During the 1968 student unrest in Paris a slogan appeared scrawled on the wall of the Sorbonne –“owing to a lack of interest the future has been cancelled”. Not wishing to be tarred by this accusation a group of ENIRDELM participants who gathered at a conference on educational leadership started a Community Action for Spaceship Earth (CASE) initiative in which we will try to promote the metaphor that we live on a planet akin to a finite spaceship that cannot accommodate infinite exponential growth of human crew and their activities. In my presentation at the workshop I used the tag O-F-F (Overshot-Finite-Full) to sum up what many are concluding about the state of the planet’s capacity to cope with human impacts. I illustrated human ingenuity with the photo below from Hong Kong showing tourists wanting a clear view of the city’s polluted skyline.
Human ingenuity, backed by released fossil energy and by exploited cheap immigrant labour, has empowered our species to dominate nature in a remarkable number of ways such as the transformation of the Persian Gulf into high-priced housing on artificial islands, as illustrated by the second slide. The aim of the new project, starting in four countries, is to inject into development programmes for educational leaders and teachers some key concepts relating to the Spaceship Earth metaphor. Subsequently they will promote action by students to spread these ideas within their communities in locally appropriate ways. Networks of schools will share their experiences, first within specific countries and then between countries if ways of funding this can be found.
Of course, the almost universal and free availability of knowledge via the internet which gives access to the best research and scholarship around the world, makes networking more feasible than ever before. The availability of this information and communications technology is making the high cost, labour-intensive ‘factory’ structures of educational institutions look increasingly obsolete. My co-initiator of the CASE project, Kamran Namdar, uses a beautiful metaphor from Sweden’s freezing winter ponds to justify our small efforts: the first ice crystals in autumn begin to form around nuclei in different parts of the pond; they grow outwards in different ways from these nuclei and gradually the crystals around the nuclei come together, coalescing until the pond’s water has been transformed into a mass of ice. Thus, every nucleus can make its own small contribution to ‘The Great Transformation’ needed to make Spaceship Earth a Safe Operating Space for the web of life.
Here are annotated introductions to two short video presentations that support the Spaceship Earth metaphor. Both can be watched with sub-titles in a variety of languages:
http://www.ted.com/talks/paul_gilding_the_earth_is_full.html?utm_source=newsletter_weekly_2012-03-02&utm_campaign=newsletter_weekly&utm_medium=email – “The Earth is Full” - Paul Gilding on our failure to act in the face of overwhelming evidence of a coming global collapse due to the global economy that now needs 1.5 earths to sustain it at our current level of demand. We are living beyond our means, burning through our capital, mortgaging the future. Economic growth, central to our societies, will stop when resources run out. It is based on a crazy idea of infinite growth on a finite planet. In less than 20 years China plans to quadruple its economy. The global economy plans to quadruple in the next 40 years to support 9 billion people in 1950. The end is growth is inevitable and we must prepare for it – there are many indicators of this breakdown and we need to use our imaginations to respond beyond denial, anger or fear. The threat is no longer external; the threat is we ourselves. We need a response to the crisis, for example the emission of greenhouse gases, of the sort that war evokes. We have enough technological power but do we have the wisdom to wage this war for civilisation to make this ‘our finest hour’? [16 mins.]
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RgqtrlixYR4&list=PLOGi5-fAu8bFffao7gN1rhkbE1yfsPNwc – Johan Rockstrom portrays Planet Earth as the overlooked main ‘stakeholder’ in a sustainable future. He traces the development of humanity over the last 100000 years leading to the climatically very stable last 10000 years (the Holocene) during which agriculture underpinned the rise of ‘civilisation’ and finally, the rise of technology which, in the last 250 years, led to exponentially increasing impact of humans on nature. He talks of this impact as ‘quadruple squeeze’: population growth to over 7 billion (20% rich/80% aspiring for lifestyles of the rich) + climate destabilisation + ecosystem decline + the surprise of non-linear events or ‘tipping points’. Our present decade 2010-20 is seen as our last chance to reverse this exponential impact of humans which is crossing ‘planetary boundaries’ or the limits to what the planet can sustain. This unprecedented human pressure on the planet has accelerated exponentially since the 1950s and cannot be sustained. Unless it is, then the SAFE OPERATING SPACE FOR HUMANITY will be lost with catastrophic consequences. He concludes with three success stories but reminds us that incremental change is not an option when a shift of mindset from local to global is needed from the universal desire for unsustainable exponential growth to the desire for a sustainable future. [18 mins.]
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