Reflections from the Monday Open Plenary with professors Carl Folke and Katrina Brown

978 eyes gaze at a stage that is a cozy Swedish living room. Unnoticeably to the audience, the sofa, table and armoire tell a first story of resilience. They are made from robust Swedish natural materials only and designed in a company owned by a foundation that puts all the profits back into sustainability research. ‘Made in Sweden’ could perhaps become ‘Made to last’ instead, to last in a time of uncertainty about the future of forests and other natural resources on our planet. This thought echoes through my head while we watch a preview of the movie Aeterna, a poetic interpretation of the Anthropocene created by Fasad. As a perfect opener to the conference, the film offers a safe space for reflection and realization on how humans have become the dominant force that is shaping the earth. It takes us into the natural beauty of our biosphere, and is a reminder that we are no more and no less than a species on our planet.

Professors Carl Folke, Stockholm Resilience Centre, and Professor Kate Brown, University of Exeter, take the stage and gather everyone on a deeper journey to spaceship Earth. Carl Folke sets off: since the last conference in 2014, resilience science still matters and is making a difference in the world. It has taken the shape of a new consciousness of scientifically well-established findings. “Humanity is part of the biosphere, not just linked, but deeply intertwined with it. We are dealing with global social-ecological change and should think about the future of people as part of this Earth. A resilient biosphere is the basis for development, wellbeing, nd health. Therefore, transformations to global sustainability are necessary, possible and desirable.”

Photo: R. Kautsky/Azote

We are now ready to move on from the early Anthropocene, in which the level of our actions exceeds the level of our awareness of the effects of our actions. The more mature Anthropocene is named by Folke as the ‘New Renaissance’. It is a deeper understanding of the feedbacks coming back to agents, and an ordering of urgency. In the New Renaissance, for us as a species to thrive, it is important to let our consciousness become part of the evolution we are already a part of. Landscapes and seascapes, global and local stewards all need to become in concert. Through the development of new stories, we can shift our behavior so that we can feel oneness with the earth and create a path for development that adjusts to the preconditions of the biosphere.

For us scientists, this means that it is so important to put the social into the ecological, Kate continues. Values, narratives, institutions, emotions and identities all play an important role in understanding how we can navigate towards transformation. Next to the catchy sum of six P’s that we should pay attention to (people, poverty, power, place, perspective taking and practice), we should become conscious of our role as agents working within turbulent processes of change and capable of acting on that. Getting out to work with creative practitioners, engaging with emotions, and working alongside social change agents.

One last ear-catching message I pick up on is that of expanding human empathy. Humans capacity to show solidarity, even in times when great polarization would show us otherwise, is a key condition to overcoming the dualism between humans and nature. Imagine if our solidarity could go beyond living beings and even grow into empathy with the biosphere, how our behavior could foster the resilience of our planet?

Photo: R. Kautsky/Azote

Your Resilience2017 correspondent:

Elke Markey is a former Master’s student from the Stockholm Resilience Centre, where she earned a degree in Social-Ecological Resilience for Sustainable Development. Her roots lie in political science and in Belgium, where she gained another Master’s degree in Comparative and International Politics from KU Leuven University. To complete these endeavours, she packed her backpack for field work on forest governance in the Amazon region as well as on food systems in South Africa.


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