Planetary Boundaries vs. Multiple Pathways

Joern Fisher already reported nicely on the plenary speeches on ‘which development pathway within planetary boundaries’ we should proceed researching on to promote transformation. We  would like to follow up on the discussions it has provoked.

Dennis Meadows responded to the presenters (Johan Rockström and Melissa Leach) with his perception of how he felt depressed viewing the two opposing perspectives: we are aware of the urgent need of action (planetary boundaries) but are eventually hold back by questioning the top-down approach and advocating a more democratic process (Leach: safe and just pathways). So who is choosing whose boundaries are respected and represented within the discourse?

Johan was positive about win-win situations where big industries such as Unilever are adapting their business model according to planetary boundaries in terms of biodiversity, freshwater and land. But from my view, this ignores the majority of unregulated global actors which stick to the short-term business model undermining long-term human well-being even when they have some good locking intentions (e.g. freshwater privatization neglecting and excluding the need for basic provisions). One could argue for the necessity of global governance for the global commons. But how could/should this institution be developed from bottom-up? Melissa was emphasizing the creativity in communal action when facing the challenges of resource distribution between needs and limits. Unfortunately, many of us felt that she could have given more evidence on this, or examples of good practice for a democratic process leading to fair and just resource uses. At this point, one could refer for example to the research on the governance of the commons in social-ecological systems by Elinor Ostrom which could serve as a blueprint for emerging cooperation even on the global level.

In conclusion, it is not an Either/Or decision (resilience vs. development) but addressing that a fair and just end also requires a fair and just transformation to it. The figures of the ‘donut economy’ already visualize the complementary approaches nicely (e.g. in chapter by Leach, Raworth, Rockström 2013). But this implies to take it a few steps further now: What do planetary boundaries mean on the individual level? What is our fair share of earth resources and energy? And how could we address ethical questions on regulating human demography and (re-)distribution of resources? How can we mobilize and use individual motivation and creativity leading to the emergence of sustainability and equity? The point is that win-win situations are only the beginning – a rigorous transformation to a sustainable humanity within the holocene requires that a few people will lose a lot. Who decides who those people are?