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Solutions for a sustainable and desirable future

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Humans no longer live in an empty-world, where natural and social capital is abundant. We now live in a full-world, full of our artifacts and wastes. We are now at a point where increasing material consumption is unsustainable on our finite planet, and, for much of the world, it is no longer the limiting factors to improve quality of life. However, our current society is a set of interconnected worldviews, institutions, and technologies that support the goal of unlimited growth of material production and consumption as a proxy for quality of life. So what are the solutions? This talk will discuss what we require to chance those worldviews, institutions, and technologies. To change our worldview, we need to create potential future scenarios or a single shared vision that demonstrates society’s shared end goals. Such a shared vision would create guidance in making decisions with future implications. Examples of such scenarios and visions can be seen internationally on multiple scales including agriculture in Iowa and around the Great Barrier Reef. We also need appropriate tools to ensure that we are headed in the direction we want to be. Ecosystem services and their valuation is one example of such a tool. It provides us with the ability to calculate the true cost of our decisions and the trade-offs we make. A critical example is the pending decision of whether to dam the mainstream of the Lower Mekong River. To accomplish all this, we need to create institutions that guide behavior and serve as problem-solving entities that allow societies to adapt to their environments. One important aspect of such institutions will be the need for appropriate and open dissemination of information and forums for discussion and communication.

This talk is part of the Microsoft Research Cambridge, public talks series.

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