This year the world population will exceed 8 billion people. Nature faces enormous challenges, mainly because humans consume more than the planet can bear.
At the same time, when we should work together across borders to solve these challenges, humans continue to quarrel over politics, religion, trade and territories, just as we have for millennia.
Is there hope? And if so, why?
“Yes, I think there is hope despite the many global challenges,” says Professor Jianguo Liu, who holds the Rachel Carson Chair in Sustainability at Michigan State University in the United States.
Liu is the winner of The Gunnerus Award in Sustainability Science for 2021. Today at 9:00 am he will give his lecture in the main building of NTNU.
The Gunnerus Sustainability Award is an international research award with an honorarium of NOK 1 million. It is jointly awarded every two years by the Royal Norwegian Society of Sciences and Letters (DKNVS) and NTNU.
The award recognizes outstanding scientific work in global sustainable development and aims to promote research and strengthen the scientific basis of sustainability.
Greater awareness of the challenges
“There are a number of reasons for hope,” says Professor Liu. “First, there is a growing global awareness of the challenges, especially among many young people. Of course, awareness alone is not enough, but it is an important first step ”.
Professor Liu won for his outstanding work on social impacts and the environmental footprint. He takes a holistic approach to the complex challenges in which people interact with the environment.
Crises raise awareness
“Secondly, there are more actions and initiatives that address the challenges,” Liu says.
For example, globally, the United Nations has established the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the United Nations Decade on Restoring Ecosystems. Furthermore, at national and local level, there are numerous actions and initiatives all over the world.
“Also, ironically, people tend to react to crises instead of taking proactive efforts to prevent crises. Hopefully, as more crises emerge, people will take more effective action, “he says.
Already positive results
“Thirdly, some actions have led to positive results,” Liu says.
For example, populations of giant pandas, a global wildlife icon, are recovering.
“Its habitat has been transformed from long-term losses to gradual increases. It has been removed from the endangered species of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), or more specifically, its status has been upgraded from threatened to vulnerable, ”he says.
Forests in many parts of the world are on the rise. Protected areas have also increased.
“These and other positive outcomes provide inspiration and hope for more actions which in turn can lead to more positive outcomes in the future,” says Liu.
How can we help?
So maybe there is hope after all. But what can each of us do to help? And what can governments and organizations do?
“On an individual level, each of us can do a lot. For example, we can initiate and make efforts to address various challenges. Many of us can vote for environmentally friendly government officials and influence politics. We can live more environmentally friendly lifestyles, “Liu says.
It might seem like a strange example, but one action is for people to avoid getting divorced. Divorces cause environmental damage by increasing the number of families and reducing resource efficiency per capita. So, if possible, we should go through it together.
“What we buy and invest in can also shape the production of environmental goods and outcomes,” says Liu.
What others can do
Governments at different levels can do many important things: developing, implementing and enforcing environmental laws and policies.
“They can also provide greater incentives for environmental actions and punish environmental misconduct,” Liu says.
NGOs can lobby for environmental policies, monitor the effectiveness with which government policies are implemented and promote environmental education.
Media and social media play an important role in disseminating environmental information to the general public.
Research is essential
“Researchers are essential to generate new knowledge and help find solutions to global challenges. For example, interdisciplinary research has discovered hidden “tele-coupling”, says the professor.
Telecoupling is the point where environmental-socio-economic interactions are connected, even if they are distant from each other. This means that something that happens in one place can affect people and the environment in other distant places.
“For example, in Norway and other countries such as China, the consumption of soy and meat produced in Brazil can cause damage to Brazilian tropical forests. With globalization and global environmental changes such as climate change, tele-coupling has become more common and more influential, “says Liu.” Together, people and organizations around the world should take coordinated and collective action to address telecoupling and others. global challenges “.
So humans are the root of the problems, but humans may also be able to solve them.