Third session: Katherine Richardson (DK)

in100y sem3 8

Resume: Going from evolution on the very very long run to changing the conditions as quickly as we do presently challenges many areas of the system. We have to give the ecosystems a chance to recalibrate. When looking back the years around 2011 were a turning point. For years there was far too much focus on finding one solution. But once we started the deep cooperation between all academic disciplines changes began to set in.

Katherine Richardson is Professor in biological oceanography at the Faculty of Natural Science at University of Copenhagen and is convinced that natural science must contribute to sustainable solutions. Before her speack, Gitte Larsen, House of Futures read the following welcome message:
“Welcome to the Global Virtual University providing education free of charge for all global citizens. Lectures are given in the language in which the lecturer feels most competent and can be translated via the recipient’s computer to all other languages. However, the Global Virtual University accepts no responsibility for errors that may occur during the translation process.

You are tuned in to the course, understanding how we got here, which addresses the history of humankind and the lecture you are about to hear deals with the development of the Human-Earth Relationship since the beginning of recorded human history. The lecture was made available on-line from November 2nd 2111.”
Professor Katherine Richardson commenced her lecture: The Human-earth relationship is changing. When we look at how long scientific insight has taken to be accepted, the change in knowledge within climate change has gone very fast.

For centuries sun religions were the dominant factor where man depended on nature. But in the 16th and 17th Century, things began to change. Galilei lived from 1564-1642 and he identified that the earth revolves around the sun. In 1633 he was forced to denounce his belief that the earth revolves around the sun and not the reverse. In 1992 Pope John Paul II expressed regret for how the Galileo affair was handled and acknowledged the errors committed. 300 years it took the church to acknowledge this.

1809-1882 Charles Darwin lived, and in 1859 he published On the Origin of the Species where he challenged the contemporary (religious based) understanding of the Human Earth relationship and the contemporary economic paradigm. Many people believed you couldn’t have economic growth without slaves. Darwin identified that the slaves are our brothers and that we were not over nature or under nature but part of nature. 150 years later schools are not allowed to teach about Darwin’s findings.

In the late 20th century it was discovered that humans directly alter the Earth System. The Greenhouse effect was identified in 1834. In 1896 the Swede Svante Arrhenius predicted global warming from the burning of fossil fuels. It took other scientists 100 years to admit that he was right.

In 1999 a research time took out 450.000 year old ice sticks which gave us information about the CO2 levels over 450.000 years. It went up and down but never above 300 ppm. Back in 2011 it was at 490 ppm and we know that coming above 450 ppm makes living conditions increasingly difficult for a number of groups.
2007 UN IPCC: 90% probability that humans are causing climate change.
2009 COP 15: scientific evidence was accepted by world leaders.

That means it only took two years! And you know many people saw COP 15 as a fiasco. Which we know now, certainly was not the case.

Approx. 97% of researchers were convinced, only about 50% of the population believed it. In retrospect we can see that many people didn’t believe in climate change. This shows that the exchange of and acceptance of scientific knowledge within climate change started to happen much faster 100 years ago.

At the beginning of the 21st Century it was recognized that for the first time in human history the demand for some essential natural resources was beginning to exceed supply.

  • Environment could no longer be regarded as distinct from economic interests.
  • Future economic growth would have to be based on more efficient resource use and/or the development of alternatives for resources where supply cannot meet demand.

Sustainable development became quantifiable! Sustainability equals the demand for resources within the global supply. Back then most transport vehicles ran on fossil fuels, many people liked to go to a local store and buy what was called a tiger shrimp. It no longer exists.

From the 1950’es there was an exponential increase in all areas of resources necessary to feed human enterprise. Some people saw the danger signs, such as Lord Nicolas Stern who in 2009 said that “Business as usual is not an option!”
Natural science was required to quantify both supply and demand and develop alternatives. The social sciences had to prioritize demands, influence behavior, etc. One of the initiatives was that they drained a lot of the water areas around Denmark and farmed the area so a lot of the ecosystems came back.

Around that time the name of the era was changed to Anthropocene since it was a more precise characteristic of the era that was influenced most by mankind. And people were beginning to ask themselves and each other how many resources humans could take out of the system without the system breaking down. The Anthropocene characterized shift from global change to planetary stewardship where we fundamentally alter our relationship with the planet.

100 years ago many considered the challenge of sustainable development to be impossible! A McKinsey study in November 2011 proved that a more effective use of resources could pay. In the course of only one or two generations, humans realized that a major step was destroying their own habitat. That knowledge gave the power and responsibility to change and to manage the human-earth relationship. We succeeded because we recognized the importance of the cooperation between all academic disciplines.

Download pdf of the presentation slides.

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