We are just pressing against every part of the ecosystem and biodiversity in multiple ways now, because of the scale of economic activity.
Jeffrey Sachs, AGU14
I've just been watching Jeffrey Sachs talking about global change from an economic, political and diplomatic viewpoint. His theme was scale. It's one of those lectures that helps you take a step back and see things in the wider perspective - and what is happening on the political and diplomatic stage.
[Here's the link to the HotWhopper guide to virtually attending AGU14. Once you have registered, logged in and gone to the video page, you can search for "Sachs" to see the video.
Tip: for some videos you'll get a screen that you have to buy a premier pass to see the video. Click through and you'll probably find, as I did, that the cost is $50 less $50 discount = $0 all up, relief, success - and then you'll get to the videos!]
Dr Sachs set the scene by talking about the explosions of growth around the world over recent decades - with population, technology, and information. He gave examples of the phenomenal growth in China and sub-Saharan Africa among other things. He also referred to warnings such as those described in Limits to Growth (link to Amazon), commissioned by the Club of Rome and published in 1972. He asked:
So, what to do about this? Oh my God. That's the problem. We really are the generation that reached the limits. We were warned about the limits two generations ago in 1972....
Dr Sachs then went on to describe what world leaders are doing about all this: sustainable development - an integrated strategy to meet economic, social and environmental objectives. (This is the "triple bottom line" assessment, which has been the basis of government cost-benefit analysis of major projects and initiatives for many years now.) Sachs said he used the term sustainable development in two senses:
- as an analytic complex systems science of social, economic, environmental and political systems
- from a moral or normative point of view, an integrated framework which tells us to stop an economics-only approach to public policy, and to address three spheres of human well-being - economic, social and environmental, in a holistic manner.
He went on to talk about how the world has adopted sustainable development in a very specific way. In September next year, on the 70th anniversary of the UN, there will be the biggest gathering of Heads of State ever - with probably 170 or 180 or more attending. At that meeting the world will adopt sustainable development goals (SDG's) as a framework of action for the coming generation (2015 to 2030). Next year, he said, provides the opportunity to redirect "the world juggernaut economy" through three major summits:
- July 2015 in Addis Adaba - Financing for Sustainable Development
- September 2015 at UN HQ in New York - Sustainable Development Goals
- December 2015 in Paris - "Last Chance" Climate Change Agreement at COP21
Jeffrey Sachs talked about deep transformation. How we need to move from a high carbon world to a no carbon world within two generations. How we will need to make cities liveable, agriculture resilient and sustainable. How we will need to find new ways of cooperating through public-private partnerships, and new technologies. How technologies evolve largely through deliberate direction and only partly (and later in the development chain) through market forces.
In regard to climate and carbon emissions - "we need to bend the curve dramatically" and get to no carbon by 2070.
Jeffrey Sachs seemed to be arguing that we can do it. He showed the dramatic advances in the human genome project as an example of incredible recent achievements. What we need are targets and milestones, he said. Something to aim for. And we need to:
- understand the science; and
- monitor what is happening so we can see how we are progressing; and
- develop the interface of earth sciences and human policy sciences - which we don't have yet; and
- engage in assisted directed technological change - we can't just leave all this to market forces; and
- lead public and classroom education - building a shared global framework for action.
Jeffrey Sachs finished by thanking all the scientists for all the wonderful work they do. Hear, hear!
I've listed a couple of his references below plus more.
Rockström, Johan, Will Steffen, Kevin Noone, Åsa Persson, F. Stuart Chapin, Eric F. Lambin, Timothy M. Lenton et al. "A safe operating space for humanity." Nature 461, no. 7263 (2009): 472-475. doi:10.1038/461472a (avail from ResearchGate)
Dennis L Meadows et al. Limits to Growth . Vol. 381. London: Earth Island Limited, 1972. (Link to Amazon - available hard copy only. A digital scan version can be downloaded here (free).)
Meadows, Donella H., Jorgen Randers, and Dennis Meadows. Limits to Growth: The 30-Year Update (Link to Amazon - available in Kindle)
Turner, Graham M. "A comparison of The Limits to Growth with 30 years of reality." Global Environmental Change 18, no. 3 (2008): 397-411. doi:10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2008.05.001 (avail from ResearchGate)