Arquivo de etiquetas: fronteiras

Antropoceno XLIII – ciência, politica e ação individual no antropoceno

We are now entering  in final module on this lecture series on Planetary Boundaries and Human Opportunities.

In the previous module, we dug ourselves into the challenges of translating our Planetary Boundaries science and challenges in the Anthropocene into global governance, the role of technology, the transitions humanity face in terms of energy, food, urban, pathways towards a future of growth and development within a safe operating space.

We looked into the challenges related to sustainable and resilient urban development and trying to position our new thinking on global sustainability within the realm of opportunity and development for humanity in the future.

Now in this eighth and final module, we’d like to integrate and synthesize and summarize all the insights across the entire set of lectures. We’d like to do that in the context of the big global policy agenda on transforming the Millennium Development Goals to Sustainable Development Goals.

We’d like to do it also by sharing the latest thinking in how science is organizing itself and also opening opportunities for young scientists and bright minds to engage in the new opportunities around not only interdisciplinary research but also research for solutions and exploring avenues towards a future within a safe operating space.

In doing so and inspired by all your inputs into the forum and personal insights, we’ve also gathered the entire team of lecturers to share with you their personal reflections and insights, originating and being inspired by the contents of the entire course and engagement with all of you during these weeks.

We’d also like to remind you that even this week, please do keep the discussions and connections and ideas lively on the forum. We still hope that we together can take this course as a starting point to engage further in the future on exploring solutions for global sustainability.

So see this week as an opportunity and a Launchpad to start a dialogue that will go way beyond the weeks that we’ve had together over the past two months.


Antropceno XLII – Reencontrar a Humanidade no mundo urbano

I look at how trade enables movement of food and feed anywhere on our planet. And I’m also the Director of Studies, so I like to teach about all the things that we do here, in an inspiring way hopefully.

More than half of the population today lives in cities. And although we are no longer an agrarian societies we are still utterly dependent on agriculture for our food. And those of us who live in cities I think are disconnected from where our food comes from and how it’s made. I think we’re actually disconnected from the entire process of agriculture.

And part of this is because of global trade. Global trade lets us urban citizens consume foods from anywhere on the globe, produced far outside the city borders. And it also enables us to never actually see what’s going on in agriculture production.761

So urban consumers are different. Right now we need to deal with this balancing act too when it comes to feeding cities and feeding us to potentially feed the future estimated 9 billion people. We need to have more food, we need to maintain livelihoods of farmers, and we need to remain within the Earth’s capacity.

So we need to produce maybe 60% more calories of food. And we need to at the same time safeguard the livelihoods of the poorest 900 million people, 70% of which are very closely tied to livestock production.

We already see a 20% decline in the number of farmers on this planet in the last 50 years. Somebody’s got to grow our food. And we can’t continue doing farming and fishing in a way that degrades the natural basis for production.762

So there’s some unique challenges in the nexus of cities and food and sustainability. Urban dwellers do not understand agriculture production. That’s the first main challenge.

Second is that urban populations are wealthier. We consume more – because I’m an urban person too – and mostly though we consume differently. That 60% of new calories that we need to get, it’s not just because there’s going be 2 billion more people on the planet, it’s because we want to eat things like meat. We eat things – we eat fruit, we eat vegetables in city. That’s different than the traditional more grains-based diet.

The third kind of unique challenge is that there’s no longer going be just local production feeding the local population. The vast majority of food production is coming from far outside the city areas.763

Fourth, we see changing values, cultural values, in the urban areas. With this highly networked kind of place that we live in in cities, this globalized world, has become more westernized. And these type of western diets are very different and they’re resource-demanding too.

And last, fifth, is that urban cities, urban areas, are engine rooms of people that drive the free market system. So when we change our diets, when we urban dwellers choose different diets, we transfer that into the market system, we’re demanding different things. And that’s a challenge.

So I looked with my colleagues at three different food systems, and I mapped these developing country kind of capital regions in Australia, in Denmark and in Japan, and to see how they had different approaches to achieving their own food security systems.764

So Canberra in Australia, Canberra can provide more food for itself, but it’s chosen – since 1965 it produces less food in its own areas. And that’s because, partially because, urban dwellers in the Canberra area, they prefer – and they’re the ones with the political power – they are the ones that prefer smaller, more pristine ecosystem-like areas, and they’re pushing actually for less agriculture production inside the Canberra area. And that means that they’re – the Canberra is having to import more food.

In Copenhagen, Copenhagen could be self-sufficient but they’ve chosen instead to not be, they’ve chosen instead to import feed inputs, to value add it, and export pork.

Japan, Tokyo, can not provide for the whole 40 million people in the city. They have really high yields, they have a very productive production system, but they can’t provide for 40 million people in the land area. But you can see that because they place a very high cultural value on the food that you can see that they actually manage to maintain very high production levels of the traditional types of pork, rice, and cabbage.

So these are three different approaches that these cities have taken, and you can see that this is how they’ve solved their food systems. So this kind of study is useful I think because cities are going to need to manage food security by learning where in the world – what agricultural ecosystems they need to support their consumption.765

And I think Japan is a good example, the example of how many cities are going to feed themselves now. They’re going to depend on very large area outside of the city limits for their food provision. But there’s another reason that you want to make sure that you know where your food is coming from. And for example in 2010 when there was a large drought you could see that the willingness of certain countries to export food, for example Australia was not as willing, and partly because they didn’t have the amount of production of milk and butter, Japan had to look elsewhere to find these sources.

In 2010 during the droughts Russia decided not to export grains to the EU and the big cities in the EU. So you need to know where your food is coming from if you’re going to manage your food security.

And thinking about planetary boundaries, food actually is affecting every single one, it plays a role in all of the nine planetary boundaries. And people talk about deforestation, tropical deforestation, and land use change, but there’s another kind of deforestation that I haven’t heard as much about, which I’ve looked at, and that is related to aquaculture. And it’s related to mangrove deforestation. For example, more than half of the mangrove areas along Thailand’s coasts have been deforested to produce jumbo shrimp aquaculture. And that consumption is driven by rich consumers in the United States and Europe.

Another specific example, which is actually maybe a good success story, where we’re seeing the ozone depletion reduced is the fact that the CFCs, the chlorofluorocarbons, were originally used for refrigeration, for food. So we were able to ship and store food, and that’s why we were using so much chlorofluorocarbons. So these are, yeah, two just specific examples of how food is tied. And there’s many examples of how food is tied to all the planetary boundaries.

I’d like to finish talking with you today and leave you on a good note. There are many good examples of some fun innovations that come from cities. Urban gardening, even though it may not be able to feed the vast majority of us, but there are some really good examples. For example is Dar es Salaam it’s estimated that maybe 90% of the vegetables are actually produced in the urban area. And that in Hanoi they’ve maybe managed to produce up to 60% of their rice, right there in the urban area. So there are some places where they are managing to produce quite a bit of food right in the urban areas.

But I’d like to finish with my own close to home example where I have a Masters student who has started a company, Bee Urban, in Stockholm, and she and her friends are putting beehives out on urban roofs all over Stockholm, and by increasing the habitat for the bees we now have pollination services throughout Stockholm, and we can maybe even say that this is improving our capability here to do urban gardening in Stockholm.

So these are just a few examples of some really exciting and fun things that are happening in cities when it comes to food production and food innovations. There are many, many different fun things going on, there are many different ideas, many different things that should be happening. We shouldn’t have one solution. There are many different ways, and many different things that we should be doing. I encourage you to find out what’s important for you, and think about what you ate for lunch, and where it came from. Thank you.

Antropoceno XLI – Caminhos da Transição: novos caminhos das cidades

What’s actually happening in the city ? When talking about the Anthropocene and about the future challenges, there are so many challenges and negative things we have to deal with. But I discovered when actually coming to the urban and the city there are also fantastic opportunities to solve these problems, and that is what really excites me.

We’re going to go through both some of the challenges because they are there, but also we’re going to particularly look at what are the opportunities here to solve some of these big problems we have had?

So talking about the challenges of course. Urban areas are expanding; more people live in cities than in rural areas in the world. And we also know that urban areas are expanding actually much faster than the urban population, and this is called urban sprawl. So we’re consuming a lot of land. And this is particularly worrisome because we’re also consuming a lot of prime agricultural land, which would then would have knockout effects on forests and savannahs and biodiversity in other areas.751

So this is something we need to deal with. But urbanization is diverse. So we have on the one hand megacities we have by now around 30 megacities in the world with a population of more than 10 million. By 2030 we will have maybe fifty. So there is a huge expansion of these really large cities. But there is also another pattern that we need to think of, and that is the most of population growth in the world the next 20 years will happen in small and medium size cities. And there’s a lot of land that’s going to be consumed when these cities expand and grow. And that we should also not forget that in this diversity of urbanization we also have shrinking cities, and particularly in eastern Europe, parts of Japan, eastern North America, we can cities that actually are shrinking, they are losing population, and we have a city-to-city migration, which also opens up opportunities when it comes to biodiversity, ecosystem services and managing land.

So some of the key challenges are looking ahead with organization is that we will need more resources for a growing population, and also that when people move into cities they become more affluent, and they will increase their consumption of red meat, for example. So the dependence on land is going to increase. And just as an example, London today is requiring an area a 125 times the size of the city. And that’s the size of the UK’s entire productive land surface. And this dependence on land is going to increase and that’s why we need to understand and manage this is a way that we could actually have a sustainable production.752

So the first point I want to make is that local governments need to address this land consumption and land management in a very active way in the future. And that’s one of the keys for sustainable development. And examples of what will happen when land is consumed is that urban areas will infringe into biodiversity hotspot areas, for example.

And just to take an example, 25% of the world’s protected area today are within 17 kilometers of a city. In 10 years it will be less than 15 kilometers. Data around this [has] been developed in a large global study called the Cities of Biodiversity Outlook, which was requested by the UN and looking at the challenges but also the opportunities. And Ban Ki-Moon writes in the preface of this study that as he viewed it the principal message is that urban areas must offer better stewardship of the ecosystems on which they rely.

And this is actually what we’re going to explore for the rest of this lecture on what are these opportunities and what does this stewardship actually mean? Because there are opportunities. Looking ahead until 2030 we could see that all the urban land we expect to have in 2030, 60% has yet to be built. There’s an enormous investment ahead of us for the next two decades in all types of infrastructure. And we need to get that investment right to get on a sustainable pathway for the planet.753

And I would argue that this is the key for a sustainable planet, that we actually get urban development into a greening path. These investments are going to be made anyway. If we turn them into a green, more sustainable direction that’s the key. And we will show you some examples.

Humans living in urban areas are dependent on clean air, on clean water, food, and many resources. And urban ecosystems, the living world of urban area could actually promote and provide some of these benefits. These are called ecosystem services that could clean the air, help clean the water, and integrating living systems with a built environment in these ways I think open up fantastic opportunities to create urban areas that are livable, healthy, and prosperous, and would actually – are providing an environment for people that they enjoy and create a rich life, but also in a sustainable way.754

So giving an example. One of the challenges we have ahead of us is of course climate change. And one of the most likely effects of climate change that would affect people is urban heat waves. We’re going to see a lot of these examples in the future where very hot temperature will prevail in cities. And just as an example the consequences of these are immense. In Europe we had a huge heat wave in 2003 and it’s estimated we had 70,000 excess deaths.

So how are we going to deal with urban heat waves? One way of doing it is actually to start planting trees in the city, because there is a very clear effect – cooling effect of trees. If you increase the canopy cover from 10 to 20% you would decrease the ambient temperature with anything between 3 and 8 degrees C, which is substantial.755

And while you’re planting a tree in the city, you’re planting many, you would also get a lot of other benefits that are related to culture, to air cleaning, to reducing peak and precipitation, all other benefits. Which we just started to value and started to understand.

So here are lots of opportunities that combining the built environment with a living environment to actually address and solve a lot of these challenges we have ahead.756

And just as an example where this is actually taking into action and implementation, Mexico City has launched a huge program where they will build 10 000 square meters of green roof to provide cooling, and regulate humidity, and also provide sites for biodiversity in Mexico City. And they also have a program for conserving land with the similar purpose of contribute to cooling the city and contribute to maintaining some of the very rich biodiversity in the city area.

And another important challenge when we look ahead is that we will have a growth of cities and a growth of population, but the average age, or the age of this growing urban population will be there will be young people. So the majority of people living in the world and in the cities in the future will be below the age of 20.

And there is a huge educational challenge here, but also opportunities. If we could find ways of engaging young people in managing, and restoring, and enjoying the living world in the urban area I think that’s one of the most fundamental keys for a sustainable pathway.

So just as an example of hundreds and hundreds of exciting projects going on around the world in cities, here’s one from New York City, in [the] Bronx where a group call themselves Rocking the Boat have engaged with disadvantaged kids in [the] Bronx and engaged them in restoring oyster banks and learning about the river, and how to clean up the river, how to create an environment in [the] Bronx that is actually beautiful which people would enjoy, and also learning about how nature actually could be an asset and something you could actually use in a very constructive, positive way to create a livable environment.

So my final message here is that cities have the unique potential to generate the innovation and governance tools that we need, and can and must take the lead in sustainable development. Most action in the world happens at the local scale. So if we could bring citizen NGOs, local governments together, with support from national governments, with support from regional government structures, like the European Union and others, and with support from the UN, I think there is so many things, so many exciting things, we could do at the local scale, where we could bring in already knowledge we have, and bring in new creativity and new thinking, new ideas to solve these problems. And I think it’s absolutely possible. It’s just that we have to come together, sit down and say we’ve got to do it. Thank you.

Antropoceno XL – Funções e Riscos das Tecnologias

This will be about technology, and this is one of my favorite topics. When we talk about the Anthropocene, I think we seldom miss the point that so much of what happens in the Anthropocene, and the fact that we might be in the Anthropocene, happens through technology; it’s been through technology. 741

And one of the favorite examples that I take up with some of my students and some of my talks is this example. A couple of years ago an NGO and a couple of researchers discovered a new monkey type in the Amazon called the Titi Monkey, a new type of Titi Monkey. And they needed money to promote conservation efforts for the monkey. So they decided to make an option, an online option to sell the naming rights of that monkey. So they did that, and it was quite successful. They managed to get $650,000, and the company that won that auction was an online casino called

So officially gets to name the monkey, so the official name of this Titi monkey is actually Titi Monkey. And it has a Latin name called Callicebus aureipalatii, which I believe means golden palace.

And it’s quite a bizarre example, of course, but I find it quite intriguing that we’re modifying – we’re affecting nature at such a deep level that we’re even auctioning out the naming rights of a monkey species to an online casino.742

I think the three interesting topics in here that are more general that this quite bizarre example. One deals of course with biodiversity and how we protect biodiversity. And there’s another issue related to politics of course. I mean where are we, is this a good idea should we really pull in private funding in this way? And giving – selling out naming rights in this way? And of course the third topic [is] about technology. Who would have thought 10 years ago that an online casino would have bought the rights to name this particular monkey?

Now I think this really brings us to an illustration of the next generation of environmental challenges in the Anthropocene, and new governance challenges facing us.

This is a quote from a New York Times article from one of the researchers a paper showing that the west Antarctica ice sheet was collapsing irreversibly, risking to create very large increases in sea level rise. And the quote from the scientist of course is, “This is really happening. It has passed the point of no return.” So it brings us back to the issue of tipping points and new risks.

Once these news were out there of course you hear discussions about trying to stop this from happening through technology, so essentially geo-engineering interventions. Sending out ships to spray out salt particles in ways that would make clouds whiter and then cool down the area, and hopefully, ideally, theoretically, cool the area down so much that you could stop the glaciers from collapsing. And of course this is just one example of many, many of these tipping point elements. This is a famous image from Tim Lenton’s work on tipping points in the Earth system.

And the issue here is of course if there are tipping points, and some of these might be a very, very large scales, and affect the Earth system as a whole, are there ways by which we can use technology to stay away from these, or mitigate these, or adapt to these in smart ways? And of course that triggers a lot of controversy and political conflict. And geo-engineering is a brilliant example of the interplay between risky tipping points, technology, and technological interventions and the political conflicts and debates those sort of discussions trigger.

And it’s not just about climate. I mean I just gave you a climate example. Some scientists propose that you would need to promote a new generation of conservation efforts that are more active to cope with climate change in ways to protect coral reefs.

So one example of tangible interventions were to create artificial coral reefs, or create big umbrellas, or to protect and cool down coral reefs, to create gene banks, etc., etc. Another interesting observation is from a workshop that was a few years ago in the UK where researchers and NGOs got together to discuss whether we can use synthetic biology to promote conservation and to maintain biodiversity. And there’s an emerging discussion about something called the extinction, so essentially using DNA from extinct species and use that DNA to bring these species back, and would that be a way to maintain and protect biodiversity?

Highly, highly controversial of course, and quite intriguing. I think one of the general reflections and reactions to this from the public and other scientists would be, but are we allowed to do this? Doesn’t this inflict on the precautionary principle? Now the precautionary principle that states that we shouldn’t do anything that might create harm. I mean that would be the popular perception of that.

But in fact if you look into international agreements, such as the Commission on Biological Diversity, it states something different. It says that, and I’m goint to quote here, “Where there is a threat of significant reduction or loss of biological diversity, lack of full scientific certainty should not be used as a reason for postponing measures to avoid or minimize such a threat.” So essentially actors, NGOs, a few researchers, used the precautionary principle as support for these sort of intervention[s].

And is that the proper framing of the precautionary principle, or should we have a more moderate interpretation of that? And what would that look like? So I think that’s just a simple illustration of the sort of challenges that tipping points, emerging technologies, get mixed up in a way that create[s] new political controversies and new governance challenges.

Antropoceno XXXIX – Caminhos de transição: a energia

For the world to develop within a safe operating space of planetary boundaries one of the grand challenges is a global transition to a renewable world energy system. This is a double challenge because it’s not only about biophysical operating within a safe operating space, it’s the recognition, shown in this graph, of the tight connection between energy use in the world and economic growth. In fact there’s a linear relationship so far between growing economies and growing energy use. And that is projected to continue, even though in [at] a slightly lower pace, up until mid this century. 741

There’s also the recognition of how our past looks like. And just check out this development of the extraordinarily rise in energy use since the great acceleration started in the mid-1950s. And what you see here is the growth of coal, and particularly oil and gas, as the predominant sources of energy.

So one simply has to recognize that if we’re seriously talking about sustainable development we can not escape the fact that we need not only energy, we will need more energy in the future if we take an ethical responsibility for the wealth of a world of 9 billion people.

The challenge, thus, is a transition into a zero coal or non-fossil fuel-based economy in the future. What may help us here is in fact not only technology advancements in renewable energy, which is remarkable, it’s also the fact that we are approaching or are at peak of many of the most cheap fossil fuel energy sources.742

And in this graph you see that already from the mid-’80s, 1980s, and onwards we have actually bypassed the point of access to cheap sources of oil. This has a risk of course of a transition to other cheap but even more polluting sources, such as coal, and the transition we’re seeing today in terms of fracking for natural gas, which is methane, which is a very powerful greenhouse gas. But overall it shows that however you twist and turn the analysis the era of cheap oil is behind us, which may help us also as an incentive to a transition to renewable energy systems.

But a very important challenge in terms of this transition is to recognize that not only is there a linear relationship between economic growth and energy use, what has enabled our quick economic growth is that energy has been cheap. And if you look at a key parameter in this regard called energy return on investment, meaning how much value do you get out for each input of investment into your extraction of energy.743

We have been privileged, in fact enormously privileged, of having a very large return on investments on oil over the oil era, since the early 1930s and ’40s with energy returns on investment often exceeding hundred in the early days of the oil bonanza, and today moving down quickly to levels of 30 to 15.

But look at what happens with, for example, nuclear energy, biomass, photovoltaics, oil sands, with energy returns on investment being very low. And in fact this really worries scientists and analysts because we’re not even sure how to operate a world economy with energy returns on investments going below 10 to 15, so another reason to really explore innovative solutions in the space of renewable energy systems.

And just look at this trajectory into the future indicating that we’re moving increasingly towards a point where we bypass this magical level of energy returns of investments below 10, which again means that energy becomes so expensive that it may no longer contribute to the economic growth we’ve seen in the past.744

So these are sharp reminders that the planetary boundary analysis showing the necessity to stay within a sustainable global carbon budget is coupled to the recognition also that the polluting, dirty and climate-destroying energy systems we have today are also becoming less attractive because they’re becoming more and more expensive, and less and less efficient in delivering to the human endeavor of economic growth.

Now if you look into the future the drama is equally stark. This is an analysis from the Global Energy Assessment showing that even in a transition to a sustainable energy future, here illustrated by the label Global Energy Assessment efficiency, or the Global Energy Assessment mix, which if you look carefully shows a very rapid rise in renewable energy systems and a contraction in the use of particularly oil and coal, but still the overall picture is growth of energy demand in the world.

So in 2050 the estimate, as you see even if we have very high optimistic projections on energy efficiency, we’re still seeing a future where we’re moving from our current use of roughly 500 exajoules of energy to a future of 600, 700, 800 exajoules of energy in the future. So a reminder again of the enormous challenge.745

Now what’s the solution to this? Well, most analysts would agree today that the long-term future is a future world basically or predominantly supplied from solar energy systems. We’re not there yet, but look at these graphs, which originate from fantastic work among energy researchers at Chalmers University in Sweden, showing the exponential rise in photovoltaics and wind power in key countries in the world.

And what you see here is that up until 2002-2003, we had a very slow rise in technology and uptake of these renewable energy systems. And then we have a takeoff and exponential rise where for example today countries like Germany, after all the world’s fourth largest economy in the world, if you wake up a Saturday morning in Germany you’re likely to get in the order of 30-40% percent of your electricity from wind and sun. So we’re starting to see solar and wind systems coming to scale also in the large economies of the world.

So there’s promise that this transition is not only necessary, but in fact possible to achieve at economically competitive rates, but also desirable. because they provide clean energy systems with very high benefits for health and also interestingly in a much more democratic way.746

Many of these energy systems are provided from small-scale distributed households, farms, small businesses, that produce their own energy and buy and sell energy to a flexible energy market. That’s why, to close, I believe that journals like The Economist even put at the front page of one of their recent issues a dinosaur and an oil pump in their hands, making the analysis that in fact those who invest and keep investing in dirty, risky, undemocratic fossil energy sources are the dinosaurs in terms of meeting the demands and needs and opportunities in the future. While a transition in terms of energy in a safe operating space can be, should be, and must be the opportunity for a much more clean, modern energy system for a world that of course will demand more energy to truly achieve sustainable development, but which needs to be sustainable.

7.4.2.. The role and risks of technology in the anthropocene

This will be about technology, and this is one of my favorite topics. When we talk about the Anthropocene, I think we seldom miss the point that so much of what happens in the Anthropocene, and the fact that we might be in the Anthropocene, happens through technology; it’s been through technology.

And one of the favorite examples that I take up with some of my students and some of my talks is this example. A couple of years ago an NGO and a couple of researchers discovered a new monkey type in the Amazon called the Titi Monkey, a new type of Titi Monkey. And they needed money to promote conservation efforts for the monkey. So they decided to make an option, an online option to sell the naming rights of that monkey. So they did that, and it was quite successful. They managed to get $650,000, and the company that won that auction was an online casino called

So officially gets to name the monkey, so the official name of this Titi monkey is actually Titi Monkey. And it has a Latin name called Callicebus aureipalatii, which I believe means golden palace.

And it’s quite a bizarre example, of course, but I find it quite intriguing that we’re modifying – we’re affecting nature at such a deep level that we’re even auctioning out the naming rights of a monkey species to an online casino.

I think the three interesting topics in here that are more general that this quite bizarre example. One deals of course with biodiversity and how we protect biodiversity. And there’s another issue related to politics of course. I mean where are we, is this a good idea should we really pull in private funding in this way? And giving – selling out naming rights in this way? And of course the third topic [is] about technology. Who would have thought 10 years ago that an online casino would have bought the rights to name this particular monkey?

Now I think this really brings us to an illustration of the next generation of environmental challenges in the Anthropocene, and new governance challenges facing us.

This is a quote from a New York Times article from one of the researchers a paper showing that the west Antarctica ice sheet was collapsing irreversibly, risking to create very large increases in sea level rise. And the quote from the scientist of course is, “This is really happening. It has passed the point of no return.” So it brings us back to the issue of tipping points and new risks.

Once these news were out there of course you hear discussions about trying to stop this from happening through technology, so essentially geo-engineering interventions. Sending out ships to spray out salt particles in ways that would make clouds whiter and then cool down the area, and hopefully, ideally, theoretically, cool the area down so much that you could stop the glaciers from collapsing. And of course this is just one example of many, many of these tipping point elements. This is a famous image from Tim Lenton’s work on tipping points in the Earth system.

And the issue here is of course if there are tipping points, and some of these might be a very, very large scales, and affect the Earth system as a whole, are there ways by which we can use technology to stay away from these, or mitigate these, or adapt to these in smart ways? And of course that triggers a lot of controversy and political conflict. And geo-engineering is a brilliant example of the interplay between risky tipping points, technology, and technological interventions and the political conflicts and debates those sort of discussions trigger.

And it’s not just about climate. I mean I just gave you a climate example. Some scientists propose that you would need to promote a new generation of conservation efforts that are more active to cope with climate change in ways to protect coral reefs.

So one example of tangible interventions were to create artificial coral reefs, or create big umbrellas, or to protect and cool down coral reefs, to create gene banks, etc., etc. Another interesting observation is from a workshop that was a few years ago in the UK where researchers and NGOs got together to discuss whether we can use synthetic biology to promote conservation and to maintain biodiversity. And there’s an emerging discussion about something called the extinction, so essentially using DNA from extinct species and use that DNA to bring these species back, and would that be a way to maintain and protect biodiversity?

Highly, highly controversial of course, and quite intriguing. I think one of the general reflections and reactions to this from the public and other scientists would be, but are we allowed to do this? Doesn’t this inflict on the precautionary principle? Now the precautionary principle that states that we shouldn’t do anything that might create harm. I mean that would be the popular perception of that.

But in fact if you look into international agreements, such as the Commission on Biological Diversity, it states something different. It says that, and I’m goint to quote here, “Where there is a threat of significant reduction or loss of biological diversity, lack of full scientific certainty should not be used as a reason for postponing measures to avoid or minimize such a threat.” So essentially actors, NGOs, a few researchers, used the precautionary principle as support for these sort of intervention[s].

And is that the proper framing of the precautionary principle, or should we have a more moderate interpretation of that? And what would that look like? So I think that’s just a simple illustration of the sort of challenges that tipping points, emerging technologies, get mixed up in a way that create[s] new political controversies and new governance challenges.

Antropoceno XXXVIII – Passara para um novo paradigma de governação

We’re in the Anthropocene. Our environmental challenges are now global and we face environmental risks that could actually lead to catastrophic consequences if we cross tipping points. What does all this mean for the global development agenda? Well, it truly puts into question some of our fundamental ideas of our relationship between environment and development.731

The first is the belief in the environmental Kuznets Curve, which so much dominates the way we deal with environmental policy and environmental impact reduction strategies. The belief that in the early days of development in the pre-industrial economies environmental impacts are large because of inefficiencies and poor capital availability, and that industrial economies somehow in the early days peak in terms of negative environmental emissions which comes from the empirical or the experiences, particularly from air pollution, from industrial activities, and the richer we get the better we are in improving our environmental conditions.

This is profoundly wrong. All empirical evidence shows that in the hyper-connected and globalized world in Anthropocene what has happened is potentially, or in fact in reality that we’re improving local environmental conditions often but we’re pushing environmental impacts across Earth system components in the entire planetary system. So we might have clean air where we live locally, but we’re ruining the planet system at the larger scale.732. In fact it’s so important that also fundamentally reshapes the way we think of sustainable development.

You’ve all seen the three pillars of social, environmental, and economic development which forms the basis of our modern thinking on sustainable development, but that has translated, as we all know, into a strategy of advancing economic growth as one sector and trying to reduce environmental impact as far as we can.

In the Anthropocene this will not be enough. It was okay when we were a small world on a large planet where we could always so to say find free environmental space in the atmosphere, and the biosphere, and the cryosphere. Now we’re in [at] a saturation point. We’re hitting the ceiling where we need to, all citizens of the world, all nations in the world, operate within the same space. And we must be honest. This three pillar approach has after all become what we could call a Mickey Mouse economy, where economy is occurring and developing at the expense of natural capital, the environment, and human capital; cheap labor and subsidized labor forces enabling hyper-consumption across the world.733

So let’s simply agree it’s time to scrap this obsolete model of separating social, environmental and economics. We need to transition into a paradigm which looks like this, namely use our economy as a vehicle to serve and meet societal needs, and have societies that operate within the stable confines of a resilient Earth system. Or, as we’ve been talking so much across the science that we’re now advancing, development within a safe operating space of planetary boundaries.

This changes profoundly economy, it changes profoundly governance, and it changes profoundly relations between nations, because suddenly planet goes first. We need to set global environmental goals within which we can have economic growth and development. It also addresses, which is shown in the now famous donut model for economic growth, that if we have a biophysical ceiling defined by planetary boundaries there must be a social floor, a floor of how we distribute the absolute amounts of remaining environmental space in a fair and just way among all citizens on Earth.

So in summary, the change in the paradigm includes number one, once and for all reconnecting world development with Earth resilience. We simply have to recognize that Earth is the basis for our well being and that development occurs in an integrated fashion. We must therefore accept that economic growth and economic development must occur within a safe operating space of absolutely set boundaries for the Earth system.734

This means that we’re moving from the current realm of relatives where we normally assume that if we just put the right price on the environment we’ll be so efficient that it will actually take us to sustainable development. The problem is that when we rush towards an economy that will grow three times, the world economy will grow three times over the next 30 years and the world population 9 billion people, even if we become relatively better and more efficient if that all adds up to us transgressing planetary boundaries we’re still going to cross tipping points.

So we’re moving from that reality, relatives, to the reality of absolutes. Now we simply need to respect an absolute amount of carbon remaining to emit. We need to respect an absolute maximum amount of fresh water to use, land to use, phosphorus to use.735

This is a profoundly different approach because it puts a cap on the playing field within which we can develop. It might seem very utopian, but you know we’re applying this kind of thinking very often in many, many other areas. In fact the history of how we have developed policies around chemicals is largely applying this kind of absolute planetary boundary thinking. Think of the Montreal Protocol when we in the mid-’80s recognized that emissions of chlorofluorocarbons were destroying our protective ozone layer. We did not take a relative policy of percentage reductions of these, uh, damaging ozone-depleting substances, we forbid them, we put a cap and we operated within a boundary.

And this is often the way we operate in many areas where we forbid toxic substances and we operate within a safe space. Now we need to do that for all components in the Earth system.736

But is this then going to be a paradigm that only operates at the global level where we have some kind of steering committee running the planet? Of course not. It is absolutely clear that in the Anthropocene we need to strengthen Earth governance, we need to collaborate all nations in the world to set planetary boundaries, but we also need to recognize that all action occurs from below, individuals, communities, businesses, nations, and that as the famous Nobel Laureate Elinor Ostrom pointed out that one of the most exciting opportunities we have is to invest in stronger polycentric governance systems where we connect local informal institutions and collective action among engaged citizens with formal institutions across different levels of society to work from local to global, and that this actually works.

We show it for water management, we show it for agriculture management, that in many parts of the world this actually can function. So it’s not a contradiction between the global and the local, it’s actually an integration between the different scales.737

But what does all this mean for the economy? And I’ll just give you one example of how this changes our thinking. Often the question is raised well, if you apply a planetary boundary thinking isn’t that actually saying that we’re limiting growth, we’re limiting economic growth? And what we’ve argued as the scientists behind this is: not at all. In fact what the planetary boundary analysis shows is that we need to stay within a safe operating space. But what happens within that operating space is up to us; it’s our choice. The economy should be able to grow within a planetary boundary safe operating space, what we have a bit jokingly called a planetary souffle, meaning that the economy should be able to grow within this space. A souffle also alludes to the fact that this is quite a challenging and innovative pathway because, you know, if we don’t manage this in a sustainable way it may in fact abruptly collapse, which we sometimes see in the financial crisis.738

Now can we actually envisage an economy growing within a safe operating space? Absolutely. In fact in our innovations, technology breakthroughs and advancements of business models that are not only resource-efficient but even circular, mean that we can produce value and generate well being within the confines of a safe, resilient Earth system.

And just to give you a few examples of how this could translate, even in conventional economics. Conventional economics had developed macroeconomic analysis of how expensive or beneficial It will be to solve the climate challenge. One of the most famous of these models is called DICE and here is just one example of how this looks like for climate.739

This is a graph from 2010 until end of the century, 2100, in terms of what it will cost to the world economy, so it’s GDP on the Y axis, if we continue as business as usual and move towards a very risky 4 degrees C future, or if we reduce emissions to a 2 degrees C, 450 ppm future. And this is the classical graph showing that GDP would only go down with a few percent if we stay with our business as usual, which we scientists criticize very, very fiercely because we say these economic models are not considering the devastating costs to the economy if we cross dangerous temperature levels. But let’s for a moment assume this is correct, that in fact it is such a small difference in terms of cost whether or not we reduce emissions.

Exactly this data can actually be plotted in a different way, and this is shown in this graph where we’ve just taking [taken] the growth of the economy on the X axis, so this is global GDP, but on the Y axis we show the difference in concentration of greenhouse gases, the planetary boundary. And what you see here is of course the blue line which goes up all the way to 800 ppm in the business as usual, the 4 degrees C pathway, and as you see it reaches year 2100 a world economy of 500 trillion US dollars. But look at the 2 degrees C future, which bends at 550 ppm and actually is projected to also reach 500 trillion US dollars slightly later, a few years later. And then you have the 450 ppm which stays at 450 ppm, but actually reaches a very high degree of economic growth as well.

But let’s not put in a boundary here. So we’ve taken not the planetary boundary that we have so strong, robust support for of 350 ppm. We’re taking the climate skeptics’ boundary, we’re taking a boundary that everyone will agree upon, because nobody wants a 6 degrees C future, a totally catastrophic future that will not support human civilizations on Earth. So we’ve taken the 5% risk of reaching 6 degrees C and put that on this graph, and that is shown by the upper horizontal line here which is at 550 ppm. So if we accept moving towards a boundary of 550 ppm, the world moves into the realm of a 5% risk of reaching 6 degrees Celsius, which is a probability that nobody, no reinsurance company, no bank, no government, ever, ever would accept.

Well what is this? Well actually that is a hard boundary. It means that the business as usual trajectory hits the ceiling at already 200 trillion US dollars. The world economy can not go beyond this point, which shows that the only pathway to its prosperous future for humanity is in fact that we bend the emission curve within a safe operating space, because it’s the only trajectory that can allow us to reach 500 trillion US dollars which is required to actually support a world of 9 billion people.

Everything above this level is not acceptable, it’s actually outside of the realm of economics. It’s the realm of ethics, it’s the realm of political leadership, it’s the realm of a new development paradigm where we accept that there are certain ceilings that we can not transgress.

And this ceiling is not even a planetary boundary, this is the ceiling of ultimate unacceptable movement beyond anything that anyone ever would accept. So this is quite an interesting way of illustrating, I think, that we need to reconsider the way we operate in terms of future development. (energia, Segurança alimentar, Urbanismo sustentável, Gestão da Biodiversidade)

Now these transitions are dramatic of course, and can they actually be achieved? Well so many analysts are showing that yes, a global energy transformation inside a safe operating space is possible. We can envisage a low carbon world economy by mid-century, a food security transformation where we feed the world with sustainable food is possible. Yes, we need to increase food production 50% by mid-century, but through sustainable agricultural innovations a lot of evidence indicates we can feed humanity in a safe operating space. An urban sustainability transformation is necessary but also increasingly possible. Two-thirds of the cities we need by mid-century are not even built yet. Let’s build them in a sustainable, resilient way. Biodiversity management is increasingly shown to be both effective, economically  beneficial, and builds resilience that’s shown by many, many studies, for example, on the economics of ecosystems and biodiversity team.

So it’s not as if a transition to a safe operating space is the dark story of doom and gloom, it seems increasingly to be the desirable, more attractive story of innovation, transformation and human prosperity.

Now it won’t be an incremental journey. Together with colleagues at the Tellus Institute we recently tried to ask ourselves the question well how deep is this transformation into a safe operating space?

And that tentative analysis using a model called PoleStar indicates that it won’t be enough with only taxes and measures in terms of policies and technological breakthroughs, we will need to change lifestyles. It appears that we need to reconnect our own values with the biosphere, we need a much stronger emphasis on well being rather than just consumption, and that it actually is a shift also in our lifestyles. So it is a social, technological, and political journey we are embarking on if we truly want to endorse and kind of take in the latest science of the realities in the Anthropocene.

But to summarize, that recognition which we are the first generation to be knowledgeable about should not be used as a big, black blanket, putting a stop on development, it should rather be used as an encouragement for a new type of development, a new type of economic growth where we can meet the needs of both the poorest in the world and the aspirations ostrom

Antropoceno XXXVII – Estruturas emergentes de Governação Global

So speaking of global environmental governance, how should we reform it? So we know we’re facing fragmentation, we know we’re facing complexity, we know we’re facing gridlock.

So what are some ways by which we can modify global environmental governance to better cope with the challenges of the future?721

And of course there’s no clear, simple answer to that. And I would say there are different schools and different approaches to address that issue. So I’m just going to present a couple of these different approaches.

One of them, and I would say the most popular one in my community, I would call deep institutional reform. And deep institutional reform builds on the idea that if you manage to reform critical pillars of global environmental governance then you would create an architecture that’s better able to deal with these challenges. So there are different ways to look at that reform and there are some very tangible reform proposals in that.

So for example, one would be that you need to reform the United Nations Environmental Programme. So you would reform and upgrade the UNEP, as it’s called, and give it a bigger mandate, better resources, and better capacities to coordinate the fragmented setting up of international institutions.

Another idea or another very tangible proposal would be that you would look into economic institutions at the international level and put a much stronger sustainability focus into these. You would design and put into place mechanisms that would guide economic development at the international level, taking sustainability into consideration.

Another reform proposal that has been discussed is to modify the voting rules in international bodies. You would move from decision making that’s unanimous into where you just need majority, or a qualified majority. And the idea would be that if you change the voting rules in these bodies then you would get faster decision making and it would become more ambitious.722

So that’s just a few examples of that way of thinking, that the way to reform the environmental governance is through deep institutional reform.

Another school of thought or another stream within this community would be to focus less on institutional reform but more to strengthen networks. And that mode of thinking I would call network revolution.

So essentially you would say no, it’s impossible to move ahead with institutional reform, it’s very difficult to get all these countries to agree on something tangible, so let’s focus on strengthening partnerships that exist between states, or between public and private actors. Let’s invest more in building global partnerships and networks across state and non-state actors. Let’s focus on allowing fewer number of countries to create more ambitious goals, for example within climate policy, and have them create benefits for themselves and then hoping that that club will expand over time. So that’s the club approach.

Another way to look at this is to talk about polycentricity. So polycentricity essentially means that you have several independent bodies of decision making that collaborate and create rules through that collaboration. And the idea is that these modes of more network polycentric governance are more flexible, they’re more apt to changing circumstances, they’re better able to cope with complexity, and they can expand over time essentially.723

So that second approach focused on networks where it’s less about institutions but more about creating a network revolution at the international level.

There’s a third stream that I find interesting that focuses more on law. And that stream I would call legal transformation. And the idea there would be that you would create different interpretations of existing law in ways that would push us towards sustainability, essentially redefining international human rights law, for example, or creating some sort of planetary boundaries declaration. That’s one example, so you would create a planetary boundaries declaration between nation-states. And that sort of development would trigger changes in international law to better address sustainability.

And one interesting observation within this community is that these sort of norms, for example, to protect the environment, or a norm around stay within planetary boundaries, can evolve nonlinearly, meaning that you will have actors lobbying for that sort of change for a long time but nothing happens, but then suddenly you see a nonlinear change, so suddenly it becomes from something being discussed just amongst a small group of people to something that suddenly becomes a global institutional norm. So that has more focus on legal issues.

And then the fourth stream in this focuses more on citizen and participation, global democracy, cosmopolitan democracy. And the idea here, and the assumption here is that we’re getting into these processes of gridlock, we’re not able to agree at the international level, because people are not being part of decision making. Decision making is happening behind the scenes, in small groups, in small clubs, with limited insights from citizens. And the idea would be here to reform international organizations in a way that allowed for wider participation from citizens, civil societies, and NGOs. And the idea would be that these sort of reforms would open up decision making and create more ambitious environmental decision making at the international level.

So those would be four different streams in the debate that I would pick out, so:

  • deep institutional reform,
  • network revolution,
  • legal transformation,
  • and global citizenship.

One thing to keep in mind though, and I think that’s one of the interesting things, is that these are ideas that might start out as something different, but that actually start to become recombined. So you see interesting combinations of these ideas out there emerging; combining legal transformations with network revolution, or combining deep institutional reforms with global citizenship. And this nice visualization by one of my colleagues, Diego, shows how actors or authors start referencing to each other over time and start to combine these ideas into different proposals on how to reform global environmental governance.

So how are these related to planetary boundaries? I think that’s a critical issue. I think what we’re interested in is not only dealing with incremental global change, or separated problems by themselves, not just only climate change, biodiversity and ocean acidification in parallel. We need to start to look at: how do these reforms try to address very complex interactions between these problems? How do these proposed reforms in institutions, how well are they able to address the nonlinear properties of these problems? Do we need additional institutions to, for example, pick up early warnings and respond to early warnings that we’re moving towards bad tipping points in the Earth system or in regional ecosystems, how do we look at that? So it’s also a matter of function in these governance structures.

So just to summarize the key message in this very complex issue, I would say the takeaway message is there are multiple approaches to governance. There’s no simple, quick fix solution through reformed governmental governance, there are different traditions, there are different streams, they all have different flavors in a sense.

But there are also interesting combinations emerging between these different streams. And we also need to take a step back and look at these proposals, and look at the dimensions. What are the distributional implications of these proposals in terms of risks, or resources, or power? And how well do they function, not only to deal with incremental environmental stresses, but also very complex interactions between global environmental problems, some of which might be linear and some of which might be nonlinear and lead to rapid unexpected shifts?

Antropoceno XXXVI- Estruturas Existentes de Governação Global

This talk will be about global governance and structures to deal with complex global environmental problems.

Normally when we think about the Earth system and planetary boundaries we start to think about: so how do we cope with these problems at the global level? And normally people would assume that you would need a world government, which is I believe an incorrect assumption for what governance is.711

We talk about governance in terms of different set of partnerships, international agreements, the way state and non-state actors interact with each other, the involvement of scientific communities, NGOs, etc., etc. So essentially governance in this setting is a much more messy and complex interaction between state and non-state actors at the global level. And it’s not about creating a one static body on decision making in a world government.

I think that’s one very critical, important thing to keep in mind when we talk about these sort of issues. What are some critical developments in global environmental governance? I would say there are several trends that we look at.

I mean, this is a simplification that one thing that we normally discuss in this community is the rapid increase of international environmental agreements. So normally people would think that one of the key challenges at the global level is that we don’t have proper international environmental agreements, but in fact if you look over time there’s been quite a rapid increase of the number of agreements.712

So in 1857, there was one multilateral environmental agreement and in 2012, the last count that I have, we had 747. So it’s quite a rapid increase of international environmental agreements, and that’s one important trend to keep in mind.

Another thing that we also know in global environmental governance is that it’s not only do we have more international agreements, we also have more actors involved. There are more nation-states that have ratified agreements of this sort over time, and there are also more non-state actors getting involved in these arenas where global environmental issues are being discussed. So more international environmental agreements and more actors, those are two critical trends.

One of the biggest debates within my community is what the impacts of these trends are. And one general conclusion from my community is that this sort of increased density of agreements and actors have created fragmentation and segmentation.713

So essentially you get different layers of decision making that become practically decoupled from each other; you lack coordination, and you lack a system’s overview to tackle the sort of challenges we’re facing. So that’s another important trend. So more agreements, more actors, fragmentation, and segmentation.

There’s an interesting development though over time if you look at it. And you can see that in this short video by Rak Kim is that you also see increasing inter-linkages between international environmental agreements.

So that short video shows the number of international environmental agreements, and how they start to link to each other by referencing. So it starts in the end of the 1800 and then moves rapidly into today. And you see that massive increase of inter-linkages and notes linking to each other, so it also implies complexity, it’s becoming more complex, the landscape of institutions at the international level.714

This creates something that people also explore called gridlock. And gridlock is a phenomena where you have an increasing number of global challenges but where nation-states are not able to agree on something tangible to address these stresses.

So essentially you get more actors involved in more roles, but each of these actors also have veto power, so essentially they are not able to get to a point where they manage to create effective institutions to address critical challenges. So the transaction costs to get to collective action increase over time, because of more actors, more complexity.

So here’s an example that we’ve been working on for the last years dealing with ocean acidification, and marine biodiversity, and climate change. And these are three so-called planetary boundaries. The interesting thing with these three phenomena is that these are not separate global problems they interact in different ways. So climate change contributes to ocean acidification; ocean acidification affects marine biodiversity at the same time as these two changes modify the carbon uptake capacity of oceans, hence contributing to climate change. So these are three interacting processes.715

The question we asked in our research is: who’s responsible to cope with not only the isolated problems but their interactions? And again if you look into the institutional landscape, if you look at what are the relevant international rules that affect these three interacting areas, you’ll see a long list of different international agreements. You see Agenda 21; the CBD, which is the Conventional Biological Diversity; the Millennium Development Goals; the UNFCCC, which is the international climate agreement, etc., etc. So it’s a long list of international rules that somehow are related to this problem complex.

And again if you look, what are the relevant international organizations somehow partly being responsible to address this issue? It’s also a big – essentially a big soup of acronyms moving around and trying to one or the other address this issue. So you have the World Bank, UNESCO, UNEP, the World Fish Centre, Human Ocean, the Food and Agricultural Organization, etc., etc.

One of the things that we find interesting though is that it’s not only chaos and anarchy at the international arena with all these messy institutions. Actually what we see are emerging patterns of collaboration, information sharing, experimentation, of attempts to navigate this combination of complexity in the problem, essentially in the Earth system, and complexity in the social institutional system.

So we see this pattern of networks emerging. That’s something that we’ve been studying for one particular case that we call PaCFA, the Partnership on Climate Change and Fisheries. And this we believe are interesting networks to keep an eye on if you want to understand the challenges facing global environmental governance to cope with sustainability challenges in the future.

So there are three key messages from this in terms of how global environmental governance has evolved and its capacities to deal with sustainability issues at the global level. One is that you see increased fragmentation over time, but also complexity in terms of institutions and actors linking to each other in very complex ways. And sometimes these create processes of gridlock, essentially the number of challenges are increasing over time and becoming more severe, but the landscape of actors and institutions is so complex that actors are not able to come to robust agreements on how to deal with those challenges. So those are the three key messages from this first lecture.

Antropoceno XXXIV – Reconectar a sociedade com a biosfera

Reconnecting human development to the biosphere. This is really fundamental for the future of humanity. The biosphere, as you all know, is this thin layer around the Earth that is the only place in the huge universe that we as know have hosts life. So we live on this small, little round ball in this immense universe and have the chance to be alive for up to eight, nine, ten decades. We’re part of this biosphere, we’re imbedded in it. That’s what I’m going to talk about today and try to connect you, and your not only thoughts, but also your bodies and hopefully emotions to being part of this planet and feel humble about it.

And old model which is still used a lot is to look at the economy as the center of the universe. And if we listen to news and television programs there’s a lot of focus on what’s going inside the economy and our financial systems. And they operate and run our daily activities. But in that model we had three factors of production for the economy; it was land, labor, and capital.641

And land basically was agricultural land in those days when Adam Smith developed those theories. But during the mid and late 1900s land was removed basically from the economic model because it was no longer a limiting factor for economic and social development. Basically it was labor and capital that were the limiting factors. So basically the whole biosphere was lost from the way we think about operating the economy in our models.

So in the late ’80s we started something called ecological economics to try to reconnect land, which we later called natural capital, into the model of economic development. So we extended land, labor, and capital to natural capital, cultural capital, and human-made capital as three critical factors of production for how the economy is operating.642

And today when you hear a lot of talks about the green economy, you hear a lot about efforts to value nature and ecosystem services. It’s about making the natural capital visible in the way we operate the economy. From the level of big companies in their books and all the way to how we measure GDP in economic development.

But the real model we should strive for is a model where we look at the economy as a part of society, and society as part of the planet. Quite obvious model but it’s sort of forgotten in our contemporary society.

So I believe that we in two, three generations have created mindsets on Earth that pretend as we are not living on the planet, that pretend as if we are independent on the Earth that we’re living on. That’s why we are using this model, where the economy is part of society and part of the overall planet; part of the Earth’s life support systems, or the biosphere. And to us that’s a fundamental conceptual figure. It’s almost like an icon for how society should relate to the little round ball we’re living on. And it’s become very obvious now in the Anthropocene that that’s the case.

So humanity now, as you all know, we’re living in this biosphere in the Anthropocene where we are a global force in shaping the planet, not just in terms of how many we are. In the early 1800s we were about 1 billion. When I was born around 3, 4 billion, and now about 7.5 billion people. So that’s the scale and how we operate those things. Then the connectivity we are totally intertwined through global society. All over the planet, and through information technology, we have been able to speed up our activities in an enormous way.643

So we’re living on this little round ball and shaping it fast and have forgotten about it, which is not very smart for a species that calls herself, himself homo sapiens, the smart monkey actually. So we’re a wise band. So I think it’s really high time to reconnect our value systems and worldviews, and the way we operate to the little round ball, and this thin layer of life that we are part of.

We are now moving a new terrain. We have gone through the great acceleration of expanding our actions, and now are moving into a new terrain of new dynamics where issues that have been treated separately; like climate, human health, and economy; are very much intertwined, they are really tied together.

And they are also connected through new types of shocks. So if we get an oil crisis together with, food crisis for example, together with the financial crisis, there are no types of patterns playing out on Earth that we have not seen before.

So these domains that are often thought about as separate are actually completely intertwined already. And now we’re moving into another phase where we’re going through a next great acceleration where people in countries that have not been fairly poor are moving out of poverty moving into a middle class situation. We also have developments in information technology and microbiology and genetics that are moving really, really fast, that it’s hard to envision what it will look like in the decades to come.

And those are fantastic opportunities, fantastic possibilities for humanity. But my point here is that if those possibilities and those actions are not connected to the planet we live on, they may not be opportunities, they may be things will increase the risk for something not very pleasant for humanity.

So the challenge is really to use our innovative capacities, our fantastic gift that we have of thinking, and reflecting, and developing innovations, in line with the biosphere that we’re part of and depend on.

So the reconnecting idea or the reconnecting path is not a simplistic one, it’s a very profound one of increasing the opportunities for well being of people anywhere on Earth and increasing the pathways for good human life.

And that’s why we need to probably transform our paths today into new pathways to be able to do that. But there’s a lot of hope and a lot of science in that direction already going on on Earth. If you just go back the last ten years and see how businesses are waking up; how the climate issue have opened up space for these type of redirections and transformations; and how green technology and different lifestyles; and the way we eat things, and go back to more safety and healthy foods; and these type of paths are actually moving fast now. And that’s very hopeful in that sense.

So the whole idea of reconnecting is really about doing something very obvious; to appreciate being life on this little round ball, to reflect on it, and reconnect ourselves. A big challenge when we are living in urban areas. About 50, 60% of people are in urban areas today and are not always connected to the broader planet on a daily basis.

I will illustrate what I mean also by changing these pathways for reconnection, reconnecting to the biosphere by a picture where you see a lot of details, but a lot of areas in between where you have no idea what they say.

So this may illustrate where we are today in society when it comes to knowledge generation and understanding that we are very good at understanding details, but have a harder time with seeing the bigger pictures because of the enormous amount of information, the enormous amount of activities that we are operating with.

So when we aim at looking at the bigger picture, it may sometimes become quite blurry and unclear. And in knowledge generation and science that’s often a very explorative, but also very exciting phase when you think you’re onto something but you don’t really know what it will look like.

But hopefully when the picture becomes clearer you will most likely be quite surprised. The world may not look like what you actually think it looks like. And this whole idea of reconnecting to the biosphere is about that actually. It’s about basic, very simple truths about part of a planet that we have forgotten part, that are not part of our conceptions and reality today but are profoundly important for our future.

We tried to develop new ways of reconnecting people to the biosphere. And a recent project that was just launched in June this year is an art science book called Reflections on People and the Biosphere, where we match some of those texts of being part of the biosphere with photographs taken from the same spot on an island in the Baltic Sea in Europe. And it’s quite amazing how one single place can provide such a palette of impressions. And that’s something to think about when we are running around hectically and efficiently on Earth to look outside the window, to see the different nuances going on there, a rainy day, sunny day, sunset, dawn, beautiful light, the birds flying, and let it move into your body and fill you up, and reconnect yourself to the planet in that way.

And in that book actually we’ve been using some music lyrics also from classic music writers. And here’s one from the Beatles that I thought was breathtaking when I read it again actually, from a tune called “Because.” It goes like this: Because the world is round it turns me on. Because the wind is high it blows my mind. Because the sky is blue it makes me cry.” Thank you very much.

Antropoceno XXXIII – Fundamentos Sociais das fronteiras do planete

Back in 1987 the Brundtland Report defined sustainability as how many between humans and nature and how many among people? In other words, environmental processes and social processes have to be working together for us to achieve global sustainability.

In 2009 Rockström and his colleagues defined planetary boundaries globally for biophysical processes. And what many people see is a rather abstract conceptualization of the Earth system. But human factors are really important. They weren’t dealt with explicitly in the global planetary boundaries framework, but human processes are the causes of many of these changes, and human communities and societies will feel the consequences of the changes.631

We’re an important part of the Earth system, and we need a framework that helps us to deal with the biophysical changes and the social changes at the same time.

A couple of years ago at the Rio+20 conference this challenge of global sustainability was the main topic that brought the world’s nations together. We recognize that we’re increasingly pushing the world into biophysical unsustainability, but we’ve also got major social unsustainability problems too.

If we want to apply the planetary boundaries framework in practice, which really means applying it at sub-global levels, we have to address the human dimensions, the human drivers and impacts of environmental change.632

Back in 2012, for the Rio+20 conference, Oxfam proposed what we now call the Oxfam Donut. Oxfam is a campaigning group for relieving problems of poverty. And they recognize the importance of the planetary boundaries as setting out the environmental ceiling for the safe operating space for humanity. But they also argued that for a fair and just world we need to recognize the social foundations of that safe operating space too.633

They argued that any framework or vision of sustainable development for the world that we now live in needs to recognize that eradicating poverty and increasing justice all around the world is intimately tied to the biophysical processes of ecological sustainability too.

This focus on really linking people with planetary sustainability is an active area of research and conversation between science and policy at the moment. This figure shows some work that was done recently by the global change science community really emphasizing, that our social processes and above all our economic processes need to happen within the constraints that are presented by the functioning of the Earth system.634

We have some practical experience in linking social activities and these global environmental changes. For example at the global level, the International Convention on Biological Diversity recognizes the importance of local and traditional knowledge as an important part of protecting ecosystems and preventing the loss of biodiversity.

We have many community level initiatives for sustainability. You may be familiar with the Transition Towns, for instance. That starts to recognize the importance of everybody’s action at the local level to contribute to global sustainability as well.

In Transition Towns people are working together to see how their everyday activities can reduce their carbon emissions and reduce the pressure on climate change.635

Businesses are also engaging in ways of reducing their environment impact, and they need our encouragement at every step.

Fairtrade products are one example and certification systems that reduce the impact on ecosystems, fisheries, forests, and so on.

These are very practical approaches where we’re trying to see how our local social activities reduce the pressures on global environmental dynamics. We need many more of these activities, and we need many more to engage in them all around the world. But these show us that we’re moving in the right direction.

Global sustainability fundamentally means recognizing Earth’s biophysical processes and, that they set the conditions for our human and social activities on Earth. We need to be constantly aware of the consequences of our choices and activities on the ecosystems on which all of humanity depends. And we need to bear in mind that the choices we make can either harm or safeguard the human values of fairness and global justice.

Antropoceno XXXI – Interacções entre fronteiras do planeta

I’m going to talk about the interactions between the planetary boundary processes.

The planetary boundaries framework brings together the best of our current scientific understanding about a very large number of complex interactions in the Earth system. The boundaries are the precautionary limits that we think society should set about how to deal with biological, chemical, and physical regime shifts and thresholds that may happen in the Earth system.611

The science is progressing on all of the different boundary processes. Since 2009 when the original framework was published we’ve been working, as a scientific community, on all of the individual aspects.

The image that you see in front of you is a representation of the boundaries for the current regime of the Earth system with our best available knowledge for each of the processes. But in this figure we’re still treating the processes really as if they acted independently.

One of the major areas for research at the moment is to better understand the interactions between the physical and the ecological processes that are happening on planet Earth.612

Earth system interactions are complex and dynamic. If you change one dimension the others will change in response.

In this figure we’re trying to represent the fact that if you approach any one of the other boundaries, you increase the pressure on the ecosystems that make up biosphere integrity. So for instance, as we approach the climate change boundary it’s likely that there will be more pressure on the world’s ecosystems, and that reduces the safe operating space for ecological change. The same is true, although the strength of the arrows might be different, for all of the other processes. If you interfere with one of the planetary boundaries you will see the consequences in the others, because the Earth system connects these processes in complex ways.613

If you exceed one boundary it’s likely to have cascading effects on the other boundaries. And at the same time if you remain within one boundary it does not remove the pressure on the others either. The mechanism for these cascading effects is really the fact that we’ve got complex feedbacks that link the different components of the Earth system.

In other words, the feedbacks between land, atmosphere, oceans, and the living organisms that make up the biosphere. Some of these feedbacks are also relatively well understood. Here we have an example of a positive feedback that links land use and the water cycle. This is a feedback that’s been very well understood. It was first proposed nearly forty years ago, where processes, like deforestation and decreased vegetation cover, changed the reflectivity of the Earth’s surface. That changes the way that the climate system works, it changes the temperature of the atmosphere, changes the distribution of clouds, and you tend to have less rainfall, which reinforces the original problem. This is a positive feedback because it reinforces the original driver of change. If you decrease vegetation cover you tend to get less rain that leads to an even stronger decrease in vegetation.614

We also have negative feedbacks that tend to damp down the initial pressure on the system. We are beginning to understand the interactions between climate and biosphere, and here again we have an example. If we cause deforestation we remove the capacity of living organisms to take up CO2 through photosynthesis. That weaker CO2 uptake leaves more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, because CO2 is a increase the warming of the atmosphere. Most vegetation responds to a warmer temperature by increasing its growth.

So in this case by reducing vegetation in the first place ecosystems will tend to respond by increasing their biomass production. Now obviously this kind of feedback is really important in balancing environmental changes. Negative feedbacks help to keep the Earth in balance in a particular regime. But they don’t go on forever. Vegetation has an upper limit to its temperature tolerance, and so as we increase temperatures we will also see an increased risk for abrupt changes when these negative feedbacks break down.615

This research on feedbacks, especially the feedbacks with climate change, [is] a major research interest all around the world at the moment. This figure shows a summary of some of the work that’s happening around the world that was published in the most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and its assessment report.

You can see that these feedbacks are highly complex. And again they link atmospheric processes, land cover processes, the water cycle, and of course the climate change itself.616

Analyzing the interconnections between boundaries is an enormous challenge because it requires scientists to work across what have normally been disciplinary boundaries. The people who’ve got real expertise in atmospheric chemistry and physics tend not to have such deep understanding of the biological and ecological processes that are happening at the ground surface. We use different language, we use different models and tools, and so this is probably the main global collaborative adventure for research at the moment.

It isn’t just a question of understanding the physics and chemistry and biology of the planet, however. Because these processes all have human drivers it’s also requiring us to have new interactions with researchers from across all disciplines, and with policymakers, with businesses, and with people in civil society. You may already know about some of the movements for community science.

If you see any we really recommend that you engage with them, because a major challenge to understand the interconnections is to move from the global abstract picture that we have of the boundary processes to the rich understanding that we need in order to be able to understand and represent in models and to respond to the issues that play out at local level. In many of the discussions about the planetary boundaries we are dealing with a very abstract global picture, but the consequences and the causes, the human causes, almost all play out very locally. So we have a spatial challenge to deal with as we deal with the interconnections as well.

One approach that we’re taking to this, because it is enormously difficult to connect everything with everything else, we’re focusing on what we call nexus approaches that let us look in depth at some of the interactions.

So for instance, nexus where we have very good analytical tools and a substantial amount of data on changes at the global and the local level, is the interaction between the energy system, physical climate system, and the water cycle.

Again, this nexus work isn’t just science happening in isolation, it’s science happening in direct dialogue with policy and the decision makers that affect these different contexts.

Another important example of our nexus approach is in our understanding of the interactions between food production systems, biodiversity and ecosystem change, and many aspects of pollution. Nutrient enrichment is one example, but also the chemical pollution associated with industrialization, agricultural production, and urbanization.

You can see that these are very complex problems, many people call them wicked problems. The challenge is that it’s not just a scientific issue, although we have an enormous need still for basic data on all of these various dimensions.

It’s about how science interacts with wider society. We need to have better dialogue between scientists and the decision makers all across society that deal with the different sectors that are contributing to the problem.

Another challenge is that we can’t treat it as if we were outside of the system. We are in the system that we ourselves are changing. We’re responsible for the causes and we will feel the consequences.

We aren’t just changing the variability of the processes, we’re changing the whole risk spectrum because we’re altering the feedbacks themselves. And so this requires us to treat the problem with more urgency than any we’ve ever seen before. And although these are global problems we can only deal with them in our own place, in our location, in our academic discipline, or our profession, whatever that may be.

Antropoceno XXX – Recursos e Interações

Now we’ve really made some advancements. You’ve covered the Anthropocene, all the thinking around resilience and tipping points, the great acceleration, and now we’ve also covered all the nine planetary boundaries. Again I’d really like to encourage you to dig deeper in the materials and background literature around all the boundaries.

But through the lectures we now have a nice, up-to-date feel of where we are with regards to the Planetary Boundary Framework. We saw that three of them have already been transgressed – we are in a danger zone – and even though many of the remaining still have a certain degree of freedom, we’re approaching the ceiling for several of them, which means that humanity really is in a very dire situation of a rapid transition to global sustainability.

That’s why it is exciting that we are now moving into our next cluster. We’ll be looking at how planetary boundaries interact and also introducing the concepts around peak resources and what does planetary boundaries translate to in terms of the budgets and the remaining space for human development. And this means that we will now be coupling the biophysical analysis with the human dimensions. It is not enough to think only in terms of the safe operating space but also a just and fair operating space for humanity.

The social boundaries, the floor for development, will now be linked into and broadening the whole framework on planetary boundaries. We’ll also be discussing how to reconnect human development to the biosphere, to ecosystems all over the planet.

You got to know Sarah Cornell in the previous module as an expert on biogeochemical flows. She will be coming back in this module thanks to her deep engagement in the social and human dimensions of planetary boundaries. We’re now going to also have our third hangout. And let’s make that a really thriving, lively hangout for this week. Good luck.

Antropoceno XXVII – A fronteira dos aerosóis

Aerosol loading

Hello, I’m Sarah Cornell from the Stockholm Resilience Centre. And I’m going to explain why we’re concerned about the global human impact on atmospheric aerosols.

Aerosol is a rather technical term to describe the phenomenon of liquid droplets or particles, very small particles, that are held suspended in the atmosphere. Aerosols play many very important roles in the atmosphere and in the Earth system.541

They can both absorb and reflect light, so they’re important in Earth’s heat balance, and in the climate system. They provide condensation nucleus points; water condenses on aerosol particles and affects where clouds are formed and where rainfall happens. And they also provide microsurfaces for chemical reactions in the atmosphere. So, they influence atmospheric chemistry. For example, the reactions leading to stratospheric ozone depletion, or the ozone hole, happened on polar clouds that formed on stratospheric aerosols in the upper atmosphere.

To understand atmospheric aerosols, and the additional loading that humans are creating, we take physical and chemical measurements of gases, of particles, and of rainfall. A lot of this work is done in particular locations in different ecosystems, especially in urban ecosystems where the particulate loading is highest. But we can also measure aerosols from space.542

Aerosols can be emitted directly into the atmosphere and they can also be formed through chemical processes in the atmosphere. That’s what we call secondary aerosol. One of the main natural sources of aerosol is actually the world’s oceans, waves and bubble bursting eject saltwater directly into the air and the water evaporates and leaves little microcrystals of salt. Other natural primary sources include fire, volcanoes, and air-blown dust.

There are natural sources for secondary aerosol too. For example, plankton and land vegetation emit organic compounds that react in the atmosphere to make very small particles. These reactions that create aerosols that affect the distribution of clouds over forests and coastal zones.

We also see human impacts in both direct and secondary aerosols. Land use change and combustion processes change the global patterns of dust and smoke emission. And together with transport and industrial processes we are currently changing the emissions of a very large number of chemical precursor gases that become aerosols in the atmosphere.543

You’re probably familiar with some aerosol systems already. Smoke is a suspension of carbon particles in the air; fog is a suspension of water droplets; and the gas emissions associated with human activities, interact with each other and with these natural systems, creating really much more complex aerosol systems like smog and photochemical haze.

In the last century killer smogs, or pea soupers, were a severe environmental problem, so industrial smoke emissions are very tightly controlled in many cities of the world. But however industrial and urban emissions are still the cause of many problem aerosols in other parts of the world.

Photochemical haze plagues cities like Shanghai and Los Angeles and many other mega-cities in the world.

These aerosol systems are complex. They involve both natural and anthropogenic sources, they involve many different kinds of chemical substances, they involve direct emissions and reactions that happen in the atmosphere, and these reactions involve solids, and liquids, and gases. In other words, the composition and the ultimate fate of aerosols depend on many different geographic and meteorological conditions.

This presents a major challenge to us when we’re trying to find a global measure for what is acceptable or not acceptable in terms of aerosol changes in the Earth system. On top of that the world’s ecosystems on land and in the oceans have evolved and adapted to the biogeochemical flows that aerosols provide.

The human impact isn’t just as simple as an increase in aerosol loading. In some instances human activities are removing or relocating aerosols. We risk setting off physical and ecological tipping points when we change atmospheric chemistry in this way. This animation shows the global patterns and total aerosol loading of the atmosphere. It’s clear that aerosols are a vital part of the Earth system, and a dynamic part, and also that there’s a huge amount of variability in their local and regional patterns.

This figure is from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and it shows the complex effect of atmospheric precursor gases in the top of the red box, and aerosols in the lower part of the red box. It shows the effects of aerosols and gases on Earth’s radiative balance. Some have a positive effect on radiative forcing, leading to warming of the atmosphere; and others have a negative forcing, in other words they lead to cooling. The net global effect is a cooling, at the moment.

The climate planetary boundary already addresses the radiative forcing effect of aerosols. But there are good reasons to address anthropogenic aerosol directly in the planetary boundaries concept, in ways that address their physical and biogeochemical impacts, not just their effects on the global energy balance.

In this context it’s really important to recognize the regional complexity of aerosols. One example where humans are causing regime shifts that might affect the whole Earth system is the change to the Asian monsoon system caused by the intense brown cloud of atmospheric pollution over south Asia and the Indian Ocean.

Another is the change in tropical rainfall patterns caused when deforestation reduces the natural aerosol emissions from trees and its interaction with the water cycle. This change can trigger climatic and water cycle feedbacks that would accelerate regime shifts or tipping points from forest to grasslands.

And yet another example that can trigger climate and ecosystem feedbacks is the deposition of dark aerosol particles, soot, or black carbon, on ice sheets and glaciers, accelerating their melting.

These kinds of pollution changes affect the regional albedo, and result in shifts in weather patterns, and biogeochemical flows, and ecosystems and the biodiversity within them.

In summary, although there is no single value for a planetary boundary that incorporates all kinds of aerosols all around the world, there’s a very strong case for specific sub-boundaries to be defined for particular aerosol systems in order to maintain the functioning of global earth system processes.

Antropoceno XXV – A Fronteira do Terra e da Água

Land and water use change

In this lecture we’ll go through two of the slow variables constituting critical planetary boundaries that regulate under the hood of the Earth system the big climate system and the large operation of the global hydrological cycle and how biodiversity can operate in our living biosphere, in land and water.


And we’ll start with land. Can you imagine? Over just the last 150 years we have rapidly moved into a situation where we’ve transformed almost 40% of the world’s land area into urban regions and predominantly agriculture.

And this enormous transition is illustrated through this series of maps showing the development over the last decades. Now for land use the absolute critical issue to recognize is that what determines the ability of land areas to regulate fresh water, regulate flows of different nutrients, be habitats for biodiversity, and regulate fresh water flows, is what kind of ecosystems we have.

And what we’re finding is that the number one biome system to regulate the stability of the Earth system is our forest systems. And in the original planetary boundary analysis we used a proxy to define and safeguard the critical forest areas in the world, namely what was the maximum amount of cropland that we could allow ourselves, because cropland is the largest human-caused land use change on Earth.522

And we used it because we have good data on cropland extent and cropland change. Now in the updates that we’re doing we’re focusing much more on what you see on this slide, namely directly analyzing how much of the different critical forest systems do we need to regulate the Holocene stability on planet Earth.

And we’re finding from science that the rainforests in the world, the temperate forests, and the boreal forests are the most critical ones in regulating Earth resilience. Now we are so rapidly changing forest systems in the world.523

One very dramatic example is shown here from Borneo, where almost, or a bit more than fifty percent of rainforests have been cut down so far in order to transform land use to large scale palm oil plantations. And you see in this graph the transition of the growth of palm oil and the reduction in rainforest. And this has dramatic effects for local biodiversity, devastating effect for local indigenous communities, but it also directly affects the entire regulation of the climate system and the regional patterns of rainfall across vast areas. So these are truly regulating functions at the planetary scale. And we only have three remaining rainforest areas: the Indonesian, southeast Asian, the Congo Basin in Africa, and the Amazon rainforest in Latin America.

Now the question one asks is do these shifts associate themselves with tipping points? And evidence suggests that the answer to this question is yes. Very rarely or ever in isolation, but land use change can together with changes in fresh water use trigger large scale abrupt and even irreversible shifts; what we call tipping points.

When you change land use we can have so large [a] shift in fresh water flows that it could actually induce tipping points, meaning for example when we cut down forests, take out fresh water in river basins, that we could have permanent tipping points where large tracts of land get locked into desertified states, as one example.

So there are examples of how we can induce tipping points when pushing land and water systems too far. Now nothing is static, and if you load climate change on top of this we see projections into the future that would put even more strain on particularly fresh water systems.

Here you see a very recent analysis by Jacob Schewea and colleagues at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research trying to analyze what would happen with fresh water resources in the world at 2 degrees C warming, so a point at which we most likely will be quite soon already within this century.524

Now if you look carefully at this map you’ll see the red areas in the world where the projections show, when we gather all the knowledge that we have today, regions that will lose 25 or more percent of average annual runoff. And losing so large [a] portion of fresh water resources is truly a risk of crossing tipping points for both ecosystems and food supply will be jeopardized.

So these are examples of moving and the risks we would take if several boundaries move out of their safe operating space, in this case climate, land and fresh water.

So if we move into fresh water and the diagnostic of what makes water a planetary boundary it’s in its fundamental diagnostic the role water plays as the bloodstream of the biosphere. Water regulates everything we know in the biosphere, all vegetation growth, all biodiversity depends on fresh water.

Humans depend on fresh water, and this map shows just the degree of water scarcity in the world as projected until 2025, taking into consideration fresh water considerations in ecosystems and human needs.

So what we’re recognizing increasingly that the global hydrological cycle, which is finite, is fundamentally a prerequisite for the stability of the Earth system: it regulates climate, it regulates biodiversity, and it’s fundamentally important for social and economic development.525

Now what makes water so interesting from a planetary boundary perspective is that it flows yearly in its hydrological cycle, evaporating from land and oceans, creating clouds, falling down as rainfall, infiltrating into the soil into what we call green water, the portion of rainfall that forms soil moisture and then flows back into the atmosphere as evaporation and transpiration, totally constituting vapor flows, and one portion flowing off on land and as groundwater flow, what we call blue water, the liquid water that fills up our lakes, rivers, wetlands, and dams.

Now what we’re learning increasingly is that we have to have sustainable management of landscapes at large scale to safeguard rainfall, what we call precipitation sheds, which is what’s the area that we depend upon as a source of our rainfall?

And this is an illustration not only why water is a planetary boundary, because it’s safeguarding the management of the fresh water cycle, from the local watershed scale to the base of the global scale, regulates the entire flow of fresh water which, again, regulates climate and biomass, but also how intimately coupled fresh water is to land management and deforestation.526

So these are key justifications from science making water and land so important as planetary boundaries. Now the question is how much water do we need to safeguard in order to stay in a Holocene-like state?

In our original analysis we did this from a global perspective, we looked at the global hydrological cycle, we looked at how much water can we take out in the large basins And biomes of the world before we start seeing evidence of tipping points, and calculated a global number of the maximum amount of water that we can consume in our rivers before we end up with a situation where we could see evidence of tipping points. But we did this from a very global analysis, synthesizing literature.527

Now we’re adding a very important piece to the evidence, namely digging ourselves much more down into detail in all the river basins in the world, exploring based on vast amounts of knowledge that is out in the field on how much water do we need to sustain in our rivers to keep ecosystems functioning, what professionals call environmental water flows.

And what you see here in this graph is the latest update of a bottom-up estimate of the global fresh water boundary based on this analysis for every basin in the world, what’s the minimum amount of fresh water we need to sustain in order to keep basins resilient?

And the exciting thing is that we’re now combining these two analyses of a top-down global estimate of the planetary boundary for maximum amount of fresh water use with a bottom-up analysis of how much fresh water must stay in the basins to keep basins, large landscapes operational. And this leads to our estimate of the final planetary boundary.

But before coming to the numbers around where the boundaries land, let me just close with a kind of summary statement with regards to the importance of land and water for the human future on Earth.

We are soon nine billion people on our planet. Everyone with a right to development and the basis for development will be access to food and fresh water. Recent estimates shows [show] that just to feed humanity in a world in 2050 with nine billion people will require potentially an increase of fresh water use from our current 7000 cubic kilometers of fresh water per year, both in irrigation and rain for that culture, to in the order of 9000-10 000 cubic kilometers per year.

This in a planet where already 25% of our large rivers no longer reach the ocean because we’re taking out so much water to produce food. Now the question is can we transition the world on fresh water land within a safe operating space?

And John Foley and colleagues here at the Resilience Centre recently did a very significant synthesis asking this question: can we feed the world within a safe operating space?

And the answer is that yes, in fact we have so many innovations and so much untapped potential to improve the efficiency and productivity of fresh water use that we can in fact attempt to achieve this grand challenge of feeding humanity within a safe operating space. Yes, we are in a very challenging position in terms of sustaining fresh water and land within a safe space. On the other hand we can, within a safe space, also meet demands for a growing population.

In terms of definitions of the boundaries then what we’re done is that the original estimate was to say: what’s the maximum amount of cropland that we can expropriate beyond which we risk tipping risks induced by land use change?

That estimate was set at a maximum cropland extent of 15%, and we have today transformed 12% of the world’s land surface into cropland. It’s 12% for cropland, but it’s forty percent if we include also grazing lands. But we took cropland because that’s a set of data that we have quite a good handle on. In the updates that we’re doing we are, as I mentioned, reversing this to rather say how much forest do we need to maintain in order to sustain Earth resilience? And our estimates show that we need to keep in the order of 75% on average for all the big forest systems, and we are today actually at a situation where we have cut down more Than 25%, we actually only have 62% of forests left on Earth. So we’re already in a danger zone with regard to the planetary boundary on forests.

But importantly we’re actually able today to make the first estimates for how much rainforest we need to keep, and our estimate shows we need to keep 85% of rainforest systems, that we need to keep 50% percent of our temperate forests which play a lesser important role in terms of its total coverage to maintain Earth resilience, and that we need to keep in the order of 85% of our boreal forests to stay within a safe operating space.

And this is a signal or a way of showing that the planetary boundary at the global scale can actually be translated to the operational scale of forest management in large parts of the world. But it does, and I really want to remind ourselves of this, forests do not respect national borders. It shows that it’s a global concern to safeguard the remaining forests on Earth.

Similarly for fresh water we maintain. The original analysis that we need to keep consumptive fresh water at the global scale 4000 cubic kilometers of fresh water per year. That is the boundary that we feel we still have evidence to support. But then we’ve done this bottom-up analysis of the amount of environmental water flow in all the basins in the world, which ends up with an aggregate boundary corresponding to in the order of the same magnitude as our estimates top-down, but it gives us percentages of maximum allowable withdrawable fresh water at each river basin in the world, which ends up in the order of 25 to 50% of fresh water must be kept in the rivers, and that there’s a large variation here is that it depends for each basin on how much fresh water there is, if these are permanent basins, if these are intermediate basins, if these are only infermeral basins, the flux intensity, etc. So there’s a lot of intricacy here but it just shows that we can operationalize this at the level of management.

So overall land and water as fundamental boundaries regulating Earth resilience and our desired Holocene state. They operate at the local level but aggregate into impacts at the global scale, interact very closely with particularly biodiversity and the climate system, and are fundamentally part of the operational management for a sustained prosperous future on planet Earth.

Antropoceno XXIV – A Fronteira da Perda da Biodiversidade

Biodiversity loss

It may surprise you that biodiversity is one of the planetary boundaries. But when one sits down and reflects a bit it becomes very obvious that biodiversity must be one of our planetary boundaries.

Think of it, without the living species everything from vegetation, trees to animals and small insects, pollinators, we would have no biomass, there would be no carbon sequestration, there would be no rainfall because a large portion of our fluxes of water originate from the canopy, from vegetation transpiring and evaporating water back to the atmosphere. It regulates the flows of fresh water, regulates the flows of carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus.511

The living biosphere is a fundamental component in regulating the stability of the entire Earth system. And this relates to two components. One is the genetic diversity; the treasure of genetic code, which forms the adaptive capacity of the entire Earth system. But it’s also the diversity of functions that we know today that in order to develop, for example, food for a world population of 7 billion people we need the functions and landscapes for pollination, the function of microorganisms in the soil to develop organic matter which in turn delivers nutrients for plants, without which we would have no food.

So we need to explore the functional diversity and the genetic diversity in the rich treasure of living species on Earth. And this forms part of a core fundamental part of a living planet. The drama is that we’re really mismanaging biodiversity in the world. In fact we are today, based on the observations we have, in the sixth mass extinction of species in the world, the first extinction to be caused by another species, and one of these six, for example, being when we lost the dinosaurs 65 million years back on Earth.512

So these are big, dramatic changes, illustrated here for example when it comes to how we’re dealing with global fisheries. Just over the past sixty years from the 1950s and the onset of the great acceleration when we started the exponential rise in pressures on planet Earth, you see here the extraordinary social-ecological journey of not only increased landings of fish, but also that fish efforts are changing dramatically from small scale fisheries to large scale industrial fisheries where we are basically vacuum cleaning large tracts of oceans, not only in shallow waters but also in deep ocean regions.

We have the classic examples of collapse of fisheries; like the cod fisheries off the shores of Newfoundland, where we’re learning unfortunately that once we cross a tipping point with regards to loss of fisheries we can actually lock the system in a situation where the fish does not even come back.513

So these are big, dramatic changes that we need to incorporate in our understanding of the resilience of the Earth system. We also have interactions between species.

This is an example of how delicate the system works in terms of relationships between seabirds and fisheries. A large synthesis across essentially all marine systems across the world shows that when we overfish and lose more than 30% of fish stocks that has an abrupt impact on seabird populations which go through, and cross a threshold leading to abrupt changes in populations. So loss of one species in this case over-fishing, has a propelling effect on seabird populations which risk collapse, in fact, in many parts of the world.514

So again the risk of not connecting diversity in species and thereby not understanding that this can lead to propelling effects across the world. A fundamental, very essential part of our own future is of course the ability to produce food. And there’s another example of how a function in ecosystems simply provides us with a free service, namely pollinating insects.

And here’s one example of a global concern among farmers, scientists, citizens in general, that we’re losing pollinating bees at a very rapid pace, to the extent in fact that some agricultural regions are collapsing. We have human beings have to step in and function as human insects to pollinate apple orchards in China. We have examples of collapse of pollination in some parts of the UK, United Kingdom, because of overuse of pesticides which led scientists to pop over to neighboring countries in Scandinavia and try to borrow bumble bees to be used as pollinators in their own agricultural systems.515

So again, understanding that biodiversity – without biodiversity we cannot have modern agricultural systems, and therefore we get locked in an undesired state in terms of delivering human well-being.

So in summary, what occurs is the recognition that biodiversity is fundamental for the regulation of the Earth system, it’s fundamental for human well-being. We tried based on this evidence to identify what could be a good control variable, an indicator for a planetary boundary on biodiversity?

We took as a first starting point an indicator that maps out the rate of extinction, how many species we’re losing, over time. And this indicator called the extinction rate per million species per year, which is a good indicator of the pace of loss of biodiversity.

The natural background rate of loss is roughly one species per million species per year, that’s the normal background rate. We estimate as a first guess that a boundary lies somewhere between ten and hundred lost species per million species each year. So the boundary was placed at ten species lost per million species per year. Now today we’re losing species at roughly ten to hundred times faster that rate. That’s why we can today say with quite a high degree of confidence that we’ve actually transgressed and are in a danger zone on biodiversity.

But we’re also exploring to understand an even better indicator for biodiversity because extinction rate only gives us a measure of diversity, it doesn’t give us any measure of the functions biodiversity plays.

And here I’ve just given one example of how the science it is advancing in terms of mapping out the functions that biodiversity plays for humanity.

This is illustrated from another index that is called the mean species abundance, which is an average measure of not only the number of species in each ecosystem in the world, but also how many in each species group we have grouped in terms of functions.

And here you have a map of the world of the situation, the state for biodiversity in terms of species abundance in the year 2000. And you can see in red the hotspot regions where we are truly in a very risky zone in terms of losing too much of species abundance. But in green you have regions that are still in a safe operating space.

And here you have the projections into the future, up until 2050, of the risks if we do not transgress ourselves, or if we do not move ourselves, into a safe operating space in terms of safeguarding biodiversity.

We’re right now working very actively in improving this analysis even further to say that extinction rate is a good measure of the diversity and richness of species in the world, but we’d like to have a better measure to measure and to determine the functions that biodiversity plays for human well being.

And one of these indices is a very exciting new advancement on something called the biodiversity intactness index, which is an even better measure on functional groups for the role played by ecosystems for human well-being.

And this is something that will be hopefully developed further and much more broadly in the world because so far it’s used in just a few ecosystems in the world.

But overall, in summary, biodiversity as a key for human well-being, biodiversity as a key for regulating the stability in the Earth system.

Science shows clearly that biodiversity is key to regulate a world that remains in our desired Holocene-like state, and science can now put the first quantitative estimates of a safe boundary within which we have a high likelihood of being able to rely on biodiversity, the richness of all species on Earth, as a support for human development.