What’s special about 2012?

Mark Stafford SmithOur day to day lives are punctuated by profound events, some positive – landing on the Moon, fall of the Berlin Wall – others less so – Gandhi’s assassination, 9/11.  In retrospect, these turn out to be turning points in the path the world then follows.  The UN Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 was such an event – the world got together and made quantum changes in agreeing to develop global treaties on climate change, on biodiversity and on desertification: major steps towards concerted action on sustainability.

Since 1992 we have come to understand the pressures that humans are putting on our planetary life support system much better.  Twenty years on, our science tells us that the Earth has entered the ‘Anthropocene’, a geological era in which human impacts are now as important in driving how the planet operates as geological and astronomical forces have been in past eras.  And 20 years on, 2012 is the year that Rio will once more host an Earth Summit of all the world’s nations – Rio+20.

Will 2012 be as special as 1992?

That all depends.  It certainly needs to be.  These are days of gloom and of hope.

The gloom is all around. The planet is under pressure in so many challenging and hard-to-imagine ways:

  • Our climate is warming, with decreasing optimism that there is any chance of staying below the 2C of warming that is associated with ‘dangerous levels of warming’
  • Our oceans are acidifying, and fixing the climate without reducing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere won’t help this
  • Our waterways and oceans are flooded with nitrogen and phosphorus, depleting oxygen and creating dead zones for higher organisms like fish

And many more – ozone, aerosols, land use change, degradation, loss of biodiversity, globalised trade that doesn’t account for the value of ecosystem services, increasing consumption trends, and so on.  In fact, our science tells us that the combination of these pressures means that we really have very little time to act.

On the other hand, our science – and many other sources of ideas – also gives us great hope:

  • We know what needs to be done to de-carbonise our economy and start to control greenhouse gases
  • We know a great deal about how to manage many of our global cycles, like water, nitrogen and phosphorus
  • We know how important it is to stop uncontrolled rainforest destruction

And again, many, many more.  In reality, we have many solutions, but we are not applying them fast enough.

This is why we need 2012 to be as much of a turning point as 1992 was.  World leaders at Rio+20 need to commit to act on the evidence – both of risks and of solutions – before them.

And the science community has a role to play in continuing to inform the urgency and options for this action.  This is the purpose of the Planet Under Pressure: New Knowledge towards Solutions conference in London next March.

Mark Stafford-Smith  is co-chair of the conference and  Science Director of the Climate Adaptation Flagship at CSIRO, Australia.

5 responses to “What’s special about 2012?

  1. SM Farid Uddin Akhter

    Dear Madam/Sir

    Nature Rebellious – Look at repeated threat from Nature – Australia, Africa, NewZealand, Brazil, Pakistan, Japan, Myanmar, Thailand and USA. To ensure Rights for all “save a bit, reserve, preserve, conserve resources”. Let’s achieve significant change in mindset, behavior and attitude combat Climate Crisis, Reduce Risk & Poverty, save Bio-diversity – Peace for Humanity. Nature never care super power or poorer, never follow any dictation from any Power Holder or Power Seeker – Please Ponder for Care to the nature. Let’s be caring to the nature carefully, purposefully.

    Nature never be bothered super power or poorer – demand absolute Care

    To ensure Rights for all
    save a bit, reserve, preserve, conserve resources
    Let’s have zeal to self tune in sasrai-Movement policy and be committed to save resource and reduce solid waste no matter how small it is in our daily living. Plz relentless to voice from all corner across the globe
    § Please, save a drop of water daily, during all water related activities
    § Please, plant at least a Native tree annually in own home or in the community
    § Please, keep off electric appliances one minute daily
    § Please, suspend travel by personal car once a day
    § Please, keep a day in a week luxury free
    § Please, do not throw away the waste wherever you like.
    § Please, No more junk food
    § Please, save one minute to think on Climate Change and Environment
    § You could uphold the movement instantly using sasrai-Movement appeal at the bottom of your all printed material

    sasrai-Movement – Initiative Local Outcome Global – Work Locally Serve Globally

    Let’s be a desired friend to all creature, humanity, environment, earth

  2. SM Farid Uddin Akhter

    sasrai is an approach. Way to bring each in thinking-we must save our resources. Each volunteer would have deep in their heart

    00. honor for all
    01. share the experience/idea honor the differences
    02. friendship with all dictate none (cause nature never follow dictation)
    03. repeated discussion and dialogue
    04. get each in adaptation thinking
    05. get each in contributing for nature conservation
    06. get each sasrai/sustainable living
    07. get each in a feeling save a bit, reserve, preserve, conserve resources

    sasrai urges to all be environment friendly-adopt simple living. Try to get each and everybody as subject. We could say `live simple, that other could live simply.’

    sasrai-Movement wish to involve each and everybody to think our present global crisis – Climate Impact and adaptation. sasrai believe in contribution of each person, like to have each one as subject and contributor for adaptation.
    It urges being loving to the future, prudent for next generation. We cannot create hazard for next generation who haven’t commit any sinful act.

    We agree present initiative for adaptation needed to be continued in the same time we must get each member of the global community as one contributor for mounting problem. sasrai offer the chance to all to be worthy contributor for adaptation.
    COP 17 reveal that to tune the businessman or profit maker or money maker is not such a easy matter. Another fact has come out global leader undone in front of money maker. Someone opine leaders are follower of money maker. sasrai doesn’t feel free with blaming. Let’s have significant change in mindset on sasrai living `how much less harming to the nature me and my family’ or `how much less consuming me and my family’ or `simple living, that other could live simply.’


  3. I agree with most of the ideas presented here. However, there is an equally nasty threat to humanity, which is nuclear ‘progress in power generation’ and its legacy especially for future generations.

    Many who are worried about the global warming advocate nuclear power as a substitue to fossil fuel which is nothing more than jumping out of the frying pan into the fire.

    I wish that environmentalists would disply a greater concern about the nuclear menace.

  4. Pingback: Royal Blatherfest | Watts Up With That?

  5. As a delegate in the Planet under Pressure Conference, I would like to offer a few comments on the State of the Planet Declaration in the hope that we can develop a more transformative scientific commitment to the present challenges we face.
    For the first time in modern history, science is at odds with the ideas of progress and development that the Western world has pursued at least since the Enlightment. Science and scientists are no longer the intellectual engine behind growth, economic prosperity, and the expansion of capitalism, but their main critics. I think our inability to engage effectively with policy makers, businesses and communities derives from our belief that, just as they did in the past, decisions will be driven and supported by the weight of scientific evidence. Up until recently, scientific findings had been supportive of the collective drive to maximize the use nature to benefit humanity (or at least part of it), and thus the social contract between science and society was mutually beneficial. The situation we face now is different. Science is challenging the very foundations of our modern society: its insistence in growth as the agent of progress, its reliance on goods and services coming form systems that are reaching their limits to withstand stress. Therefore, we will only find deaf ears to what we have to say; no matter how rigorous and truthful our knowledge is, it challenges the status quo from which society has profited so much.
    I think it is time for a different engagement of science with society, and I want to propose some ways in which our efforts might be more fruitful, our endeavor more meaningful:
    1. An engagement with the very young, our true hope for change. Scientists need to move beyond the academic world of universities and research centers, transcend the institutions that are so entrenched in the established order that can hardly break from it. Instead, we should reach out for the children—and the teachers and parents who care for them—as they cultivate and create their own intelligence and as they develop the ability to imagine future worlds. They hold our most promising hope for the transformation of our society.
    2. An engagement guided by frugality and compassion. Our engagement with society cannot be reduced exclusively to our written world. Our everyday decisions should be consistent with our world view. Frugality towards our planet should be a leitmotif of all our actions—from the means of transportation we use to go to work, to our choice of where to live, to the frequency with which we update (and discard) our electronic devices and lab equipment. Compassion towards human kind should be the principle by which we evaluate our worth. Our increasing understanding of natural and social systems and their inter-connectedness should inspire a deep commitment to fairness and the protection of human dignity in all of our acts; from the protection of the basic needs of the people who work for and depend on us, to the respect and support of the people and places we study.
    3. A decisive political engagement. We can no longer hope that our delivered message will be heard by decision-makers in industry or governments. We need to commit our lives to the ideals and aspirations that move our work. We need to get our hands dirty, working side-by-side in transforming our institutions and the way we live our collective life.
    If we don’t change our own behavior towards our planet and its people, we cannot expect others to do it. We have the opportunity to pursue our own “realistic utopia”, to make our lives more meaningful and creative and to approach our view of the future with a more committed and less despairing attitude.

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