Two ‘Gurus’ of the Anthropocene

Johan Rockstrom is the Director of the Stockholm Resilience Centre and co-developer of the planetary boundaries research and delineation of a ‘safe operating space’ for humanity within the limits of global ecological systems of the natural world. His several research-based presentations are among the best for anyone seeking to understand the urgent nature of maintaining the environmental conditions that gave rise to human civilisations during the stable Holocene Epoch that preceded the current post-Industrial Revolution Anthropocene Epoch.

TED Talk (2010) – Let the environment guide our development  and (2013) Are we bankrupting nature? 

Climate Crisis: The Big Picture  and  Beyond the Anthropocene – 2017 February Davos WEF presentations

This TEDblog introduces his 2013 The Future of the Sustainable Earth TEDTalk in which he offers a unified framework of goals for a sustainable future for humanity:

1. Energy for thriving lives and livelihoods
2. Sustainable food security
3. Secure sustainable water
4. Universal clean energy
5. Healthy and protective ecosystems
6. Governance for sustainable societies

This article is about the impact that Rockstrom’s planetary boundary research has had and how 4 boundaries are already overshot.

Kate Raworth’s recently publicised ‘doughnut economics’ model subsequently incorporated the nine planetary boundaries identified by Rockstrom’s team as well as the notion of a safe operating space (SOS). Her Planetary Economics is an attempt to provide an alternative to neoclassical economic models that are based on  national and corporate competition but discount environmental and social costs and focus only on GDP as the metric for ‘development’ and ‘progress’. Seven ways to think like a 21st Century Economist has eight clever short video animations, each less than 2 minutes,  that outline the substance of her proposed new approach.

Rockstrom’s presentations end with upbeat messages such as ‘we have the knowledge and thinking required to design a safe and good Anthropocene — by intertwining the world with planet Earth in social economic harmony.’ These tend to contradict the evidence that he presents about the Great Acceleration towards tipping points that hasten existential threats. For example to meet Paris Climate targets will require a global zero carbon economy by 2050. This will need an exponential decrease in emissions of greenhouse gases, reducing them by half every ten years. This currently does not appear remotely possible even though  ‘we have the knowledge and thinking’. What is missing is political will to develop a new mindset to replace the universal desire for ever-increasing affluence.

These two ‘gurus’ – one an environmental scientist, the other an economist – offer crucial insights and ways forward in the exponentially-challenged future of the Anthropocene in which we have created a big Machine World that is now too big for a Small Planet.

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