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Situating Geoethics in the Pandemocene, an Opinion

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This text explores the societal context of geosciences including geoethics in relation to the concept of pandemics. Geosciences are instrumental in making anthropogenic global change happen, that making it a Pandemic. Therefore, geoscientists are its co-architects who should assume the responsibility that comes with their role as agents of technology-driven change. In this context, how geoscientists use their expertise is not an impartial matter. They are called to duty to offer cures in the Pandemocene; that is the essence of geoethics. This text draws on two upcoming conferences contributions (“Taking responsibility: Geo-societal studies of alternative futures,” EGU2020, Vienna, with Martin Kowarsch, MCC; “Geoethics for Operating in the Human Niche” GGM’20, Porto, inspired by E. Marone), a paper published in 2019 (“The ‘Anthropocene Proposal’: A Possible Quandary and A Work-Around” with N. Bilham, and a blog post prepared for the Salzburg Global Seminar #593 (2017)
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Situating Geoethics in the Pandemocene, an Opinion
Martin Bohle1, 2, *
1 International Association for Promoting Geoethics (IAPG), Rome, Italy
2 Ronin Institute, Montclair, NJ, USA
*corresponding author:
1 Introduction
Pandemics are more than outbreaks of diseases. To face it, our modern way of life is a bunch of pandemics. Hence,
time to face them, thoroughly and as such geosciences included.
A little semantics first; the ancient Greek origin of the word pandemic means ‘all’ (pan) and ‘people’ (demos);
that is, something common to all humans. Pandemic applied as a medical term to an outbreak of widespread
diseases, like the current spreading “coronavirus”, may serve as one example of use. Broader meanings are given
too, for example, …globalization, the most thoroughgoing socioeconomic upheaval since the Industrial
Revolution, which has set off a pandemic of retrogressive nationalism, regional separatism, and religious
extremism” (Martin Filler, New York Review of Books, 24 Sept. 2009, [*]). This quote illustrates nicely that a
pandemic mainly is a cultural thing, something deeply rooted in human behaviour. How the “coronavirus”
emerged (markets), how the illness COVID-19 did spread through societies (travel), or what works to confine the
outbreaks (social distancing) - any of these courses is mainly cultural. Human behaviour driven by sense-making
of natural and cultural processes is vital; identifying what ought the choice to be. Successes and failures of
communities, life and death of individuals depend on it.
Humans, now seven Billion and soon eleven Billion people, who are needing a decent life on Earth require a
globalised society for provision of food, goods and security. There is little alternative to it. It seems that we were
able to manage the growth rate of our population so that, at the end of the century, the total human population is
stabilised. Under such circumstances, globalisation is not a question of whether, although it is a profound question
of how. Simply, by our cheer number, we make our lives a pandemic. The manner how the production of food
and goods, the use of commodities and natural resources is done that is a concern for all people, that is, it is
pandemic. The exponential growth of the number of human people of the last two centuries has wiped any
alternative away. Unhappily that period left us with an unpleasant common heritage of humankind. The manner
how the production of food and goods, the use of commodities and natural resources was done in the recent past
led to anthropogenic global change. Climate change is only the single best-known example. Anthropogenic global
change, like climate change, concerns all people; hence, it is a pandemic.
Turning to the geoscientists, recognising that the Holocene has ended (Waters et al. 2016) is acknowledging that
the pandemics reached the geological record (Zalasiewicz et al. 2019). Hence, as debated since two decades
renaming the current times ‘Anthropocene’ seems valid (Bohle and Bilham 2019); ‘Pandemocene’ may be an
For the record; the notion ‘Anthropocene’ did not first emerge within the geoscience community that is now
charged with assessing the proposal to amend the Geological Time Scale (Finney 2014). Instead, it emerged
among Earth system scientists (Crutzen and Stroemer 2000). The Earth system sciences go beyond geosciences
or Earth sciences, reaching out to social sciences (Castree 2017). The proposal to name contemporary times
‘Anthropocene’ triggered a range of sceptical reactions. Scholars in social sciences, philosophy and humanities
have criticised it as concealing the responsibility of particular actors and the historical contexts that led to it (Autin
2016; Clark and Yusoff 2017; Emmett and Lekan 2016; Haraway 2015; Lövbrand et al. 2015; Olsson et al. 2017;
Palsson et al. 2013; Rosol, Nelson, and Renn 2017; Sayre 2012; Veland 2017; Walton and Shaw 2015). Mutatis
mutandis, the notion 'Anthropocene' emerged from these debates as a shorthand for our times; however,
Pandemocenewas an alternative unthought so far.
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2 Can Geoscientists help to cure the Pandemics of the Anthropocene?
Are geoscientists needed, as the medical caretakers in times of a health pandemic, among other workers, to cure
the Anthropocene? If yes, are they ready to join forces to face the pandemics of the Anthropocene? Do the societal
contexts and the ethical framework of their disciplines enable them to render a contribution?
In general terms, science and research shall serve society (Bernal 1939), and responsible science and innovation
is a public good (Blok 2018; Murphy, C., Gardoni, P., Bashir, H., Harris, C. E., & Masad 2015). These insights
have taken root in contemporary societies (United Nations 2013) and, although still questioned to some degree,
they have become operationalised (Schneider et al. 2019). Like many other natural science communities, the
geosciences communities have strengthened their ethical frameworks in the last decade; using the label ‘geoethics’
The Cape Town Statement on Geoethics (Di Capua, Peppoloni, and Bobrowsky 2017) outlines an actor-centric
virtue-ethic for professional geoscientists. It promotes to act responsibly and knowledge-based. It emphasizes the
societal context of the geosciences. However, its scope is intra-professional as summarised in its concluding
paragraph “Raising the (geo)ethical awareness and competences of the members of the geoscience community is
essential, also to increase trust and credibility among the public. This can best be achieved in the near future by
two means: by promoting more effectively existing guidance such as codes of ethics/conduct and research integrity
statements; and by introducing geoethics into geoscience curricula, to make geoethics a basic feature of the
training and professional activity of geoscientists.”
2.1 The making of possible futures
Societies deploy technologies and infrastructures to interact with natural systems for which geoscience expertise
is critical, including understanding changes due to unsustainable human practices. Despite its geoscience basis,
however, human interaction with natural systems primarily is an economical, social and cultural endeavour about
a desirable human niche. Depending on the ‘political spin’ of given actors stewardship or engineering, for
example a geo-societal narrative is created when shaping the global human niche. These narratives explain how
a given technology or infrastructure shall support production, consumption and societal well-being, as well as
societal change and environmental alteration. Relatedly, as highlighted by the geoethics approach [**], geoscience
research has ethical, social and cultural implications for example, in terms of explanatory narratives. Led by
climate research, contemporary Earth System Science illustrates that anthropogenic global change is as much a
socio-cultural than a science theme (Kowarsch et al. 2017; O’Neill et al. 2017; Schill et al. 2019), which cannot
be neatly disconnected.
Because the science and the socio-cultural spheres are so inevitably intermingled, a holistic approach to
geoscience is required, e.g. when it comes to the future of humankind. Applying the ethical concept of
responsibility for future generations (intergenerational justice), the geoscience community should engage with
studying pathways to possible futures. That is, the geoscience community should embrace integrated assessments,
which are holistic, involving personal and societal concerns, economic and environmental choices as well as
philosophical conceptions of the world, human histories and human futures. While some geoscience domains,
such as climate sciences, embarked on integrated assessments, others focus on past and present dynamics. Studies
of hydrology, nutrient cycles, soils and natural hazards seem prone to engage with holistic, future-oriented
integrated assessments.
Swift geo-processes such as the rise of the global sea-level are a ‘geological present’. However, human perception
sees them shaping ‘a later future’ only which sometimes blurs people’s sense-making of the present. Therefore,
intergenerational justice calls upon geoscientists to engage with studies of probable future configurations of the
Earth System. That is, geoscientist should study the networked geo-, bio-, techno- and societal-cultural systems
holistically. It would be negligent grounding political governance on a body of expertise that lacks the integration
of future-oriented geoscience knowledge with social science and humanities. More specifically, a highly
integrated exploration of alternative future policy pathways deems necessary (Edenhofer and Kowarsch, 2015).
This approach envisages a deliberative learning process about policy alternatives considering their practical
(geoscience and socio-cultural) implications, engaging the potential of geoscience research for humankind.
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2.2 The soft side of geosciences, geoethics.
When thinking about probable futures, it deems necessary to go beyond a mainly intra-disciplinary setting of
geoethics (Peppoloni, Bilham, and Di Capua 2019). Intra-disciplinary frames, like the Cape Town Statement on
Geoethics, are advantageous framework, unquestionable.
However, geoethics may be strengthened for use by any citizen (Bohle and Marone 2019). Strengthening
geoethics may be a choice in the Holocene, although a must in the Pandemocene because citizens’ actions should
‘be judged… where they fall on a scale of care and neglect” because “[w]hen humans formed an independent
relation with the Earth, we were left to choose between a path of care and a path of neglect.’ (Hamilton 2017; p.
150, emphasise in the original). When facing the claim, tools are required. Geoethics for geoscientists is a specific
tool. A more generic tool is needed.
The foundations of geoethical thinking can be expanded through the works of Kohlberg and Jonas, namely about
moral adequacy of normative frameworks1 (Kohlberg 1981) and the imperative of responsibility for those who
deploy technologies (Jonas 1984). Combining these approaches with geoethics approach, a ‘geoethical rationale’
emerges. It promotes six normative preferences: ‘actor-centric, virtue-ethics focused, responsibility focused,
knowledge-based, all-actor-inclusive, and universal rights-based’ (Table 1).
Table 1. Concise meaning of the categories of the geoethical rationale
Meaning of the Category
To apply a normative framework that invests (empowerment) an
individual /group to act to their best understanding in the face of
given circumstances, opportunities and purposes;
virtue-ethics focused
A corpus of personal traits (honesty, integrity, transparency,
reliability, or spirit of sharing, cooperation, reciprocity) of an
individual/group that furthers operational (handling of things) and
social (handling of people) capabilities of the individual/group;
responsibility focused
The outcome of a normative call (internal, external) upon an
individual /group that frames decisions/acts in terms of
accountability, as well for the intended effects as for unintended
consequences and implications for future generations;
In the first and foremost instance, (geosciences / Earth system)
knowledge acquired by scientific methods; experience-based
(‘indigenous/traditional) knowledge is a secondary instance;
reproducibility of knowledge by third parties supports any claim of
trustworthiness instead of allusion to faith or ‘authorities’;
1 The highest level of moral adequacy, Kohlberg’s ‘upper post-conventional level’, is described by a morality that is based on individual
human rights and justice, by acts that are based on universal ethical principles, and by principled self-conscience and mutual respect.
Kohlberg’s grading (relative to ‘societal conventions’) involves (i) acceptance of imposed rules (lower & upper pre-conventional levels); (ii)
relationships of convenience (lower conventional level); (iii) compliance with law & order (upper conventional level); (iv) agreed social
contracts (lower post-conventional level); (v) the agent acts in line with ethical principles (upper post-conventional level);
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All-actor inclusive
Achieve a practice of a ‘shared social licence to operate’ between
various individuals/groups by mitigating differentials of power,
voice etc. using participatory processes and capacity building;
Universal-rights based
Guide affective and rational sense-making of individuals/groups by
universal human rights (life, liberty, justice) to strengthen secondary
normative constructs such as utilitarian, sustainability or
precautionary principles;
A framework like the ‘geoethical rationale’ may be suitable guidance of citizens in the Anthropocene (or
Pandemocene). At a more modest scale of action, the normative preferences of the geoethical rationale may help
citizens, who also are geoscientists, to reach out beyond their professional spheres. On the path towards this
endeavour, the question arises why geoscientists should be among the ‘health workers’, who are needed to mitigate
the risks of the Pandemocene. Hence, what makes the societal context of the geosciences (Bohle and Preiser
3 Societal contexts of the geosciences
Geosciences or Earth sciences are an amalgam of fundamental and applied research fields mainly within but also
beyond natural sciences, as well as specific engineering disciplines and commercial undertakings on various
scales, ranging from individual chartered experts to state-owned or multinational private corporations.
Irrespective of how these research fields (or disciplines) are prescribed or distinguished, they aggregate natural-
science knowledge about the functioning of the Earth, albeit with an initial focus on the abiotic components of the
Earth systems, and they have limited interaction with social sciences or humanities, beyond economics. Together,
these geosciences disciplines nourish a corpus of stewardship knowledge about natural processes that can inform
how people could act within the Earth system (Lenton and Latour 2018; Ogden et al. 2013; Redman and Miller
2015; Steffen et al. 2011). Contemporary geoscience knowledge is, therefore, of very high operational value for
the functioning of modern societies.
That geoscience knowledge alone, however, does not guide how people ought to act. That issue is addressed by
ethics, in general, and in the specific form of professional ethics such as contemporary geoethics. However, even
in the absence of guidance as to how to act, the geoscientist’s expert knowledge comes with responsibility for the
individual scientist, as a professional and as a citizen, towards people and communities (P. Bobrowsky et al. 2017;
Bohle, Nauen, and Marone 2019; Di Capua, Peppoloni, and Bobrowsky 2017; Peppoloni and Di Capua 2018).
3.1 A pandemic of anthropogenic global change
During prehistoric and historical periods, humankind modified natural environments to appropriate resources for
living and wellbeing (Ellis 2015; Fuentes 2016; Ruddiman 2018). Contemporary societies apply geosciences
extensively for their economic, societal and cultural activities (Bohle 2017; Gill and Bullough 2017; Krausmann
et al. 2013, 2017; Rosol, Nelson, and Renn 2017). These activities bind, through global supply chains, the entire
globe into one social-ecological system (Reyers et al. 2018) that intersects deeply with the physical and biological
systems of the Earth.
Crafts-persons, technicians, architects and engineers apply geoscience knowledge, at least implicitly, when
altering natural environments or creating artefacts, e.g. extraction of minerals, the laying the foundations for
buildings, or managing floodplains. Artists, poets or philosophers of any time or culture refer to the Earth for co-
shaping human identity. Contemporary geoscience knowledge seeps into modern thinking and dealings (Moores
1997; Peppoloni and Di Capua 2012), often without being identified as such (Bohle 2015; Bohle, Sibilla, and
Casals I Graells 2017), and rarely put forward so openly as in the metaphorical title of the book by the geochemists
Langmuir and Broecker (Langmuir and Broecker 2012), ‘How to build a habitable planet’.
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Large-scale infrastructures like shore defences, hydropower plants or urban dwellings visibly interact with the
geosphere and are a physical expression of how people situate themselves on Earth; views that alter through
history (Ellis 2011; Fressoz 2012; Purdy 2015). Whatever the philosophical concepts are that frame the
construction of these infrastructures, they could not have been built without a profound geoscience culture (Brown
et al. 2017; Häusler 2018; Ruddiman et al. 2015; Wysession et al. 2012) that includes scientific understanding,
technological know-how and societal justifications. Likewise, purposefully designed global production systems
or consumption patterns couple human activity with the geosphere at a planetary scale. The coupling happens
through cycles of matter, energy and information (Haff 2014b; Rosol et al. 2018; Zalasiewicz et al. 2016) that are
mostly invisible. Greenhouse gas emissions are well-known as the most prominent example, although a similar
case could be made for nitrogen or the global agriculture system (Campbell et al. 2017; Morseletto 2019; Zhang
et al. 2015).
During the last century, humankind's activities have intersected the geosphere in a much more extensive and
intricate manner than ever before, either directly or intermediated through the biosphere (Barnosky et al. 2012;
Steffen, Broadgate, et al. 2015). Over some decades, the increasing number of people living on Earth and more
notably the profligate consumption of resources in the affluent industrialised regions has culminated in a pandemic
of anthropogenic change (Kunnas 2017; Steffen et al. 2011; Zalasiewicz et al. 2014).
When considering the outcome of recent economic activity and its cultural justification (e.g. by hegemonic
systems of cultural values), then the resulting anthropogenic global change may be considered as being intentional;
at least tacitly, because it is happening through negligence (Bonneuil and Fressoz 2013; Fressoz 2012; Hamilton,
Bonneuil, and Gemenne 2015). Consequently, it is appropriate to qualify anthropogenic global change as driven
by an ‘Anthropos’ that is organised as a pandemicmutually entangled as in the classic Western movie: for the
good, the bad and the ugly (Dalby 2015); or, likely, the inescapable (Dryzek and Pickering 2019). Notwithstanding
such systemic human agency, not all individual (or collective) human beings of past and present times have caused
the anthropogenic change in the same manner or to the same extent (Bonneuil and Fressoz 2013; Haraway 2015;
Heemskerk and Takes 2016; Lorimer 2017; Moore 2017). Therefore, the notion ‘Anthropocene’ should be used
while also acknowledging the responsibilities, political mechanisms and social processes that led to the current
state of the globe, that finally make the Pandemocene. Nevertheless, anthropogenic global change is about how
people, given hegemonic systems of cultural values, choices and lifestyles, govern the appropriation of biotic and
abiotic resources from natural environments at a planetary scale (Wright et al. 2018). This description of the
contemporary ‘human condition’ would be the essence of a geological epoch named the ‘Anthropocene’;
acknowledging that naming it suchlike is an overdue act (Bohle and Bilham 2019).
4 Conclusion: Planetary human agency and geosciences
How societies alter natural environments depends on their technological means, cultural views on how to deploy
them, the scientific insights that underpin these technological means and cultural views, and the economic
conditions, cultural constraints and available resources. Together they determine which ‘endeavours’ of
anthropogenic change are possible or desirable to undertake. The principal human endeavour in contemporary
times is to operate a ‘technosphere’ at the planetary scale (Castree 2017; Haff 2014a, 2014b; Herrmann-Pillath
2018; Leach et al. 2018; Redman and Miller 2015; Steffen et al. 2011), which is the essence of the Pandemocene.
The ongoing anthropogenic global change as driven by the cumulative effect of ordinary economic and social
activities; that is an insight that justifies the notion ‘Anthropocene’ (Ellis 2016; Galaz 2014; Rosol et al. 2018;
Rosol, Nelson, and Renn 2017) in the first place and Pandemocene in the second place.
Within society’s corpus of technological means, cultural views and scientific insights, geoscience knowledge has
the potential to fundamentally shape the direction, effectiveness and efficiency of anthropogenic change of Earth
system dynamics. To that end, when answering questions about the Earth system like ‘where to situate
humankind’, ‘how to change processes’ or ‘what features to safeguard’, the geosciences provide ‘instruments’.
Such instruments are Earth science literacy, insights into the origin of Earth including its development through
aeons and understanding how Earth system dynamics operate, and, finally, geoethical thinking to guide about the
‘ought to be’.
The applied geoscience professions use established knowledge, methodologies and technologies to change the
physical world (Srbulov 2014). Engineering geoscience disciplines pursue control of processes (that fundamental
geoscience disciplines identify), interface applied and fundamental fields, and link with other engineering
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disciplines to harness human power to alter Earth system dynamics. This amalgam of fundamental, applied and
engineering sciences, as well as the commercial use of geoscience knowledge, makes geosciences an instrument
to further a pandemic of anthropogenic change. The working environments of applied and commercial
geosciences explicitly frame the activities of any ‘geo-professional’. They are subject to ethical requirements and
professional responsibilities that cascade through the links with applied and engineering disciplines, and also
engage, ultimately, the geoscientist doing fundamental research (Peppoloni, Bilham, and Di Capua 2019).
When considering the anthropogenic global change in its daily societal context, people need geoscience
knowledge because any given individual interacts with the Earth system, be it only as a consumer of resources.
Furthermore, citizens need insights into the functioning of the Earth system to engage in better-informed decision
making (Bohle, Nauen, and Marone 2019). The geological notion ‘Anthropocene’ would summarise such insights
in a powerful message that the natural world and the human world are tightly interconnected and that as a result,
human activities have already irrevocably altered the Earth system (Waters et al. 2016). Consequently, insights
stemming from Earth system sciences about such matters as planetary boundaries (Steffen, Richardson, et al.
2015) could inform citizens about ‘what to do’ and ‘what not to do’. A dedicated responsibility of geoscientists
results from the specific function that they have within contemporary societies because of the corpus of expertise
that they can offer. The geoethics approach, may it take the form of intra-disciplinary call of the Cape Town
Statement on Geoethics or the form of a broader ‘geoethical rationale’, strengthen this call on geoscientists.
To summarise, geosciences are instrumental in making anthropogenic global change happen, that making it a
Pandemic. Therefore, geoscientists are its co-architects who should assume the responsibility that comes with
their role as agents of technology-driven change. In this context, how geoscientists use their expertise is not an
impartial matter. They are called to duty to offer cures in the Pandemocene; that is the essence of geoethics.
5 Post scriptum recycled: Surrender!:
About two years ago, in 2017, I wrote a piece for the Salzburg Global Seminar # 593 [***], stating that “new
complexities, irritating disruptions of trusted practices, and accelerating change seem to characterize our times.
Uncertainty about the future is acknowledged by many. The rate of change is unmeasured; hence, it is felt”. Now,
the disruption of the habitual daily doings may come with accelerated pace because of the COVID-19 health
Back in 2017, the participants of the seminar were asked: What will our planet look like in 2050 or 2100? Who
or what will control our lives? What will it mean to be human?
The years 2050 or 2100 deemed far away, somehow. It will be times when my children and grandchildren will be
getting as old as I am now, respectively. I wondered, at time of writing in 2017: Hence, what is 'The New' that
is up to us, in a world of somehow self-driving cars, subsistence fishermen and first climate refugees? Our views
focus' on the next corner, the next turn of a road. Where are the signposts? Who has a sketch of the roads ahead?
Does vision lack? What marks the debates? The technology-fascinated disagree. Nevertheless, their vision is just
'scale-up,' massively to reach a singularity. Does this change in quantity leads to new quality? Hence, is Mr Hegel
At the time of writing in 2017, I offered ten statements. Each implied a considerable alteration of the present state
of people's dealings; some deemed clear-cut, some were underlying. Today I take out #10 (Our outpost on Moon
and Mars may be reopened soon after the burial of the bodies of the early colonists on Earth.) and modify #1,
namely replacing ‘emergencies’ with ‘pandemics’ and advancing their onset. I made both changes because time
seems to shorten before entering the difficult decades 2020-2040.
1. People overcame the multiple societal-environmental pandemics of the 2020/2030-ties; then life-
expectancy had stalled globally. During this crisis, luckily, the use of arms of mass destruction got
hindered; although some 'conventional warfare' occurred.
2. By 2050, collaborative Earth System Governance has emerged, and the life-expectancy (number of
healthy years) of people started to increase again.
3. In most regions, the species extinction rates got capped. The deterioration of vital global ecosystems has
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4. In 2100, the global human population has stabilized at little less than 11 Billion people; slow decline
seems possible now. Open societies have led to about equal levels of development in all urbanized
5. Networks and circular supply-chains enforce participatory handling of societal-environmental problems,
including large-scale migration of people.
6. Joint efforts are ongoing to relocate people from the ocean shorelines (and some other now uninhabitable
zones); 'managed human retreat' because of sea-level rise and 'rebuilding of (coastal) urban areas' is a
global policy.
7. The rate of change of societal-environmental systems has been capped, and the diversity of the 'human
niche' is made a 'species goal.'
8. Most production systems use processes that are derived from synthetic biology with embedded quantum-
9. Since 2050, emotions emerged spontaneously in complex information systems, and since then, they
consolidated into stable societal features. Since then, suchfeeling systems' and the various (collective
and individual) 'people-tool systems' got a dedicated legal status in most countries.
The current turmoil of early 2020, which is caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, indeed stretch our imagination
to the breaking point. Hence, Irritation! Notwithstanding the current turmoil, I stay by the metaphorical
description about the exit-strategy made three years ago:
(1) For many of our fellow citizens, 'The Future,' with capital "F," is the march towards "About-the-Same." It may
be a bit more of the same. For most people, The Future is nothing that is 'made.' It is something to be endured.
Moreover, disasters or war deem ready to disrupt its regular gait. It is this aeon-old view, "Nihil sub sole novum"
(nothing new under the sun) that for many provide a sense of security. Astonishingly, 'The Future' is a reference
frame. It embeds our myopic starring at the next turn of events. However, what to do when this reference frame
seems to change, to wobble and, hence gets uncertain. Then, menacingly,The Unknown' frames the stages of our
plays. Irritatingly, 'The Counter-Intuitive' seems to consolidate out of our plays. Threateningly, they block the
way back. The horsemen of the modern apocalypse, 'The New,' 'The Unknown,' and 'The Counter-Intuitive' threat
with insecurity, loss of competences, altered divisions of societies, and lost sense!
(2) Some people relish the 'The New,' 'The Unknown,' and 'The Counter-Intuitive’. Artists, Explorers, Scientists
feel a deep sensual pleasure when confronting them, as a person and as citizens. The artist's psyche, the explorer's
spirits, the innovator's minds, the researcher's souls are resources vibrating with imagination and passion. Hence,
nurtured by them, the citizenries may confront Quantum-Technology, Earth System Sciences, Artificial
Intelligences, and Synthetic Biology. Then the citizenries will draft the new 'guides to these galaxies.' They will
tell, whether '42' is still the right answer, why your towel might be sufficient, and who moved the restaurant(s) at
the end of the universe(s)? [##]
(3) Only as citizens, artists, cultural practitioners, inventors, and scientists can push the boundaries of the human
imagination. As citizens, jointly they may move beyond the familiar and transcend the borders towards the future.
Nevertheless, are they ready to assume this task? Do they invest collaboratively in path-changing discoveries,
different fates of our planet, and charting pathways to liveable futures? Only then, 'The New', 'The Unknown', and
'The Counter-Intuitive' will face the broad, vigorous smile of 'The Imaginator'- Surrender!
[#]Salzburg Global Seminar #593 "The Shock of the New: Arts, Technology and Making Sense of the Future"
(Salzburg, 20-25 February 2018). [##] See plots in "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" by Douglas Adams.
[*]; consulted 11th April 2020
[**]; consulted 11th April 2020
[***]; consulted 11th April 2020
Acknowledgement: This text draws on two upcoming conferences contributions (“Taking responsibility: Geo-
societal studies of alternative futures,” EGU2020, Vienna, with Martin Kowarsch, MCC; “Geoethics for Operating
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The debates about naming the unfolding times of anthropogenic global change the ‘Anthropocene’ are ultimately debates about the ‘human condition’. The proposal to amend the geological time scale by adding an ‘Anthropocene’ epoch (that is, the ‘Anthropocene proposal’ in its strict sense) is both an intra-geoscience debate about scientific sense-making and a debate about the societal context of the geosciences. This essay juxtaposes these debates, starting from three postulates: first, that the scientific methods of geological chronostratigraphy are applied rigorously; second, that anthropogenic global change is happening; and third, that the ‘Anthropocene proposal’ may be rejected if it does not meet the conditions required for its approval based on the rigorous application of the scientific methods of geological chronostratigraphy. These postulates are analysed through the lenses of the Cape Town Statement on Geoethics and the normative statements of the ‘geoethical promise’. It is found that an ethical quandary would arise if the ‘Anthropocene proposal’ were to be rejected. Consequently, and given the societal contexts of the geosciences, it is explored whether distinguishing between the geological past (as demarcated according to current chronostratigraphic methodology) and contemporary geological–historical times (characterised somewhat differently) could offer a work-around to tackle the quandary.
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Responsible interaction of people with the Earth system calls for deep engagement with ethical considerations. Due to their professional knowledge and skills, geoscientists in particular should reflect on the ethical implications of their work that could guide responsible interactions. Geoethics offers geoscientists a framework for operationalising and exercising this responsibility whilst also orienting other professions and society towards responsible interactions with the Earth system. This chapter explores the meaning of geoethics in detail and describes the current state of geoethical thinking and its application to geoscience research and practice. It argues that reference values and general principles should be reconciled with context-dependent perspectives in complex decision-making settings, and reflects on the potential of geoethics to inform a more ‘responsible anthropocentrism’.
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This chapter explores geoethical thinking as a means for offering alternative modes of living in a world where humans and natural systems are inextricably linked. Real-world examples demonstrate the societal relevance of geoethics. Four essays illustrate different aspects and specific contexts. The first explores the societal significance of geoscience as a ‘stewardship-science’ and elicits the often hidden influence of geoscience in contemporary societies. The second describes an adaptive and collaborative governance approach affording more sustainable futures for small-scale fisheries. This approach combines universal values with contextual practices to inform geoethics-inspired governance approaches. The third argues that more rigorous engagement with citizen science would demonstrate the societal relevance of geoethics. The final essay explores how ‘society–Earth-centric’ narratives can help citizens better understand their (inter)actions within the Earth system.
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The societal relevance and purpose of geoscience are discussed from a conceptual perspective in this chapter. It explores how people should live ethically in times of anthropogenic global change and describes the history and current state of ‘human niche-building’ (or ‘engineering’, in its broadest sense) at the planetary scale. It outlines how the Earth can be conceived as a single system, ‘people included’, by considering the geosphere, biosphere and ‘noosphere’—a term repurposed here to denote the human agent and its socio-technological means, consisting of physical and mental artefacts. It posits Kohlberg’s hierarchy of moral adequacy as a reference scale for assessing the maturity of human–Earth interactions, and argues for the social value of geoethical thinking in shaping public narratives about these interactions.
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The Anthropocene, a term launched into public debate by Nobel Prize winner Paul Crutzen, has been used informally to describe the time period during which human actions have had a drastic effect on the Earth and its ecosystems. This book presents evidence for defining the Anthropocene as a geological epoch, written by the high-profile international team analysing its potential addition to the geological time scale. The evidence ranges from chemical signals arising from pollution, to landscape changes associated with urbanisation, and biological changes associated with species invasion and extinctions. Global environmental change is placed within the context of planetary processes and deep geological time, allowing the reader to appreciate the scale of human-driven change and compare the global transition taking place today with major transitions in Earth history. This is an authoritative review of the Anthropocene for graduate students and academic researchers across scientific, social science and humanities disciplines. (See files for table of contents and Intro-excerpt, files from CUP-Page, see there for more info: )
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The UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development stresses the fundamental role science should play in implementing the 17 Sustainable Development Goals endorsed by the global community. But how can and should researchers respond to this societal demand on science? We argue that answering this question requires systematic engagement with the fundamental normative dimensions of the 2030 Agenda and those of the scientific community—and with the implications these dimensions have for research and practice. We suggest that the production of knowledge relevant to sustainable development entails analytic engagement with norms and values through four tasks. First, to unravel and critically reflect on the ethical values involved in sustainability, values should increasingly become an empirical and theoretical object of sustainability research. Second, to ensure that research on social–ecological systems is related to sustainability values, researchers should reflect on and spell out what sustainability values guide their research, taking into account possible interdependencies, synergies, and trade-offs. Third, to find common ground on what sustainability means for specific situations, scientists should engage in deliberative learning processes with societal actors, with a view to jointly reflecting on existing development visions and creating new, contextualized ones. Fourth, this implies that researchers and scientific disciplines must clarify their own ethical and epistemic values, as this defines accountability and shapes identification of problems, research questions, and results. We believe that ignoring these tasks, whether one is in favor or critical of the 2030 Agenda, will undermine the credibility and relevance of scientific contributions for sustainable development.
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Sound governance arrangement in socio-ecological systems (human niche) combines different means of sense-making. The sustainability of human niche-building depends on the governability of the social-ecological systems (SES) forming the niche. Experiences from small-scale marine fisheries and seabed mining illustrate how ethical frameworks, civic participation and formalised guidance combine in the context of a "blue economy". Three lines of inquiries contextualise these experiences driving research questions, such as "what is the function of ethics for governability?" First, complex-adaptive SES are featured to emphasise the sense-making feedback loop in SES. Actors are part of this feedback loop and can use different means of sense-making to guide their actions. Second, the "Voluntary Guidelines for Sustainable Small-Scale Fisheries" and geoethical thinking are featured to highlight the relevance of actor-centric concepts. Third, Kohlberg's model of "stages of moral adequacy" and the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) are used to show how to strengthen actor-centric virtue-ethics. Combining these lines of inquiry leads to the conclusion that ethical frameworks, civic participation and formalised guidance, when put in a mutual context, support governability and multi-actor/level policy-making. Further research could explore how creativity can strengthen civic participation, a feature only sketched here.
Human behaviour is of profound significance in shaping pathways towards sustainability. Yet, the approach to understanding human behaviour in many fields remains reliant on overly simplistic models. For a better understanding of the interface between human behaviour and sustainability, we take work in behavioural economics and cognitive psychology as a starting point, but argue for an expansion of this work by adopting a more dynamic and systemic understanding of human behaviour, that is, as part of complex adaptive systems. A complex adaptive systems approach allows us to capture behaviour as ‘enculturated’ and ‘enearthed’, co-evolving with socio–cultural and biophysical contexts. Connecting human behaviour and context through a complex adaptive systems lens is critical to inform environmental governance and management for sustainability, and ultimately to better understand the dynamics of the Anthropocene itself. To understand and address sustainability problems, a complex model of human behaviour is proposed, one that co-evolves with their context, as opposed to simpler models.