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Seminar 9

“Future of Planet Earth” Participant Statement

Paris, France | June 3–5, 2008

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Irene Klaver

What are the three most critical challenges facing Planet Earth going forward?

Some of the most obvious challenges for Planet Earth – especially for a continuing human presence on the Planet – are climate change, population growth, pollution, resource depletion, species extinction, energy, food and water provision, etc. – all with ramifications on specific scales, such as rising sea levels, droughts, urbanization, carbon emissions. Overwhelming as these issues are, the most critical challenges lie in the way we deal with them. Will we be able to adapt our policies, strategies, science and technology, and cultural practices to live sustainably within our own planetary footprint? This question spans the whole gamut: from the individual, local, everyday to the level of global governance. More than ever, there is an awareness that we live on one Planet, that the local and global are interrelated, and that the capacity of the Planet to absorb our lifestyle has a limit, a “tipping point” to resilience. This raises major challenges to our political, social, and cultural life. The most critical challenges are on those three intersecting axes, dealing with three interrelated themes of integration & diversification, translation, and aspiration.

1. The Political Challenge. How to come to a multi-level integration and diversification? The critical challenge here is: how to integrate socially just and environmentally sound management? The institutionalization of global environmental governance in terms of interstate environmental diplomacy is not sufficient. How can we foster political institution building that is rooted in contentious politics and socio-ecological controversies about marketable commodities (economy), local livelihoods (local community), and critical ecosystems?

2. The Social Challenge. How to translate?
Challenge 1 requires a translation of various concerns along multiple perspectives. Translation is crucial to an understanding of the viewpoints, positions, concerns, and situations of others, including eco-system concerns. Furthermore, it is crucial to come to effective translation of scientific – natural and social – and technical advances into meaningful measures, doing justice to different modes of knowledge and experience.

Scientific and technological capacities to control our environment have reached a point that the capacity to control needs to be controlled: questions of “should we do X?” infuse the question “can we do X (say, dam the river)?” Or, to say it differently, an epistemology based in a hermeneutic understanding of emphasizing interdependence, connections, and context has complemented an epistemological paradigm of scientific and instrumental rationality, characterized by atomization and compartmentalization.

3. The Cultural Challenge. How to aspire?
Cultural coherence is a matter of generative relationships. Dissensus is as important in this as consensus. The critical challenge is: how to bring the future back in, that is, how to create social, economic, and ecological conditions in which a capacity to aspire can be fostered?