visions of this. An old one from California in the ’70s is Ernest Callenbach’s book Ecotopia, which tried to imagine a sustainable society.

But one of the challenges of this kind of thinking is these are often kind of more, locally-based, little sort of, pocket utopias that don’t think about the rest of the world, of what’s going to happen to people who don’t already live in rich countries, and don’t have lots of land.

And then there’s sort of more sort of visionary work, which is very much only in the science fiction world, of thinking about how people could really be planetary engineers, say for example, works by science fiction writer Kim Stanley Robinson thinking about transforming the planet.

But I think as more sustainability scientists, and as people on the planet we need to think about what are ways that we can imagine desirable social-ecological futures? And I think there’s many different things with the Anthropocene that we’re not really thinking enough about.

One of them is that the Anthropocene challenges us to think about there needs to be new ways of thinking about global social integration, because if the world has become a social-ecological system, our webs of global trade, migration are radically changing the planet. And we need to think about the ways in which all the difference in the world can be done to support the biosphere that underpins all our wealth and well-being. Due to these really big differences on the planet we can expect surprises, as we’ve seen so far in the 21st century. We can expect new types of migration, new types of diasporas, new social identities, and new social movements, and new types of economics, and we should be trying to envision what are 244ways we could live on the planet more positively rather than just thinking about what are the dangers to the status quo. Because I think we really need to have a new world and we need some pluralism in how we think about a new world to move forward. And this takes lots of work.

I think a good place to start, or my place to start, is to think about the basic definition of sustainable development, which is generally, something to do with that we need prosperity, there’s an economy that exists within some kind of society, where we need to have fairness, and this is supported by the biosphere, which needs to be sustainable. And I think three, maybe utopian, but reasonable ways of thinking about what would be good for the world, that a lot of people would agree with, and can at least be a starting point for discussion.

Fairness is something that your, who your parents are doesn’t dominate your life chances, and that the world, offers opportunity for all the children who are born in it.231

That is prosperous, that people have an opportunity to live fulfilling lives, and that the current civilization isn’t eliminating the possibilities for people to have good civilizations in the future.

And of course how are we doing today? I think as everyone is aware, our world today is very prosperous, it’s the most prosperous it has ever been. But it’s also extremely unfair in that this prosperity isn’t shared around the world, and it’s not sustainable.

So prosperity, we’re now richer as a planet than we’ve ever been before. People live longer, people are higher educated, and this development is broad-based around the world. However, we’re also hugely unequal. This figure shows, a bit complicated, people’s incomes, in different countries, in different 5% steps, and the total income distribution in the world. And what this shows is that the richest 20-35% of the people living in Uganda, Mali and Tanzania are poorer in terms of income than the poorest people living in Denmark – that the world is tremendously unfair, and this is not a good world.

And finally with sustainability. There’s many different ways of thinking about sustainability, but we know lots of things about how the world works, and we’re not on good trajectories. This graph is a recent graph showing that how from based on looking at IPCC scenarios for the future of just climate change we’re on a very bad trajectory, and that we don’t have to be on that trajectory as a world, but we are on this one so we need to change.

However, we also know that there’s a lot of capacity to have a better planet, that looking at what contributes to human well-being and inequality is showing by actually having a fair world could greatly increase the well being of the planet. We know that by transforming the way we farm, eat, and distribute our food, we could support many more people with the same amount of farmland we have today. And we also know that, as people more and more move to cities, we have lots of opportunities in building new cities and building new urban environments to provide environments that are better for people and nature as people move around the planet.

So there’s a lot of latent capacity. I believe there’s a lot of evidence for having a good Anthropocene, but the challenges, how do we reach this?

And I think we need to have more integrated research that tries to better unite these three, sort of pillars of the Anthropocene, of trying to have more fair — think about how fairness, prosperity, and sustainability can reinforce one another.

But I think as I was talking about in terms of how the 21st century is likely to be surprising, we need to think more about also resilience, that we have to be planning for surprise, maintaining diversity, and keeping our capacity to self-organize to enable us to experiment our ways towards a better Anthropocene because no one knows what that exactly will look like.

And I think it’s also very much we need to kind of keep thinking in these — we need to have these visions of the world, and I think it’s important to look to literature, film, and art to get inspiration to move towards a more beautiful and fun world, not just something that provides income and opportunity to people, but is really an inspiring place to move towards, to enable our transition towards a better Anthropocene. And I think this, expansion of the possible ways of living is very important, because without this when we have transformation, when we have shocks, we’re less likely to be able to use those to move towards a better world, and we have much more opportunity to end up in these bad futures we’ve been envisioning.

So in conclusion, I really believe that we need to have more thinking by more people and more diverse groups of people about what a desirable Anthropocene would look like, and what are some pathways to achieve it. And I think one of the things, to come back to what I’ve said at the beginning, is to try and imagine in fiction, in film, in all sorts of visual representations: what would a world that’s probably going to be warmer, has different animals in it, and has different amounts of nutrients flowing through it, what kind of world would, could that be?  Not would it be, but could it be. And what kind of world would you like it to be that we think we can achieve? And what are kind of things that people can do to work towards this?

And I think there’s no way we’re going to get a blueprint, but by having a diversity of visions from different perspectives; from Asia,  from indigenous perspectives, from urban perspectives, from rural perspectives; we can work towards a vision of a better future. And while dystopias tell us where not to go, they often give us little guidance about where we should strive for, and I think to try and get these stories of thriving, of fairness, of justice, of reconciliation between people, and between people and nature, is something that’s vitally needed.

And I urge everyone who’s listening to this to think about, both for themselves, and trying to think about how we can encourage and spread more desirable positive visions, whatever your definition of positive and desirable is.

Antropoceno VII – O pensamento não linear e a complexidade

So I’m Garry Peterson. I’m a professor at the Stockholm Resilience Centre at Stockholm University. And, I come from an interdisciplinary background, but one of my areas in which I’ve particularly worked is on resilience, and trying to apply resilience to environmental management and governance.

And why I work on resilience is I think resilience is actually a very key idea for working in the Anthropocene. And I think it provides a very useful framework or operating system for organizing our thinking of how to live in the Anthropocene because it has a dual nature of both thinking about sustaining what we want to sustain, to keeping what we want to keep, and building capacity to adapt or transform into something 231better.

Also resilience is very different from a lot of conventional ways of approaching the environment. And these conventional ways are not wrong or bad, but they don’t always fit with especially the world we live in today.  A lot of the ways we think about managing the environment derive, from ideas of optimization and efficiency, which really work well in situations where we know how the world works and we can control what’s going on.

However, in many ways we live in a world, which is increasingly uncertain and surprising and difficult to control. And this is the domain of resilience thinking. Some of which has a lot of thought behind it, and some, especially in these areas of how to deal with really uncertain and uncontrollable situations, there needs to be a lot more work. So what do I mean by conventional management?

Well I think people may or may not have heard about maximum sustained yield, but it’s one of the basic ideas in a lot of natural resource management, which is the idea we want to maximize what we can get out of something over a long period of time. And this is sort of embodies this kind of optimization type approach, and this really works well, when we know how the world works we can control things, and we can optimize it and do really well over time.

However, this view of the world is really key. It depends upon that the world works in kind of a linear way, and I like this figure for thinking about it, meaning that if we hit the world, if the world is changed, that the consequences of that change diminish in time and space. So if a tree falls in the forest that’s important for a moment, but it doesn’t have a big effect further away. And after some years the forest is back to as it was. And that’s true for many things in the world.232

But it’s also not true for many things in the world. In many cases the impact of some action is actually larger far away and over a longer period of time than immediately. And I’m sure everyone can think of cases of this. But one place where I work where we think is a really, excellent example of this, is the Arctic. As many people and animals in the Arctic have very high levels of persistent organic pollutants in their body fat. And that’s because industrial pollution from industries in Europe, especially Asia and North America, are transported by processes to the Arctic and then are biomagnified by animals that live in the Arctic, and then eaten by people who live in the Arctic. And so people who live in what many people would consider almost a pristine environment have some of the highest levels of industrial pollutants in their bodies. These effects are distant in time and space from where they occurred.

And this type of situation is very common, maybe not as common as simple cases but is common in many places where people have transformed the planet and made novel connections. And this is what we’re having more and more in the Anthropocene. And what this suggests is that we need to have different ways of approaching uncertainty and controllability as first, rather than as viewing management as a solution we have to think of it as a sort of a proposition or idea. And if we accept that we don’t know everything about how everything works, and that even if we do know how things work, it’s like they’re going to change over time, it suggests that our management should be viewed much more, rather than answers, as a learning process where we kind of test different ideas, see what works, but we’re really thinking about having some pluralism and change in what we do.233

And this is a lot of types of approaches people have developed these ideas of thinking about adaptive management or experimental management, but there needs to be learning embodied in managing nature. And this is quite different from how most things work.

The other one is that controllability in a diverse world, often you can’t tell people what to do. When rivers cross borders, when carbon dioxide is mixed in the atmosphere to impact all the people of the world, we need to work on ways in which – how do we bring people together? – to agree upon stuff. And when we recognize that it’s not also just about balancing interests, that sometimes a compromise may be ecologically or socially impossible.

We need to think about processes that can build social learning, not just understanding how things work, but shared agreement and trust among people to improve the ability of people to act collectively. And this is again a really different, focus away from a kind of technocratic approach to management to enabling what kind of institutions, (and) what types of actions enable social learning.

So this kind of comes into sort of what in resilience thinking we would say is sort of three big kind of areas for action.

One is trying to develop new understanding to cope with uncertainty, the unknown, and the evolution of new things. We need to think about social, technical, and institutional ways to enable learning.

If we also have novelty though, we also need to build resilience to the unexpected, we need to be prepared for the unexpected, both to be able to cope with shocks, but also to take advantage of potentially positive surprises.234

And finally, I think and maybe most important of all, we need to develop capacity to navigate change. And this is basically so that the learning and change can be very traumatic and people – I mean everyone, myself, you want to keep doing things the way you want to do it, and the way you’ve been used to doing things. But in a changing and transforming world that’s not necessarily an option for us, but we need to make sure there’s some kind of broad social capacity to enhance the ability of people to navigate change, especially people who are maybe marginalized or having change imposed upon them. And what are fair, just and desirable ways to do this is a huge area of research.

So just to finish up, I think it’s also useful that resilience has become a very popular word in the past decade as people have tried to understand and live in the turbulent era were are in.

But I think a lot of this linear thinking gets into the way people think about resilience. And I think if you hear people talking about something that is “resilient,” it should be maximized or good, it’s not really thinking about resilience in a good way. I think resilience thinking is about trying to understand dynamic change, understanding all sort of different processes that interact at different levels that mean you can’t ever sit still even if you want to.

And we need to both have institutions, and ways of managing that embrace uncertainty, and diversity to cope with novelty and surprise. We need to have approaches that navigate rather than, just optimize resilience. And these have to deal with the fact that increasing the resilience of one thing can decrease the resilience of something else. And we have to understand how we deal with these trade-offs, and that we need to have discussions not just about increasing resilience, but what type of resilience do we want to increase? Of whatever is desired it can be increased, but there’s lots of ways that, dysfunctional, undesirable things, such as, for example, our current fossil fuel economy are amazing resilient.

And we need to understand how to undermine the resilience of these things. And it’s this kind of understanding what creates, destroys, trades-off resilience that really needs to be developed in as a resilience thinking for navigating the Anthropocene.

Antropoceno VI – conceito e suas aplicações

Science increasingly shows that the Holocene is our desired state; the state that is stable and able to support human development in a world soon to become 9 billion people. Now the drama is that the evidence on the human pressures on the planet point at the risk of us moving out of the Holocene.221

And in fact it’s gone so far that science today indicates that we are entering a whole new geological epoch, the Anthropocene. Anthros for us humans, 7 billion people multiplied by our industrial metabolism today constitute a force of change, which is in pace and magnitude larger than the geological forces of change that has been pushing the planet in and out of ice ages over the geological history of Earth.

This is indeed a tremendous change in the way we are managing and taking responsibility for our Earth system. And the large changes are increasingly so well documented, not only in terms of the scientific data but also in terms of what we see around ourselves, in terms of deforestation, overfishing, overwhelming use of unsustainable fossil energy sources, and the expansion of many times unsustainable urban developments. So this is the notion and the recognition that our pressure is translating into an entirely new geological epoch.222

The definition of the Anthropocene is important. It is actually not a small thing to change all the books and the definitions we have learned in school in terms of the geological epoch we’re in.

In fact it’s so significant that the institution that defines which geological epoch we’re in, of course the United Kingdom’s, Great Britain’s, Royal Society has put up a whole committee which is currently working on exploring whether we have evidence enough to redefine our epoch to the Anthropocene as a new geological era of man and the dominant force of change on Earth.223

I think it’s important to recognize that in the Anthropocene we must simply relate to the new challenge of navigating what I’ve called a 3-6-9 world. On average science points in the Anthropocene that we’re moving towards a 3 degrees Celsius warming in this century. Again, this is a place we haven’t been over the past 3 million years. We are in the sixth mass extinction of species, the first mass extinction to be caused by human beings, another species in the world. One of these six, by the way, is when we lost the great, large dinosaurs some 65 million years back. And we are committed to 9 billion people.

And that this 3-6-9 world is the world of Anthropocene, which we now need to navigate in terms of finding sustainable development. It’s a world where we cannot exclude rising risks of abrupt, sudden extreme events. Science clearly shows today that already at 1 degree Celsius warming, and the environmental changes we see today in ecosystems we see a larger frequency and impact in terms of heat waves; in terms of influence and effects on rainfall patterns; and in terms of abrupt extreme events, such as the impacts of hurricanes, such as the impacts of sudden extreme weather events, related both to flooding and to droughts.224

It’s a reality where global changes in Anthropocene affect local conditions, and we can no longer separate what happens locally from the global change. And therefore we need to interact across all levels in societies in order to be able to provide prosperity.

It sounds challenging to think of economic development in a large urban area having today to relate to the complex changes in the Earth system, but that is the reality. We can not develop a city, a household, an agricultural system today, planning for fresh water, clean air, ecosystem support, without also understanding that we’re changing the planetary system because it hits back on that local scale, across different scales in the world.

Now another insight of the Anthropocene is the recognition that the Earth system has stayed within very narrow bands for many of the environmental processes that we discussed, as key for sustainable development.

This is one graph showing that over the past 400,000 years, for methane and carbon dioxide, we stay within a very narrow band of just +/- a few hundred ppm on carbon dioxide, in fact never exceeding 280 ppm carbon dioxide over the entire last 500,000 years, and similarly for methane. And we just look, for example, on the situation where we are today, we are seeing that we are vastly moving out of the graph of the maximum/minimum carbon dioxide fluctuations over the past half million years.225

So we’re truly in the Anthropocene performing an experiment, which is way outside of the stability domain we’ve had on the planet for the last several million years, and that these limit cycles are really important because the Earth system tries itself to apply its biogeochemical processes to stay within very narrow bounds for carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus, fresh water, temperature, and that this is a key insight in terms of also our world development.

We also must, as we increasingly recognize, connect these very, very narrow bands of limits within which the Earth system has evolved, the pressures that we’re putting on the system, to the risk of abrupt changes.226

And this is one example of a very seminal piece of work led by colleagues by the Potsdam Institute of Climate Impact Research showing what are the big systems that could actually tip over a tipping point and abruptly change the conditions for life on Earth. For example, that would destabilize the Southeast Asian monsoon systems; for example, that the western Arctic ice sheet abruptly and irreversibly melts, holding several meters sea level rise; for example, that we shift the entire Atlantic thermohaline circulation system, which would make many parts of the northern temperate zones uninhabitable; or that we knock over the Amazon rainforest to a point where it turns into a savannah. These are the challenges we now must incorporate in our development paradigm.

It links also to health. If we start moving along the worst scenario on climate change, which is the red curve shown here that takes us towards 4 degrees C, we must then also recognize that infectious diseases, crop pests and diseases, heat waves and droughts, food insecurity, will increase in the world as temperatures rise, and also reach completely new geographical regions which never had these kind of impacts previously.

And now we have projections that would take us 2, 3, 4, 5, potentially 6 degrees C degrees outside of that range. This is a situation where we now must address how can we bend development back towards Holocene-like conditions, even though we are in the Anthropocene? And that we want to avoid a situation where we let unsustainable development go unbounded, which could take us to a transition into a completely new stable hot state of the planet which would not support the modern world as we know it.

So to conclude, the challenge for humanity is to recognize that the Holocene is our desired state, we’re moving into the Anthropocene, placing us in the driving seat, but we still have a choice. We can navigate ourselves away from the largest risks that the Anthropocene pose. Is this increasingly understood? I would argue yes. And the last slide here shows examples of media outside of science welcoming humanity to the Anthropocene. And The Economist has this wonderful citation in its issue welcoming humanity to the Anthropocene, which I think is a good reflection of how science feels today in the face of these global risks. And it says exactly as follows, “That when reality is changing faster than theory suggests it should a certain degree of nervousness is a reasonable response.”

And I think that is one of the guiding principles for sustainable development in the Anthropocene that precaution must be operationalized as a guiding principle for human development.

The antropocene V – Holoceno e Antropoceno

Where we introduced the big picture, the science behind the evidence showing that we can welcome humanity to the Anthropocene, the Quadruple Squeeze on planet Earth, and the Great Acceleration of the human enterprise.

This coming week, we’ll now explor211e the Anthropocene in much more depth, digging ourselves into the different perspectives and visions on the Anthropocene. Professor Garry Peterson, one of our senior head researchers in regime shifts at the Stockholm Resilience Centre will be joining us this week. And please don’t miss our first hangout at the end of this module.

To understand the human predicament in the globalized phase of environmental change, in a situation where we recognize increasingly that the Earth system self-regulates its stability and that it could push itself away from its current stable state if we trigger the planetary system too far. We must explore something profoundly important in order to help us in the pursuit of global sustainable development, namely to identify what is the desired state of planet Earth?212

We often illustrate it in the following way, namely showing in different cups the stable states that an ecosystem, or in this case the entire planetary system, can reside in. So one of the largest and most important questions for science today is what is the desired state of planet Earth to support the modern world as we know it? And what is really exciting is that science increasingly shows that we have an answer to this question.

And the answer originates, not surprisingly, from paleoclimatic data on ice cores. Now you’ve probably seen this set of data, the fantastic evidence going all the way back almost 1 million years, here at the ice core data going back 800,000 years, showing temperature variability over this period, and the twisting and churning of the Earth system in and out of two stable states; namely, the deep glacial states, the cold, lower points in these graphs that often have a duration of roughly 120-150,000 years, separated by relatively short periods of interglacial warm periods where we have essentially an ice-free state of the planet with ice in the caps.213

Now what is really interesting with this graph is to look particularly at the last two interglacial periods. You see the label Eemian, and then you see the label Holocene. Holocene is the period that we are in right now, the period where we’ve been for the past 10,000 years. But the last time we had a warm interglacial is the Eemian, roughly 120,000 years back. Now this period is interesting because over several thousand years it was two degrees warmer than what we have today in the Holocene. And research shows quite clearly that during that period of 2 degrees Celsius warmer than what we have today in the world of the Holocene, sea levels were in the order of 4-6 meters higher than today.

And this is to me an enormously clear reminder that the Earth system actually has stayed over very long periods of time within very narrow bands of environmental boundaries or levels, and that even small changes can lead to very, very abrupt and large shifts in life conditions on Earth, in this case manifested at sea level rise.214

What you also observe from this curve is something quite extraordinary. On the Y axis you see that temperatures on average change with only +/-4 degrees Celsius, and that’s the difference between having two kilometers of ice above our heads, and the warm, lush environmental conditions that we are so used to in the world of today.

So this is one reminder of the extraordinarily important insight that the environmental conditions on Earth vary and that we have stable states. But let’s not go into trying to answer the question of what is our desired state.

Then we can go into exactly the same data, which is shown here, but only over the past 100,000 years. So this is the last 100,000 years on Earth, again on the Y axis showing variability of temperature, a good proxy of how it was to live on Earth. And what you’ll see now is that this was indeed over almost the entire period a very jumpy ride for humanity indeed.215

We were hunters and gatherers during this period. We were a few million people and we had a very rough time because predominantly because of these enormously rapid jumps between very cold and very warm periods.

It’s an interesting period because we were modern humans during the entire phase, so we had the same ability, both physically and intellectually, to develop civilization as we know it.216

Recent genetic paleoanthropological data shows in fact that the cold point that you might there at roughly 75,000 years back when we had hundreds of meters lower sea level than today and most of the fresh water in the world tied up as ice in the polar regions, we’re probably down to only 15,000 fertile adults on Earth. We were hidden in the Ethiopian highlands and we had a very rough time of survival. We were essentially extinct. And we go through this entire very tough period and enter then this final stable phase which is shown in a circle here which we have learned in school to call the Holocene.

The Holocene is an extraordinarily stable phase for human development. In fact temperatures vary with only +/-1 degrees Celsius. And even though the genetic diversity has been around for millions, often hundreds of millions of years, it is now that everything we know in terms of ecosystems, nature, the biosphere, settles in.

This is where the rainforest, the coral reef systems, the temperate forests, all the wetlands, settle in and establish themselves very permanently in the state that we know. It is now the rainy seasons become predictable. It is now in the northern temperate zone we know that we have almost every year a hundred days of temperature, which allows us to grow food. It is now in the tropical regions we have a hundred days of secure rainfall, allowing ourselves to be able to produce food. And not surprisingly we barely enter the Holocene and what do we do?218

We embark on the most important invention of all time; we invent agriculture. And the exciting thing is that we invent agriculture right at the start of the Holocene in at least four different places simultaneously on Earth. And because we didn’t have SMS or e-mail or chat rooms it’s absolutely proven that this occurred entirely independent of each other, and because of the stable environmental conditions on Earth.

We go into the civilizational development starting off with agriculture, the Mesopotamian empires, the Egyptian empires, the Maya, the Chinese, the Latin American civilizations develop all the way to the great acceleration in the mid-1950s. We’re three billion people and then off we go in the Great Acceleration. We’re 7 billion people today, committed to 9 billion people.

And the scientific conclusion of this single graph is as simple as it is dramatic, that the Holocene is the only stable state of the Earth that we know can support the modern world as we know it.

We can live outside of the Holocene, the planet isn’t bothered, but we would probably not have any chance to support the modern world as we know it, soon with nine billion co-citizens.219

Now this simplifies life tremendously for humanity because we know the Holocene very well. We can define very well the environmental conditions that we need to fulfill in order to remain stable in the Holocene. We understand the carbon cycle, the nitrogen cycle, the phosphorus cycle, the big ecosystems, and this helps us tremendously in defining global sustainability.

Now the proof that we have had major problems during this period are shown in this graph showing the very large exodus that we were triggered or forced to embark on during periods of often very, very cold, dry, and food security-wise challenging situations for humanity. We also know during this period from data from Greenland that the jumps in temperature could be 10-15 degrees Celsius over just periods of decades.

In fact we have 25 such abrupt shifts over just the past 100,000 years, as evidence that it was a very, very difficult ride for humanity during this cold period before entering the Anthropocene.

So overall we need to recognize that the biomes and ecosystems in the world sustain and support the Holocene state of the world. That systems such as rainforests that regulate the carbon sinks in large parts of the rainforest systems, and the rainfall systems regionally; that we have coral reef systems that also regulate the resilience in the ocean, and the ability to circulate heat, and the ability to take up carbon dioxide; the large permafrost regions holding vast amounts of methane; the temperate forest regions that provide a canopy that reflects back heat back into space through its darker colour, but also massive carbon sinks; the systems on the savannahs which in turn regulate large parts of heat fluxes, rainfall trajectories, and also carbon sinks; are all systems that together form part of regulating the stable state of the Holocene.130a

And the conclusion is that we understand the Holocene, we need to preserve the Holocene, and the Holocene is the state that we know can support human development in the future.

The antropocene IV – The Great acceleration

It is a very profound, not to say dramatic, insight that we’ve now entered the globalized phase of environmental change, that we are now a big world on a small planet. And I can tell you that from science this has been something that has been emerging of the enormous advancements in research over the past 10-15 years. And it’s just very recently, just over past 5-10 years that the syntheses in all the data have been put together. It’s not something we’ve known for a very long time. 131

And now I’ll be presenting to you the very latest evidence that proves that we have entered a completely new era. So this is story, the scientific story, of the Great Acceleration.

Now the Great Acceleration starts with the enormous expansion of human exploitation on the world. We see it from urbanization, we see it from the fact that we’ve transformed 40% of land area into food production, and it’s all translating now into data, which looks as follows.

On these graphs here you see from the Industrial Revolution until today the exponential rise for everything that we value in terms of welfare and development, from population growth, economic growth, but even to the number of our paper consumption, and telephone use, and tourism, motor vehicle rising. And you all see the exact same exponential shape.132

But it all translates to an enormous pressure on planet Earth. So the graphs on exactly every key process in the environment, be it biodiversity loss, carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, deforestation, ocean acidification, air pollution, overuse, and eutrophication of lakes and waterways through overloading of nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus, they look exactly the same way as in this right-hand plate. The exponential curves of pressure over the past fifty years.

So this is the drama, that the Great Acceleration is based not on theory or models, it’s based on real world observations of the exponential rise of pressures on essentially every parameter that matters for our own human well-being. If you put all these curves into one curve it looks like this.

Up until roughly the mid-1950s, in fact, we had quite limited pressure on the planet as a whole. It’s not as if we haven’t caused major environmental damage, even disasters, in the history of humanity. In fact, environmental change has had, and caused, and contributed to the collapse of the Mesopotamian irrigation societies, the Maya culture, major, major disruptions. But these were local to regional consequences.133

From the mid-1950s onwards we start the exponential rise to the point where we’re today risking the entire stability of the Earth system. The warnings came early, as you all are aware, with Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring in the early 1960s, with The Limits of Growth from the Club of Rome in 1972. But if you would plot those little points on this graph, and I would urge anyone to do that, you’ll see that, perhaps it wasn’t all that surprising that conventional economists, and policymakers, and business leaders actually criticized and questioned these warnings, which came so early, insightfully, way before we had the evidence. You know, the curve, which had barely started to rise, could actually go anywhere in the future.

But today we are at the top of that exponential curve. Today we’re sitting on a mountain of empirical evidence that we are causing a vast, large global experiment on planet Earth. We are in fact the first generation to know that we’re undermining the ability of the Earth system to support human development.134

This is a profound new insight. It is not very, very scary potentially. It is also an enormous privilege because it means that we’re the first generation to know we need to change. We’re the first generation to know that we now need to navigate a transformation to a global sustainable future. And this is where the real excitement arises, that sustainable solutions exist to be able to carry out that transition.

Now this all comes across as relatively theoretical when we look at these large curves of exponential pressure. But they do translate immediately to, for example, measurable temperature rise, which has risen in the order of 0.6 degrees Celsius just over the past thirty, forty years, 1degree C over the past hundred years, causing already today challenges for the world economy.

And we see it from the empirical data in terms of temperature trends across the world, and we get it documented in scientific synthesis, such as the latest update from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. So there’s an enormous amount of evidence to support the conclusion that we are in the Great Acceleration, and need a great transformation.135

But it’s not only about the environment. So here you see a joint set of curves showing on the right-hand side what I previously showed you, the exponential pressures in terms of biodiversity loss, carbon dioxide, fertilizer use, etc. But you see on the very left-hand side you see curves that are very similar to this trend. The upper one is the trend on obesity and stuntness.

We have today a world with almost 1 billion obese and over 1 billion of absolutely malnourished, a trend where the obesity is rising, and lifestyle-related diseases are rapidly moving in the wrong direction.

The second graph shows antibiotic resistance in our food producing systems. So we are today aware of the fact that agriculture is the world’s largest single source of the negative exponential rise in environmental pressures. But it also has tremendous health implications in terms of everything from lifestyle-related non-communicable diseases, in terms of the exponential rise in the world of, for example Diabetes Type 1. But also in rising risks because were situating ourselves in a position where antibiotic, which is used very intensively in livestock production, can no longer securely help us treat very basic diseases.136

So it’s a complex again where we need to understand in an integrated way the social, ecological, the health, human well-being, and environmental changes we’re posing and subjecting ourselves to in this situation of a Great Acceleration.

To add to the challenge we need to recognize that we have two giants colliding right at this very moment. Because you see the pressures we’ve discussed so far are only, so to say, manifesting the degree to which we’re putting pressure on the planet.137

The big question, of course, is how planet Earth responds. So the first giant that we now need to face is the recognition that these pressures translate increasingly to risks of abrupt tipping points that the Earth system may respond by suddenly and irreversibly undermining the ability, for example, of forests, land areas, and oceans to deliver to the economy.

But the second giant, which is colliding right as we speak, is something that we often underestimate. The global curves I’ve showed so far, the exponential rise of pressures have at large been caused by the rich minority on planet Earth, the 1.5 billion affluent people that have been largely part of the Industrial Revolution and its success so far.138

It is now we’re going to scale with the ability of all citizens on the Earth to have a right to development, and that adds up to a completely new magnitude of pressures. But you should also recognize that we need to translate that to the reverse, namely the ethics of providing the right for all inhabitants to have an equal access to the ecological, the remaining ecological space in the world.

And that is one of the key challenges we need to discuss much more in terms of defining development in the future. It also translates to exponential curves related to development.139

This is data showing a very similar exponential hockey stick curve, but showing water scarcity in the world. Over the same period as the Industrial Revolution we have almost, can you believe it, three billion people suffering from water scarcity, almost half of the world’s population. And the exponential curves you see in dotted lines here is a success story of trying to solve this problem. This is the expansion of dams, reservoirs, irrigation systems, boreholes, etc., showing that even though we have used technology as far as we ever can, we’re still chasing our own tail. We still have a very large proportion of people in the world suffering from water scarcity. So on top of all the challenges in the future we must recognize that we have an enormous challenge also related to the current situation in the world.

The same goes for energy. This is the exponential curve in energy use in the world, on the left-hand side originating from the Global Energy Assessment, a large assessment that was finished roughly 1.5-2 years back, showing that our economic development requires modern energy use. So we have this enormous challenge of a rising demand and use of energy, that we with nine billion people increasingly affluent must increase energy use, and at the same time we need a transition, shown in the right-hand graph, to a world which is largely free for emissions of carbon dioxide by mid-century to be able to stay below 2 degrees Celsius.130a

This is the grand challenge for humanity to be able to do this transition by bending these exponential curves in the Anthropocene.

But we’re not only facing negative exponential curves of pressures on the planet. We also have exponential curves of solutions, and, for example, to solve one of the world’s absolute largest challenges, the transition of the world’s energy system into a sustainable energy future, we are also seeing today almost a surprisingly rapid exponential rise of adoption of renewable energy systems.

And in these graphs you see examples of data showing the installations of solar PV systems and wind power systems just over the past twenty years. And up until just ten years back the rises were very slow, and now we’re on an exponential rise, which actually shows that for many economies in the world we’re starting to go to scale with renewable energy systems.

Exactly this opportunity of understanding the challenges, translating those to different forms of incentives and market-based regulations, policies, that can unleash innovation, not only in the energy system but also in terms of a transition to a sustainable food production, to a transition to circular business models in all types of industries, which can enable an exponential rise in sustainable solutions, which can enable us to bend the curves of negative change so that we enter the desired safe operating space of a stable planet.

The Antropocebne III – The Quadruple Squeeze

130aIn this lecture I’d just like to lay out to you what are the driving forces that explain why we’ve ended up in this new juncture with rising global environmental risks.

And it arises from what I’ve called a planetary squeeze, originating from four different large driving forces, the so-called quadruple squeeze from the world on planet Earth.

This squeeze arises from four different areas. And the first one is clearly population pressure. And population pressure is not about just the numbers, but it’s worth laying them out. We were three billion people at the point where we started the great acceleration of human pressures on the planet in the mid-1950s. We’re today seven billion people and we’re on our way, in fact committed, to nine billion people in only less than forty years, by 2050. But you see that absolute main driving force which is coupled to human population is not about numbers, it’s about affluence, it’s about what we call the 2080 dilemma, that the bulk of the global environmental problems that we face today are caused by the rich minority that stepped onto the Industrial Revolution in the mid-18th century. And the vast majority of co-citizens on Earth, the poor co-citizens in our world, have actually contributed very little to the damage and degradation we see so far.

But we’ve just now come to juncture, which is absolutely unique. It is now we’re starting to see the positive opportunity of eradicating poverty in the world, of eradicating hunger in the world, of having the majority, in fact the projection shows that we are moving from a world with 1.52 billion middle income citizens in the world to a world with 4, 5, 6 billion people with an average income equivalent to the developed nations in the world.

This is enormously positive, it’s an enormous opportunity, it’s even a right to development, but of course poses enormous challenges if we continue on an unsustainable route.

The second pressure is the one that we almost always focus on when we talk about global environmental change, namely human-caused climate change. Here we also have a dilemma related to three numbers.

The first one is 450 ppm, the concentration of greenhouse gases that normally is translated from science as the point beyond which we risk very damaging and even dangerous temperature rise.

The dilemma is that we have reached 450 ppm. 2014 is the year when we reach 450 ppm for all greenhouse gases. We are already in a danger zone. In fact science shows that we should try to stabilize at 400 ppm or below, meaning, to put it a bit bluntly, that even if we shut down the world today we are in a danger zone, and all projections show that emissions of greenhouse gases continue to rise in the world.

And the dilemma is that the pathway we’re heading is toward 560 ppm and beyond, which is a level way beyond anything that science stipulates as safe.

So this is the climate pressure. And you would have wished that this in fact, the largest ever environmental experiment to be performed on planet Earth, human-caused destabilization of the energy system in the atmosphere, would occur on a resilient and strong planet, you would have wished to have a strong, experimental object when you punch the system so hard as were doing when we are emitting greenhouse gases.

But unfortunately we now know from science that over the last fifty years we have undermined the ability of the Earth system to cope with climate change faster than ever before. The United Nations Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, the first global health control of the world’s ecosystems, show very clearly that over the past fifty years we’ve lost approximately 60% of the ecosystem functions and services that not only support human well being directly, but also which regulate the capacity of the Earth system to buffer, for example, climate change. One of them being, for example, the carbon sinks in ecosystems and oceans that we’ll come back to throughout the course.

But this is not enough. Not only do we have a climate crisis and an ecosystem crisis, the space within which we can operate safely is reduced by the insights that we can no longer exclude abrupt, sudden changes, what we’ll be calling “tipping points” or “thresholds.” And these tipping points and thresholds mean that the space, in terms of how many resources we can utilize on Earth, reduces very drastically. And it arises from the insight that we’ve always assumed that we can predict changes in the Earth system, such as in the oceans, and in forests, and lakes, and ecosystems in a predictable way, and that things change slowly and linearly.

But science now shows that that is the exception. The rule is surprise, very long periods of in fact very limited change, because systems have an in-built resilience to deal with change, just like you can see a boxer in a boxing competition getting one punch after the other and still standing. But then suddenly comes that final punch which means a knockout. Exactly the same type of abrupt knockouts is what we’re seeing in the biosphere.

And these are the four driving forces that changes the situation for humanity on Earth, that our precious Earth system is subject to a population, climate change, ecosystem, and the insights of surprise, which reduces the space for human development on Earth.

Now what are some of the examples behind this evidence?

Well the first one is on affluence. And this is data from the OECD showing the quite dramatic projections until 2050, where we’ll be nine billion people, shown here on the x-axis, and the green big area here shows the projected economic growth for the world. Can you imagine?

The world is projected to have a three times larger world economy in just 2050. The reason for this is predominantly shown in the red and yellow boxes, which shows the very positive trajectories for the world’s developing nations. Almost 500% GDP growth over the next thirty years. This is the affluence driving force.

The climate driving force is very well articulated in the latest scientific update from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Here are just some key findings.

On the left-hand side you see the very dramatic scenarios to the future, which takes us all the way to the end of this century, and the possible trajectories in terms of the temperature rise. The red curve, the curve which we certainly do not want to end up with, is the curve that on average takes us to 4 degree C warming, a place where we haven’t been for the past four million years. The blue curve is if we would be able to bend the emission of greenhouse gases over the next 5-10 years and take us to a safe future below two degrees warming. But look at the black dots on this graph, and I really recommend you to study this graph particularly, if you have a chance. The black dots are observations. We’re following the disastrous 4 degree C pathway. So this is why we have such a large squeeze on climate.

On ecosystems, I’m just taking one example here, we’ll come back to this, which is showing the risks of deforestation. We’re learning more and more for rainforests, and this is an example from the Amazon rainforest, that if we cut down large tracts of rainforest, that combined with climate change, means that we dry out the entire system. And that is very dangerous for rainforests because the majority of the rain in rainforests is self-generated. You need a very, very large canopy of trees, which evaporate water, self-generates rainfall. But when you open up these systems they self-dry and can cross the tipping point and become savannahs.

So this is an example of the risks we take because this undermines freshwater supply to big cities, it undermines the ability to produce food, and therefore is an enormous risk with regards to livelihoods. It also makes us lose one of the large global carbon sinks.

And finally the risk of tipping points, which is moving from this example of a beautiful biodiverse marine coral reef system, supplying livelihoods for hundreds of millions of people in coastal regions worldwide, which we know today can abruptly shift over and become dead zones. For example, triggered by long, long periods of overfishing, eutrophication, sediments from agriculture, global warming, the system loses resilience slowly but surely, becomes vulnerable, but then a trigger, such as a linear event means that the whole system due to bleaching topples over and becomes permanently locked in a desertified state.

We’ll come back to the following graph which is a very dramatic piece of research showing that if we continue losing biodiversity at this pace by mid-century we can no longer exclude a global tipping point in terms of loss of genetic diversity on Earth. And if we lose that biodiversity we would lose the basis for human development and world prosperity as we know it.

So this is just some of the flavors of the science, why we can today say we are subjecting our own Earth, the basis for our own world development, to a quadruple squeeze of population affluence, climate, ecosystem crisis, and the understanding that we can no longer exclude abrupt tipping points that can lead to sudden changes that permanently puts us in a very undesired situation.

This is the challenge we’re facing, and this is what we need to navigate if we are really thinking about future generations.

The Antropocene II – The Big picture

It is a very profound, not to say dramatic, insight that we’ve now entered the globalized phase of environmental change, that we are now a big world on a small planet. And I can tell you that from science this has been something that has been emerging of the enormous advancements in research over the past 10-15 years. And it’s just very recently, just over past 5-10 years that the syntheses in all the data have been put together.121

It’s not something we’ve known for a very long time. And now I’ll be presenting to you the very latest evidence that proves that we have entered a completely new era. So this is story, the scientific story, of the Great Acceleration.

Now the Great Acceleration starts with the enormous expansion of human exploitation on the world. We see it from urbanization, we see it from the fact that we’ve transformed 40% of land area into food production, and it’s all translating now into data, which looks as follows.

On these graphs here you see from the Industrial Revolution until today the exponential rise for everything that we value in terms of welfare and development, from population growth, economic growth, but even to the number of our paper consumption, and telephone use, and tourism, motor vehicle rising. And you all see the exact same exponential shape.122

But it all translates to an enormous pressure on planet Earth. So the graphs on exactly every key process in the environment, be it biodiversity loss, carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, deforestation, ocean acidification, air pollution, overuse, and eutrophication of lakes and waterways through overloading of nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus, they look exactly the same way as in this right-hand plate. The exponential curves of pressure over the past fifty years.

So this is the drama, that the Great Acceleration is based not on theory or models, it’s based on real world observations of the exponential rise of pressures on essentially every parameter that matters for our own human well-being.

If you put all these curves into one curve it looks like this. Up until roughly the mid-1950s, in fact, we had quite limited pressure on the planet as a whole. It’s not as if we haven’t caused major environmental damage, even disasters, in the history of humanity. In fact, environmental change has had, and caused, and contributed to the collapse of the Mesopotamian irrigation societies, the Maya culture, major, major disruptions.123

But these were local to regional consequences. From the mid-1950s onwards we start the exponential rise to the point where we’re today risking the entire stability of the Earth system. The warnings came early, as you all are aware, with Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring in the early 1960s, with The Limits of Growth from the Club of Rome in 1972.

But if you would plot those little points on this graph, and I would urge anyone to do that, you’ll see that, perhaps it wasn’t all that surprising that conventional economists, and policymakers, and business leaders actually criticized and questioned these warnings, which came so early, insightfully, way before we had the evidence.

You know, the curve, which had barely started to rise, could actually go anywhere in the future. But today we are at the top of that exponential curve. Today we’re sitting on a mountain of empirical evidence that we are causing a vast, large global experiment on planet Earth.

We are in fact the first generation to know that we’re undermining the ability of the Earth system to support human development.124

This is a profound new insight. It is not very, very scary potentially. It is also an enormous privilege because it means that we’re the first generation to know we need to change. We’re the first generation to know that we now need to navigate a transformation to a global sustainable future. And this is where the real excitement arises, that sustainable solutions exist to be able to carry out that transition.

Now this all comes across as relatively theoretical when we look at these large curves of exponential pressure. But they do translate immediately to, for example, measurable temperature rise, which has risen in the order of 0.6 degrees Celsius just over the past thirty, forty years, 1degree C over the past hundred years, causing already today challenges for the world economy.

And we see it from the empirical data in terms of temperature trends across the world, and we get it documented in scientific synthesis, such as the latest update from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. So there’s an enormous amount of evidence to support the conclusion that we are in the Great Acceleration, and need a great transformation.125

But it’s not only about the environment. So here you see a joint set of curves showing on the right-hand side what I previously showed you, the exponential pressures in terms of biodiversity loss, carbon dioxide, fertilizer use, etc. But you see on the very left-hand side you see curves that are very similar to this trend. The upper one is the trend on obesity and stuntness. We have today a world with almost 1 billion obese and over 1 billion of absolutely malnourished, a trend where the obesity is rising, and lifestyle-related diseases are rapidly moving in the wrong direction.

The second graph shows antibiotic resistance in our food producing systems. So we are today aware of the fact that agriculture is the world’s largest single source of the negative exponential rise in environmental pressures. But it also has tremendous health implications in terms of everything from lifestyle-related non-communicable diseases, in terms of the exponential rise in the world of, for example, Diabetes Type 1.

But also in rising risks because were situating ourselves in a position where antibiotic, which is used very intensively in livestock production, can no longer securely help us treat very basic diseases. S

o it’s a complex again where we need to understand in an integrated way the social, ecological, the health, human well-being, and environmental changes we’re posing and subjecting ourselves to in this situation of a Great Acceleration.

To add to the challenge we need to recognize that we have two giants colliding right at this very moment. Because you see the pressures we’ve discussed so far are only, so to say, manifesting the degree to which we’re putting pressure on the planet. The big question, of course, is how planet Earth responds. So the first giant that we now need to face is the recognition that these pressures translate increasingly to risks of abrupt tipping points that the Earth system may respond by suddenly and irreversibly undermining the ability, for example, of forests, land areas, and oceans to deliver to the economy.

But the second giant, which is colliding right as we speak, is something that we often underestimate. The global curves I’ve showed so far, the exponential rise of pressures have at large been caused by the rich minority on planet Earth, the 1.5 billion affluent people that have been largely part of the Industrial Revolution and its success so far. It is now we’re going to scale with the ability of all citizens on the Earth to have a right to development, and that adds up to a completely new magnitude of pressures. But you should also recognize that we need to translate that to the reverse, namely the ethics of providing the right for all inhabitants to have an equal access to the ecological, the remaining ecological space in the world.

And that is one of the key challenges we need to discuss much more in terms of defining development in the future. It also translates to exponential curves related to development. This is data showing a very similar exponential hockey stick curve, but showing water scarcity in the world.

Over the same period as the Industrial Revolution we have almost, can you believe it, three billion people suffering from water scarcity, almost half of the world’s population. And the exponential curves you see in dotted lines here is a success story of trying to solve this problem. This is the expansion of dams, reservoirs, irrigation systems, boreholes, etc., showing that even though we have used technology as far as we ever can, we’re still chasing our own tail. We still have a very large proportion of people in the world suffering from water scarcity. So on top of all the challenges in the future we must recognize that we have an enormous challenge also related to the current situation in the world.

The same goes for energy. This is the exponential curve in energy use in the world, on the left-hand side originating from the Global Energy Assessment, a large assessment that was finished roughly 1.5-2 years back, showing that our economic development requires modern energy use. So we have this enormous challenge of a rising demand and use of energy, that we with nine billion people increasingly affluent must increase energy use, and at the same time we need a transition, shown in the right-hand graph, to a world which is largely free for emissions of carbon dioxide by mid-century to be able to stay below 2 degrees Celsius.

This is the grand challenge for humanity to be able to do this transition by bending these exponential curves in the Anthropocene. But we’re not only facing negative exponential curves of pressures on the planet.

We also have exponential curves of solutions, and, for example, to solve one of the world’s absolute largest challenges, the transition of the world’s energy system into a sustainable energy future, we are also seeing today almost a surprisingly rapid exponential rise of adoption of renewable energy systems. And in these graphs you see examples of data showing the installations of solar PV systems and wind power systems just over the past twenty years. And up until just ten years back the rises were very slow, and now we’re on an exponential rise, which actually shows that for many economies in the world we’re starting to go to scale with renewable energy systems.

Exactly this opportunity of understanding the challenges, translating those to different forms of incentives and market-based regulations, policies, that can unleash innovation, not only in the energy system but also in terms of a transition to a sustainable food production, to a transition to circular business models in all types of industries, which can enable an exponential rise in sustainable solutions, which can enable us to bend the curves of negative change so that we enter the desired safe operating space of a stable planet.

Fronteiras do Planeta – The Antropocene I

The  Antropocene

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.111

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.