“The goal, ultimately, is just to manage our world better,” to have an “integrated system for the environment that is driven by what local communities want and need,” said Professor Georgina Mace, director of the NERC Centre for Population Biology at Imperial College London. Mace spoke to ECSP on the sidelines of the 2012 Planet Under Pressure conference.
The environmental challenges of humanity are “really twofold,” she said. First, “human societies have grown up at what we now call the local scale…traditionally using the area in which they live.” Communities have always exerted pressures on their local environment but population growth “means those pressures on local landscapes are much greater than they use to be,” said Mace. “We can’t do everything all in the same place,” without the needs of different groups sometimes conflicting.
This latter case “looks a horrible problem from the environment point of view,” said Mace, because the areas growing fastest are areas that are “already overused in many ways.” If countries “don’t worry too much about international migration [and] we’re able to accommodate that,” this “demographic divide” could actually be helpful, as countries with growing populations could provide a young, energetic workforce to those that are aging.
Mace made policy recommendations on different scales, from the local to the planetary. At the local level she encouraged making sure that climate interventions “are actually in concert with what’s going on in the environment.” “Let’s take advantage of ecological resilience, biological adaptation – all the things that nature has provided us with that give us mechanisms for coping,” she said.
On a broader scale, she recommended intervening to counteract the “damaging drivers of environmental change,” by using geoengineering and better land use planning, “which is essentially gardening the planet.”
“Both of those offer solutions that are actually incredibly efficient. They also have costs, risks, and obstacles to do with governance, to do with different people being winners and losers, and to do with the fact that we tend to organize our world around nation states and these solutions mostly transcend international boundaries.”
“That’s a major obstacle,” Mace said, but in the end we need “to have a fully integrated planning system that is not top down but has an overall strategy that seeks to optimize all the things that people want and allows a way for local communities to connect.”
“I think that’s the big challenge for us – how to get there.”