Antropoceno XLV- A ciência no antropoceno

Now the question  is science stepping up to this challenge? Because I would argue and many colleagues with me that the policy domain is making enormous advancement based to a very significant extent on the knowledge provided by science, but that’s been largely diagnostics. Is science now prepared to also step up in contributing solutions? And the exciting answer is yes.

There’s a lot happening in science to now step into much more interdisciplinary approaches where natural science and social sciences work together for solutions, and to engage much more in what we call co-design and co-development of knowledge, together with businesses, together with community stakeholders, together with policymakers.821

Now where does this arise from? Well it arises from science reacting on the nervousness of its own evidence. The diagnostic is now so dire that we can truly talk of a planetary crisis. And science is getting nervous sitting on this enormous amount of evidence that humanity is putting its own future at risk.

This has led to very significant movements towards engaging more from science in exploring solutions. There’s also a deep emerging recognition that the science, policy, business, particularly partnership, is beneficial also for academic research, what we call co-design and co-development. So this is quite interesting and these are key features of the moving and advancements in what I call sustainability science; the emerging field of an integrated research for sustainable development.822

Out of this comes, for example, a new initiative, the world’s largest initiative on global sustainability research where Earth system science is moving towards solutions for global sustainability. It’s called Future Earth, it is an integration and a merger of the large global environmental change programs that have been around for 30 years and that actually are the source of the bulk of insights that, for example, led us to the conclusion that we are now in the Anthropocene.

In a very important large conference a few years back called Planet Under Pressure the scientific community came together and launched the idea of Future Earth, which is now becoming a reality in 2014-2015.823

So this is a large endeavor of thousands of scientists working together across social and natural sciences to not only focus increasingly on solutions, but also to learn more about the risks we’re facing, of how the Earth system operates, improve the definitions of planetary boundaries, and work much, much more together with different stakeholders in society.

Now what will then Future Earth do? And what is science increasingly excited about doing in general? And in a very simple way to illustrate that we can say that of course this is not true for all science, but you know, the large, large thrust after all has been that the science on global environmental change has largely focused in the past on understanding how the Earth system works as a self-regulating complex system, so we’re starting to understand more and more how climate interacts with the biosphere, that tipping points occur, etc., and also how we humans impact the system, which has been tremendously important to understand the pressures we’re posing. Future Earth is about adding two social dimensions.824

One is how does it impact on our own well being and what are the implications for livelihoods and development? And of course, perhaps the most exciting, what’s the response? How can we as scientists engage in finding the pathways towards a transformation to global sustainability?

Another very important advancement that we all are so well aware of is the bridge between science and let’s say the most accessible form of knowledge for decision making, namely assessments.

So we have a very, very long engagement in climate with United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which has recently released its fifth assessment, the basis upon which decisions are made on climate change. But I’d just like to remind us all that we also have the sister of the IPCC, the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, IPBES, which is now in place to do the same type of knowledge synthesis on ecosystems and biodiversity as a support for decision making.825

And Finding Sustainable Development Solutions Network, which is a broad global platform of knowledge for change. So these are very profound large examples of how science is stepping up to the challenges in the Anthropocene.

So to conclude, initiatives like Future Earth and alliances such as the Earth League, which is another coalition of top, top knowledge institutions gathering together to serve society with better risk analysis, better understanding and solutions, is in my mind a very, very strong signal that science sees not only the risks in the trajectory and the paths we’re following today but also enormous opportunities in a transformation to a world within a safe operating space.

Anúncios

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 GoldenPalace.com.

So GoldenPalace.com officially gets to name the monkey, so the official name of this Titi monkey is actually GoldenPalace.com 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 GoldenPalace.com.

So GoldenPalace.com officially gets to name the monkey, so the official name of this Titi monkey is actually GoldenPalace.com 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.