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[Paris 2015] A vision of hope for the planet

Environmental scientist Johan Rockström believes that humanity still has time to take action on global warming

In the lead up to the Paris 2015 Climate Conference, we're taking a look at the perspectives of scientists, researchers and other experts in order to understand why this meeting of world leaders is so fundamental for the future of the planet.

Johan Rockström's whole life is dedicated to sustainability and ensuring that the future of this planet is a bright one. As a Professor in Environmental Science at Stockholm University, Rockström's career has been focused on preserving water resources, as well as the role of sustainability around the world in avoiding catastrophic climatic change, including the analysis of "planetary boundaries":

He's also the Executive Director of Stockholm Resilience Centre . The Centre's focus on the ability of communities and government to deal with change and continue to develop means that Rockström must keep a positive frame of mind in order to inspire others to make necessary changes in their lives.

Our societies are an integrated part of the biosphere and dependent upon functioning ecosystems. That is why we need to manage ecosystems so that we can handle the future's challenges and maintain our capacity to evolve in a positive way
- Scientific Director Carl Folke, Stockholm Resilience Centre

In an interview with Yale Environment 360 Rockström said that there has "never been so much reason for hope as today." In fact, the scientist believes that humanity can "step back inside planetary boundaries" and repair existing damage to the ecosystem. He believes that this will be achieved through scientific and technological advances, as well as growing public awareness of the need to change.

According to Rockström, prior to the mid-1950s there was "no evidence of humans affecting the resilience and stability of the entire earth system". From this period onwards, however, there was an "exponential rise of human pressure on the planet", which included higher levels of greenhouse gasses, species extinction, pollution and other environmental crises.

The challenge, therefore, is working out how to repair this damage. While many scientists are caught up in the doom and gloom of climate change, Rockström seems determined to remain optimistic and has big dreams for an environmentally friendly future:

Is it possible to think of a world economy growing, but powered by the sun instead of fossil fuels? Meaning that we would stay safe on climate, and still have a high degree of modern energy use that could power economic development in the world. And the answer is yes.
- Johan Rockström

At the same time, the scientist is not without concern for the planet's future: "We've tipped over to a logic where it's clear that sustainability is the future for humanity. But what keeps me awake at night is the slow pace of change, and that we win one, and then lose one".

Rockström is quick to point out that "technology alone will not do the job" when it comes to creating lasting global change: "It will require behavioral change and new values. We need a mind shift", he says. "We need to reconnect our human societies with biospheres, and we need to work with nature, not against it".

His new book, Big World, Small Planet outlines the ways that humans need to "work with the humanistic dimension of ethics" and also renew a love towards nature.

We don’t believe that any human being wakes up in the morning with a deliberate attempt to destroy the planet. It’s simply that we are stuck in a logic, where, despite our love for our planet, we destroy her anyway
- Johan Rockström

He believes that fundamental to the future of the planet is creating this "mind shift" whereby governments, communities and individuals start "putting the planet first, and then evolving from there to allow us to be much smarter about resolving these current conflicts between sustainability and development".

At the same time, he doesn't want to see humanity "backing into the caves" and giving up advances in technology, knowledge and prosperity: "It's a journey of high technology, good health, of better democracy, and huge, multiple benefits. It's really about a high-tech future. It's a future that is techier, cooler, desirable, healthier, and therefore a very exciting journey".

for the first time, we can say, “Yes, we have the largest planet risk ever, and yes, we have a solution”.
- Johan Rockström

Banner image: M. Axelsson/Azote

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