It is not my objective to present a fatalist perspective, but ….

By januari 15, 2024 Algemeen

It is not my objective to present a fatalist perspective, because there are many examples of successful interventions to prevent extinctions, restore ecosystems, and encourage more sustainable economic activity at both local and regional scales.

I am hopeful, but fear that the momentum for change might slip away …. we are in a race against time — and we are losing. With each passing year, it becomes clearer just how far behind we have fallen, how fast the situation is deteriorating, and how tragic the results can be.

But …

Life in the -near- future reflects on a number of cascading global events such as climate change, biodiversity loss, decline in global governance and the development of technologies that may dramatically transform our society, economy, the social fabric and the relationship with our natural environment. Rethinking a new perspective and reflection on the status quo of society, evolving into a worldview which could either be humanity’s path for survival (and thriving) or lead towards a path in which humanity will radically abandon nature and embrace technological progress. A transformation is needed to reconsider the fundaments of our deep held values and beliefs. A confrontation with our preconceived notions about emergent developments and mirror of our lack of imagination and determination that may lead towards the opposite of what we truly desire; instead of the path of prosperity and well-being, the path of fear, denial and disconnection, inevitably leading towards destruction of the planet and major social inequality.

As you are reading this you are living in the Phanerozoic eon, the Cainozoic era, the Quaternary period and the Holocene epoch. These are all subdivisions of our planet’s geological timescale, to which a new bar is added – the Anthropocene. The Earth entered the Holocene (from the Greek entirely and recent) more than 10,000 years ago. But human activities the past few decades have had such a significant and generalized impact on the planetary system that we should be speaking of a new epoch. To describe this new epoch the term Anthropocene (from the Greek human being and recent) has stirred up the acknowledgement that in the last half-century, the state of the planet has deteriorated more rapidly and more dramatically than ever before. In this most recent geological epoch human actions have started to provoke biophysical changes on a planetary scale leading the Earth system away from the relative equilibrium it had known since the beginning of the Holocene, 11,700 years ago. This planetary-scale environmental forcing by humans continues and individual Earth system components are, to an increasing extent, in disequilibrium in relation to the changing conditions. As a consequence, the post-Holocene Earth is still evolving, and ultimate global environmental conditions remain uncertain. The Anthropocene is a new geological epoch in which human disturbances are having an impact, not only on the biosphere, but on the whole Earth, understood as a complex system. Humanity is at risk of moving our planet outside a safe operating space by altering important feedback loops, potentially producing abrupt and irreversible systemic changes with impacts on current and future generations. Biogeophysical understanding of the Earth System (states, fluxes, nonlinearities, tipping elements) is of great importance to the policy and governance communities at the global level. The boundaries of components of Earth System are critically affected by anthropogenic activities and relevant to Earth’s overall state. Trespassing the safe operating space for humanity – the only state that we know for certain can support agriculture, settlements and cities, and complex human societies.

Confronted with the Anthropocene, modern humans, who have, as aforementioned, through their exosomatic (and now hyper-industrial) activities transformed and harmed the biosphere, and now it is the technosphere itself, as a planetary network of technical systems, that seems to occupy the driver’s seat, and on many interrelated scales. Departing from the opposition between technological humankind and nature, we have to reconsider the relationship between various phenomena found in the technosphere: on the one hand, the depletion of resources, the destruction of ecosystems and the reduction of biodiversity under the effect of extractivist capitalism based on the exploitation of fossil fuels; on the other hand, the disruption of institutions, the destruction of cultures and the reduction of noodiversity under the effect of computational capitalism based on the exploitation of data.

In such a context, the challenges of achieving ecological and technological transitions can no longer be addressed separately. Instead, a transversal approach to these overlapping phenomena is required.

Human dynamics, as embodied in the social sciences and humanities, must be integrated with biophysical dynamics. The human dimensions of the earth system must therefore go well beyond economic models and incorporate human social, cultural and economic systems and the deeper human characteristics that capture our core values and how we view our relationship to the rest of the Earth System. The biggest challenge is to understand human activities and social structures as the least predictable, but at present also the most influential component of our planet. The current linear economic system of extracting resources, generating products and disposing of them, is reaching its limit. This linear system is creating a large amount of waste that is not only  depleting resources and polluting our planet, but also, leaving aside social, environmental and economic opportunities. Rethink the current economic system and to drive a system that is restorative or regenerative from its intention and design.

The knowledge that human activity now rivals geological forces in influencing the trajectory of the Earth System has important implications for societal decision making. While recognizing that different societies around the world have contributed differently and unequally to pressures on the Earth System and will have varied capabilities to alter future trajectories, the sum total of human impacts on the system needs to be taken into account for analyzing future trajectories of the Earth System. And, with it, Earth’s ability to support complex life. But the mainstream is having difficulty grasping the magnitude of this loss, despite the steady erosion of the fabric of human civilization.

All life, including human life, ultimately depends on the wellbeing of our host planet as a vast, interconnected, synergistic system. Without life, the face of the Earth would motionless and inert.  The biosphere is a profoundly dynamic place, with a vast variety of living organisms interacting with one another.  Natural and human systems, from large-scale climate systems to local ecosystems and communities, can behave in complex ways, including abrupt changes and threshold behavior. The understanding of interlocking Earth system cycles and human interactions becomes of upmost importance at a time when the relationship between humans and our biosphere is becoming ever more precarious.

I am so overwhelmed by the colossal challenges facing the international community and given existence of a human optimism bias that triggers some to underestimate the severity of a crisis and ignore expert warnings the response has been insufficiently.

This is a critical decade for humanity and at the same time an unprecedented opportunity. A different world, a different economy is feasible, desirable and necessary. We have the tools to design resilience to future crises rather than simply react to disaster. But we need political will and joined-up leadership.

The challenges that lie before us is unlike any other ever faced by humankind. As a society we must acknowledge humanity’s greatest existential threat, bend the curve, avert the impending disaster and opt instead to embark on the fastest and most exciting social and economic transformation in human history.



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