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Seeds For Better Futures

Updated: Dec 3, 2022

The webinar on Corona Futures was hosted by Prof. Garry Peterson of the Stockholm Resilience Centre.

Artwork by Tanishk Katalkar

The webinar on Corona Futures by Prof. Garry Peterson of the Stockholm Resilience Centre leads a discussion on futures methodologies developed in the Seeds of Good Anthropocene project and how they can be applied to consider pathways out of the current coronavirus crisis.

Garry Peterson is a professor in environmental sciences with an emphasis on resilience and social-ecological systems. His research combines three themes: abrupt systemic change, how ecological changes impact people, and using futures thinking to improve navigating surprising social-ecological change.

He is head of the subject for the centre’s Sustainability Science PhD programme.

Coronavirus as a systemic socio-ecological risk.

He started by talking about how we can deal with coronavirus intelligently and view it as a systemic risk. He argues against the popular conjecture that coronavirus was unprecedented. The coronavirus is a type of socio-ecological risk, where one person’s acts have a cascading or butterfly effect on the environment. People are acting by themselves and actions have immediate consequences that rapidly fade out over time in space, an example of which is the Arctic. People living in the Arctic are full of persistent organic pollutants like PCB and mercury that they never produced but are transported there from industrial activities around the world. He talks about the linear way of problem-solving being futile. The real answer to our problems lies in the complex way of resilience thinking because we live in a world that is anything but simple.

Resilience strategies

There exist four alternative resilience strategies.

The first, enhancing polycentric governance, a complex form of governance with multiple centres of decision-making, each of which operates with some degree of autonomy.

The second, thinking about learning experiment annotation having complex systems understanding embedded in organizations.

The third, maintaining diversity and making use of disparate sources of knowledge and disparate types of knowledge to discuss complex systems versus approaches that are focused on what piques your interest and adds to your own opinions.

The fourth, managing slow variables and feedback. The slow variable controls the fast variable, bad management of these slow variables could have devastating effects on human societies.

Covid, not the first and not the last

While coronavirus was not a novel event, more crises similar to it, not necessarily pandemics are likely to be seen again in the future. This splits the futures into ones we want to avoid and pursue. While authoritarian nationalism, closing off borders, and global fragmentation goes into the first bucket, connected societies that are resilient and work in partnership and adopt learning practices go into the second one. The process of recovering from the coronavirus could accelerate a transition towards sustainability by changing the way people live in cities, reducing reliance on fossil fuels and accelerating the movement to clean technologies or more sensible transportation options.

The Seeds of Good Anthropocene Project

He then talked about the Seeds of Good Anthropocene project. There exist many versions of the future in popular media, but most are dystopian. These dystopian visions inhibit our ability to imagine a positive and sustainable future. The Seeds of Good Anthropocene aims to imagine futures that are socially and ecologically desirable, just, and sustainable. A seed is a way of thinking, that manifests itself in technology, actions or institutions that exist marginally in societies but have the potential to create these ideal futures.

The Three Horizons Framework

The three horizons framework is about thinking about what would have to change for these seeds to grow. We first identify some seeds and think about how they could grow to create a more sustainable world but then question what aspects of the current world would have to decline to enable those conditions and what conflicts would have to arise to facilitate those changes.

Watch the full talk here:


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