June 11, 2012

Planetary opportunities to disparage everyone


In the humbly-titled Planetary opportunities: a social contract for global change science to contribute to a sustainable future (do these people know what a contract is?), published in Bioscience and also available here, Ruth S. DeFries and coauthors write:
Those concerned with the future of our planet’s life-support systems face an age-old quandary. [...] Some researchers warn that the hard limits imposed by biophysical thresholds in the Earth system will soon be breached if they have not been already, with dire consequences for humanity (Rockström et al. 2009). Others argue that many, if not most, of Earth’s biophysical limits are far from being breached and that human ingenuity can find new ways to harness resources and to mitigate unintended environmental consequences (Boserup 1965, Ruttan 1977, Simon 1996). These two views bracket society’s possible responses to current concerns. The first demands costly curtailment of the benefits that society derives as it alters Earth systems. The second risks complacency and a failure to face very real and challenging problems from human-induced environmental transformations.
The authors forget that some of those who believe that we are dangerously crossing the biophysical thresholds of the Earth also believe that the lifestyle and social changes that would allow us to live within the biophysical hard limits would be good in and by themselves - a win-win, not a cost.

And their criticism of the second view doesn't make sense. How on (planet) Earth can the belief that humans can solve problems lead to complacency and a failure to face problems?
We assert that an emphasis on global biophysical limits at the expense of a focus on realistic solutions is insufficient, as are assumptions that technologies can always solve environmental problems.
Everybody asserts the very same thing.

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