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Sustainable Humanity, Sustainable Environment, Our Responsibility

16 March 2015

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Reported by Sarah Connors, NERC-Funded CSaP Policy Intern (March 2015 - May 2015)

The penultimate session of the Climate and Sustainability in Multiple Dimensions seminar series saw talks from Professor Sir Partha Dasgupta, Professor Charles Kennel and Lord Martin Rees on the relationship between humanity and nature, and its implications for sustainability.

All three speakers discussed their thoughts and experiences on a workshop they attended at the Vatican in May 2014. This meeting, which hosted a combination of natural and social scientists, aimed to address issues surrounding environmental and humanitarian sustainability, and the future challenges that lie ahead. Click on the image below to hear the speakers discuss their views on this meeting.

“The largest and most influential NGO in the world – The Catholic Church”

Professor Dasgupta recounted his experience as a co-ordinator of this meeting. The inclusion of the Pontifical Academies of Sciences at the conference allowed the issues which were raised to reach a wider demographic through the Catholic Church. This opinion was reiterated in Lord Martin Rees’ response. The positive response to the Vatican meeting has encouraged him to believe they could be repeated on a biannual basis.

Professor Dasgupta also argued for a switch away from the use of GDP as the traditional metric of a country’s prosperity. A more complete metric of inclusive ‘wealth’, incorporating elements such as environmental resources, education, and human welfare, gives a better indication of whether a country is sustainable. Click on the image below to hear Professor Sir Partha Dasgupta explain this in more detail.

“Can we sustain a stable, prosperous, and equitable society and a stable, supportive environment at the same time?”

Professor Kennel then spoke about how we have entered a new age called the anthropocene, a term originally coined in the 1980s by ecologist Eugene F. Stoermer, which describes our world being significantly impacted by human activity. This changing environment will affect us all, and there can be no viable solution without the inclusion and protection of the most vulnerable societies. Professor Kennel stated that the consensus at the meeting was that any possible solution would involve a large change to the way people think and act.

“This century is special – it’s the first when one species can determine a biosphere’s fate”

Lord Martin Rees responded with a conscientious and informative overview of the major issues facing global society today. He addressed matters including the physical scientific basis of climate change, the implications to future generations and what steps society should take to strive towards a sustainable future. He argued that the world is currently still increasing its amount of carbon dioxide emissions and so future solutions must also look into other methods to mitigate climate change. These solutions were split into three categories; increasing our energy efficiency and reducing the associated costs; concentrating our efforts in reducing shorter lived greenhouse gases for a more immediate effect; and creating a step change in R+D for cleaner energy.

Questions were then taken from the floor with discussions continuing with a wine reception afterwards. A summary of last year’s meeting is available on the Pontifical Academy’s website here. The final session in the series is entitled “Mountain Messages: Knowledge, Values, and Decision Making in the Himalayas” where Dr Hildegard Diemberger will give a presentation and Professor Brian Wynne will respond. To sign up please click here.

(Banner image from Bioversity International)

Professor Sir Partha Dasgupta

Faculty of Economics, University of Cambridge

Professor Charles Kennel

University of California San Diego

Lord Martin Rees

Institute of Astronomy, University of Cambridge