Reconnecting to the Biosphere

Abstract

Humanity has emerged as a major force in the operation of the biosphere, with a significant imprint on the Earth System, challenging social–ecological resilience. This new situation calls for a fundamental shift in perspectives, world views, and institutions. Human development and progress must be reconnected to the capacity of the biosphere and essential ecosystem services to be sustained. Governance challenges include a highly interconnected and faster world, cascading social–ecological interactions and planetary boundaries that create vulnerabilities but also opportunities for social–ecological change and transformation. Tipping points and thresholds highlight the importance of understanding and managing resilience. New modes of flexible governance are emerging. A central challenge is to reconnect these efforts to the changing preconditions for societal development as active stewards of the Earth System. We suggest that the Millennium Development Goals need to be reframed in such a planetary stewardship context combined with a call for a new social contract on global sustainability. The ongoing mind shift in human relations with Earth and its boundaries provides exciting opportunities for societal development in collaboration with the biosphere—a global sustainability agenda for humanity.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    The biosphere is the global ecological system integrating all living beings and their relationships, including their interaction with the elements of the lithosphere, hydrosphere, atmosphere and cryosphere (the Earth’s surface where water is in solid form, including the poles and permafrost regions).

  2. 2.

    The life-supporting environment has been defined as “that part of the earth that provides the physiological necessities of life, namely food and other energy, mineral nutrients, air and water”, and the life-support system as “the functional term for the environment, organisms, processes, and resources interacting to provide these physical necessities” (Odum 1989).

  3. 3.

    Complex systems are characterized by multiple pathways of development (multiple states or basins of attraction), interacting periods of gradual and rapid change, feedbacks and non-linear dynamics, thresholds, tipping points and shifts (transitions) between pathways, and how such dynamics interacts across temporal and spatial scales.

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Acknowledgments

The article is based on Folke et al. (2011). Reconnecting to the Biosphere, Working Paper No.1. Prepared for the “3rd Nobel Laureate Symposium on Global Sustainability: Transforming the World in an Era of Global Change”, in Stockholm, 16–19 May 2011. Stockholm Resilience Centre, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, the Stockholm Environment Institute, the Beijer Institute of Ecological Economics and the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact. We acknowledge support from Stiftelsen Futura, Ebba och Sven Schwartz Stiftelse, Kjell and Märta Beijer Foundation, Formas, and Mistra through a core grant to the Stockholm Resilience Centre, a cross-faculty research centre at Stockholm University.

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Folke, C., Jansson, Å., Rockström, J. et al. Reconnecting to the Biosphere. AMBIO 40, 719 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13280-011-0184-y

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Keywords

  • Social–ecological systems
  • Resilience
  • Ecosystem services
  • Natural capital
  • Adaptive governance
  • Planetary stewardship