La sociedad, sus acciones y el cambio climático

Hernán Burbano-Orjuela.




Humans and nature have such a tight relation that due to its very intimate character, sometimes escapes to our sight. The rise of civilizations depended upon natural resources and services, and this dependence will continue in the future, as humans harness and shape nature itself. The systematic description and progressive understanding of the natural world have allowed the ascent and development of the human condition as part of the natural world, which is at the same time source of different natural resources, and subject of study and inspiration of both natural sciences and humanities. Thus, the natural world is the stage where human beings develop their personalities and reach their dreams.
In spite of the original continuum between humans and nature, the exponential increment of human population, in conjunction with an economic system built to satisfy an increasing demand, have broken this original harmony and created a big problem due to the finite character of natural resources. The necessity to produce goods and services under an economic model that favors profitability instead of sustainability, has produced social imbalances that led to injustice, poverty and marginalization. Climate change is one of the major consequences of this model of development, a phenomenon that threatens biodiversity and human survival. To face climate change, it is necessary to build a new society based on global ethical principles, which hand in hand with scientific developments could reduce detrimental anthropogenic effects. In doing so, humans will be obliged to radically change their developmental models and life style.
In the following paragraphs I will present some elements that contribute to the discussion and analysis of the unfolding of society in the context of climate change.
Our planet works as a unique self-regulated system composed by physical, chemical, biological and human elements. Those elements interact with each other through complex fluxes of information at different temporal and spatial scales.
The unfolding of societies was fueled and occurred concurrently with the exploitation of natural resources. Thus, anthropogenic pressure exerted on fine regulated ecosystems, created imbalances that in some cases lead to the collapse of particular societies. The onset of agriculture in the Neolithic and its subsequent technological innovations led to an increase in population and to a restructuring of social organization. Much more recently the Industrial Revolution augmented the level of natural resources exploitation, which resulted in further natural imbalances. It is worthwhile to mention that the climate has been interlinked with human prehistory and history. However, while life on earth, and consequently societies, are constrained by cyclic ecological laws, our economic models trigger linear transformations.
Culture can be understood as an intermediary between humans and their surroundings, which shapes our perception of the natural by instilling “meaning networks”. Those networks allow humans to recognize themselves and their rationality as part of the natural world, and trigger a change that leads to respect both nature and fellow human beings.
Although cultural and technological developments allow humans to adapt to an ever changing nature, human and economic welfare mainly depend on natural services provided by ecosystems.
At the end of the 20th century new social problems arose. Their very challenging nature would require that humans take a new attitude towards nature, which based on new social values, will permit an integral improvement on quality of life.
Nowadays, climate change is the principal problem that global society is facing. It results in an average increase of global temperature trigger by the anthropogenic increase of greenhouse gases such as CO2, CH4 and N2O. If this challenge is not approached appropriately at a global scale, the level and consequences of climate change will be even more detrimental. For this reason, internationally organizations have put forward sustainable proposals that could change agricultural systems, integrate resilience and productivity, fight poverty and famine, protect the planet, foster personal prosperity, and, overall, counteract climate change.
There is today and antagonisms between the self-regulatory and millennial action of nature and the actions taken by society to reach its ever increasing demands. The fact that the current geological era was named Anthropocene reveals the impact of the very deleterious effects generated by human activity, which challenges our planet viability and therefore human welfare.
Global population has grown disproportionately under a model that is unsustainable. Consequently, the environmental challenge is a social problem that will require global societal engagement. Since there is an indissoluble union between social and biotic factors, the future of humanity relies in this symbiosis. The roadmap is however difficult, as we would need to modify our worldview through a long term educative action that change present cultural values.