I admit, occasionally the problems of the Anthropocene make me feel powerless. In such a complex system with wicked problems and messy solutions, I sometimes do not see the opportunities for action. But we cannot lose hope, because hope engenders agency. It is a mantra I will keep close to my heart.
Illustration 1: Hope & Agency. Cred: Matthew Colloff (Fenner School)
The third plenary was all about opportunities in the Anthropocene. The always lovely Albert Norström (Stockholm Resilience Center, Stockholm University) chaired through two inspiring and eye-opening talks. In her talk on Transdisciplinary collaboration for sustainability: Barriers and Opportunities, Juliana Merçon (Institute of Educational Research, Universidad Veracruzana) said “In a world largely ruled by economic and political powers that are not aligned with the sustainability paradigm, scientific knowledge may be necessary for a good Anthropocene, but it is far from sufficient”. To understand a complex system, there is a need for collaboration and co-production of knowledge, she explained. Through this, a more transformative political outcome could be achieved. Juliana clearly pointed out the challenges for such an endeavor, especially in regards to the global South:
Cultural diversity and collaboration
Lack of recognition of knowledge forms
Tensions with the government or between local political parties
Lack of continuity in administration
Bureaucracy (definitely also true for Germany)
Violence and lack of safety
One particular challenge Juliana raised, was the violence and lack of safety. Sometimes working in rural communities can be dangerous, both for the researchers and actors involved. Ties between organized crime and institutions can also exist - power structures that must be acknowledged and handled with utmost care.
All of the above challenges affect the transdisciplinary process and transformational potential. In addition, transdisciplinary collaboration may not yield desired impact on public policy for sustainability, but rather result in short-term and local effects. It is crucial, Juliana pointed out, to include governmental sectors/ actors in the process, as well as industries, companies and especially the media. If challenges are too great and no diverse set of actors involved, the opportunities to scale up are limited.
We cannot lose hope! Because hope engenders agency.
There are alternative ways of scaling up. Directions that include equity and empowerment of local initiatives. These alternative forms of social organization and practices, more aligned with sustainability, should be empowered to proceed on their own pathways towards sustainability.
One such inititive could be the project Bright Spots: Seeds of the Good Anthropocene, about which Elena Bennett (McGill University) so passionately talked about. Elena pointed out that not all ways of scaling up make much sense for local communities. She referred to various developed future scenarios, which seem more like far-fetched and poorly thought through utopian solutions, and mentioned some important issues not well-represented in existing scenarios:
Political economy (colonialism, conflict)
Different types of urbanization
World views (especially about nature)
Trust (in other people, institutions, researchers, governments)
Hope and fun etc.
We won’t be able to tell what the future may look like, and our scientific knowledge is not enough to create a valid vision of the future. Elena raised a call for action – that we should move beyond our usual scientific paradigms and start working with communities to build a better world. Together. She did not stop at simply referring to applied science, but goes beyond that: In this complex world, we too have to get our hands dirty, to stop this downward spiral of unsustainability.
Hope engenders agency!
We should create a more diverse and just world, in which stories on how the future may unfold could explore alternative pathways. This is where the Bright Spots project comes in. It highlights successful and radical “seeds” – projects that possibly work within different paradigms and epistemologies, to tackle sustainability challenges. These are initiatives that can show us what the world could look like. They are realistic pathways because they are already happening. Elegant solutions and hopeful stories can help point to key levers of change.
Those seeds of a good Anthropocene can create hope. Hope engenders agency. Agency engenders hope. Let’s all remember that and remind each other.
When not diving the days away to find the perfect undiscovered fish I am a PostDoctoral researcher in the project Leverage Points for Sustainability Transformation at the Leuphana University Lüneburg. Looking for deep levers for change I focus on how nature connectedness and landscape changes influence each other based on the examples of my home turf Germany and beautiful Transylvania. Through my interdisciplinary social science background my work is strongly based in the life experiences of the inhabitants of those changing landscapes.
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II CONFERENCE OF THE PROGRAMME ON ECOSYSTEM CHANGE AND SOCIETY