I am thankful to see this Commission being established.
However, I worry that the whole effort will miss the mark.
The reason is that while there is some concession to an interdisciplinary effort, the language, at least as I read it, appears to still be trapped in the myth that more science as this has come to be understood is sufficient to make reliable sense of the living, complex, global mess and messes we are in, let alone how to cope with them. If this were true, we would be saved by now; or at least, well on the way towards it. Sadly we are not.
And, yes, I am not a trained scientist. My training is in the humanities and (increasingly out of fashion) social sciences. However, I have been reading and contributing to the conversation and literature on cultural/civilizational crises and transformation that folks in the humanities and social sciences have been having for at least eight decades. (This is several decades before "science" discovered we had a problem.)
The insight that the present science-driven "sustainability" industry lacks is the meta-reflexive capacity to see that the litany of messes which bedevil us are the unintended consequences of our Modern/Industrial form of civilization. They are outcomes and outputs of Modernity itself; they are not accidents or mistakes which we can deal with as we seek to make Modernity both stable and global.
If you want the same point in other language, try this: Now we focus on physical "limits" that we must honour; that we must not breach. So far, all good. However, we have no list of the limits of our 1st Enlightenment ways of knowing that must be breached if we are to develop powerful enough insights into our condition and its roots to survive the experience.
If you want a verbal presentation of this perspective see here. It is 58 minutes. If you want a written article see here.
I write not to throw cold water, but to point out what appears to me to be strategic, and possibly fatal, hole in our present work and its presuppositions. We both know that the future of our grandchildren is at stake.
I want to underscore comments made by Ruben Nelson re the call for nominations to the Earth Commission. To be honest I was shocked at the exclusive focus on the hard sciences and on empirical/positivist methodologies, touted as the best way forward for the Commission with respect to the challenge of planetary sustainability. The utter disregard for the social sciences and humanities, when clearly the existential peril we face is civilizational, philosophical and moral at bottom, speaks to the tight grip 'scientism' has on leading thinkers of the day. If the proposed Earth Commission is to have any hope whatever of contributing in a timely and meaningful way to the solutions we desperately need to find, then a broader and more inclusive approach to its work will be indispensable.
I accept that your point of view is believable and even believed by many. However, as all POV it rests on unstated presuppositions. It is the presuppositions of the Commission that I question. If I am wrong and wrong-headed in my views then your point of view may well be sound. However, if my insights are at all sound, then your point of view fails, as will the Commission.
The work of the Commission is framed this way:
Future Earth is seeking nominations for members of the Earth Commission. The Commissioners will provide the scientific insights needed to underpin the setting of science-based targets for a stable and resilient planet.
This work appears to assume:
1. That we can and must identify targets that define, at least in large part, the conditions for a stable and resilient planet – targets that are wholly "science-based."
2. That "science-based" is understood as it is dominantly understood today as being limited to the so-called "hard" sciences or even these with the now fashionable "behavioural sciences." That is, nothing we have learned since the 1st Enlightenment that would require us to fundamentally challenge the foundational insights into both reality and persons on which the 1st Enlightenment rests.
3. That if other targets are required for the survival of our species their definition is not the work of science and scientists; that others can do it in another time and space.
4. That nothing is risked if we exclude from the work of the Commission the insights and concerns of those who are not defined a scientists doing "science-based" work. Such persons have nothing to add to the work of defining "science-based targets required for a stable and resilient planet."
In contrast, I note:
A. The view you express is the dominant view in today's academies and institutions of "higher learning." However, it is slowly losing command of its status as unchallengeable, especially but not only among younger scientists.
B. As is always the case, such fundamental challenges tend to be marginalized, rather than taken seriously by those in charge. I observe that overshoot is a common and in that sense a "normal", if costly, human condition.
C. We, as human persons in history, are at the centre of our conundrum whether "science-based" folks like it or not. "A stable and resilient planet" is only important to us as persons because we value the experience of being persons in this planet. If we give up on living as persons in cultures in history, the problem is solved. We both know this planet is resilient with or without us. It will be green for the next billion years regardless of what we do. While we may create conditions incompatible with human life, no serious person thinks we can destroy all life on this planet. That is, it is a fantasy to think that we can adequately do the "science" of "stability and resiliency" without taking into account the resiliency of the persons who live in co-created cultures (even if most do not know this to be the case) and the cultures that are co-created.
D. The last three decades testify to the fact that throwing the facts of more and better science at persons in history is, at best, a lame strategy to bring about the personal-to-civilizational paradigm changes now required if we are to co-create a stable and resilient future for humanity and much that we care about and live for.
E. That the inability of our "science-based" elites to learn (this is what resiliency is about) is evidence that being "science-based" alone is insufficient to understand, much less cope with, the complex living human and non-human messes we are in.
Ruben Nelson???s key point with respect to the proposed Earth Commission is that the physical, natural (and even social) sciences aren???t enough by themselves to resolve the planetary environmental crisis. The humanities are also indispensable.
The Commission???s mandate ??? ???to set specific science-based targets to guide policies and practice??? ??? disregards history, philosophy, ethics and other ???metaphysical??? endeavours which comprise the humanities. This doesn???t surprise me. Despite repeated calls for ???interdisciplinarity??? Future Earth since its launch in 2015 has always favoured the practical, the empirical and the policy-relevant. These things are obviously important but so is context, interpretation and meaning. So is direction, morality and passion. Without passion the Commission is lifeless.
A strictly science-based approach to planetary sustainability will fail without a clear recognition that the self-induced existential peril we now face is both a practical problem and a moral dilemma. The humanities, effectively engaged, can help us grapple with the moral burden of human exceptionalism and understand more clearly our own power and limitations. The humanities can encourage and foster an emergent sense of adult responsibility and a deeper kind of empathic care for our natural surroundings. Absent this essential contribution, the Commission cannot succeed no matter how well intentioned.