In 2014, UNDP, with the generous support of the Government of Denmark, established an Innovation Facility to improve service delivery and support national governments and citizens to tackle complex challenges. The report ‘Spark, Scale, Sustain’ shares UNDP’s approach to innovation, over 40 case studies of innovation for the Sustainable Development Goals in practice and Features on Alternative Finance, Behavioral Insights, Data Innovation and Public Policy Labs. Download the report to find out more about the innovation initiatives that are testing and scaling solutions to address challenges across five areas:
Eradicate Poverty, Leave No One Behind
Protect the Planet
Build Peaceful Societies, Prevent Violent Conflict
Manage Risk, Improve Disaster Response
Advance Gender Equality & Women’s Empowerment
Humanity is more technologically powerful than ever before, and yet we feel ourselves to be increasingly fragile. Why?
The end of the world is a growth industry. You can almost feel Armageddon in the air: from survivalist and ‘prepper’ websites (survivopedia.com, doomandbloom.net, prepforshtf.com) to new academic disciplines (‘disaster studies’, ‘Anthropocene studies’, ‘extinction studies’), human vulnerability is in vogue. The panic isn’t merely about civilizational threats, but existential ones. Beyond doomsday proclamations about mass extinction, climate change, viral pandemics, global systemic collapse and resource depletion, we seem to be seized by an anxiety about losing the qualities that make us human. Social media, we’re told, threatens our capacity for empathy and genuine connection. Then there’s the disaster porn and apocalyptic cinema, in which zombies, vampires, genetic mutants, artificial intelligence and alien invaders are oh-so-nearly human that they cast doubt on the value and essence of the category itself.
Posted in Humanity
“The Earth’s cry for rescue from the punishing weight of the industrial system we have created is our own cry for a scale and quality of life that will free each of us to become the complete person we know we were born to be.” –Theodore Roszak
No matter what our race or ethnicity, our species always had a kinship with a greater-than-human world. It is this kinship that allowed us to become and to flourish as humans, but here in the West, many of us have largely forgotten that we need nature for both our physical and psychological well-being.
One of the largest icebergs ever recorded has just broken away from the Larsen C Ice Shelf in Antarctica. Over the past few years, I’ve led a team that has been studying this ice shelf and monitoring change. We spent many weeks camped on the ice investigating melt ponds and their impact—and struggling to avoid sunburn thanks to the thin ozone layer. Our main approach, however, is to use satellites to keep an eye on things.
We’ve been surprised by the level of interest in what may simply be a rare but natural occurrence. Because, despite the media and public fascination, the Larsen C rift and iceberg “calving” is not a warning of imminent sea level rise, and any link to climate change is far from straightforward. This event is, however, a spectacular episode in the recent history of Antarctica’s ice shelves, involving forces beyond the human scale, in a place where few of us have been, and one which will fundamentally change the geography of this region.
Read also: I’ve studied Larsen C and its giant iceberg for years – it’s not a simple story of climate change
It is, I promise, worse than you think. If your anxiety about global warming is dominated by fears of sea-level rise, you are barely scratching the surface of what terrors are possible, even within the lifetime of a teenager today. And yet the swelling seas — and the cities they will drown — have so dominated the picture of global warming, and so overwhelmed our capacity for climate panic, that they have occluded our perception of other threats, many much closer at hand. Rising oceans are bad, in fact very bad; but fleeing the coastline will not be enough.
Indeed, absent a significant adjustment to how billions of humans conduct their lives, parts of the Earth will likely become close to uninhabitable, and other parts horrifically inhospitable, as soon as the end of this century.
In this paper, we introduce an area of activity that has flourished for decades in all corners of the globe, namely grassroots innovation for sustainable development. We also argue why innovation, in general, is a matter for democracy. Combining these two points, we explore how grassroots innovation can contribute to what we call innovation democracy, and help guide innovation so that it supports rather than hinders social justice and environmental resilience. Drawing upon qualitative case studies from empirical domains including energy, food, and manufacture, we suggest it does so in four related ways: 1. Processes of grassroots innovation can help in their own right to cultivate the more democratic practice of innovation more generally. 2. Grassroots innovations that result from these processes can support citizens and activities in ways that can contribute to the practice of democracy. 3. Grassroots innovations can create particular empowering sociotechnical configurations that might otherwise be suppressed by interests around more mainstream innovation systems. 4. Grassroots innovations can help nurture general levels of social diversity that are important for the health of democracy in its widest political senses. The paper finishes with a few suggestions for how societies committed to innovation democracy can better support and benefit from the grassroots activity, by working at changes in culture, infrastructure, training, investment, and openness.
While much of the rhetoric surrounding the Anthropocene has been markedly negative, there has recently been a push by many scientists for a more positive narrative. Specifically, researchers are posing the question: can the Anthropocene be good? A good Anthropocene would balance the preservation of the natural world with realistic societal needs and consumption.
Recent research supports the value of a hopeful, rather than “doom and gloom”, perspective for rallying individuals to action. Messages of optimism are thought to be necessary to broadly engage the public and to attract youth to professional careers in the field of conservation biology. This makes intuitive sense—if experts are constantly heard saying that all is lost, it is difficult to expect anyone to be motivated to change their behavior.
Recently, a number of the world’s leading scientists, indigenous leaders, and advocates have been engaged in something bold: asking exactly what is required to stop the mass extinction of life on Earth and save a living planet. And the answer, after numerous reviews of the evidence for what it would take to achieve comprehensive biodiversity conservation, has become clear: fully protect half the Earth (or more) in an interconnected way. The vision is bold because it far surpasses globally agreed upon targets for establishing nature reserves (which today are at 17%) and because rather than asking for what appears possible, it is asking for what is needed. In several advocacy communities, this goal has been coined “Nature Needs Half” (NNH) — a concept that is meant to be inclusive of people in its definition of nature as well as in its definition of protection. NNH acknowledges that nature can be conserved not only in government-run protected areas but also on private lands and indigenous reserves.
Humanity’s impact on the Earth is now so profound that a new geological epoch – the Anthropocene – needs to be declared, according to an official expert group who presented the recommendation to the International Geological Congress in Cape Town on Monday. The new epoch should begin about 1950, the experts said, and was likely to be defined by the radioactive elements dispersed across the planet by nuclear bomb tests, although an array of other signals, including plastic pollution, soot from power stations, concrete, and even the bones left by the global proliferation of the domestic chicken were now under consideration. The current epoch, the Holocene, is the 12,000 years of stable climate since the last ice age during which all human civilization developed. But the striking acceleration since the mid-20th century of carbon dioxide emissions and sea level rise, the global mass extinction of species, and the transformation of land by deforestation and development mark the end of that slice of geological time, the experts argue. The Earth is so profoundly changed that the Holocene must give way to the Anthropocene.
Read also: The Anthropocene epoch could inaugurate even more marvelous eras of evolution
Timothy Morton wants humanity to give up some of its core beliefs, from the fantasy that we can control the planet to the notion that we are ‘above’ other beings. His ideas might sound weird, but they’re catching on.
Part of what makes Morton popular are his attacks on settled ways of thinking. His most frequently cited book, Ecology Without Nature, says we need to scrap the whole concept of “nature”. He argues that a distinctive feature of our world is the presence of ginormous things he calls “hyperobjects” – such as global warming or the internet – that we tend to think of as abstract ideas because we can’t get our heads around them, but that are nevertheless as real as hammers. He believes all beings are interdependent and speculates that everything in the universe has a kind of consciousness, from algae and boulders to knives and forks. He asserts that human beings are cyborgs of a kind since we are made up of all sorts of non-human components; he likes to point out that the very stuff that supposedly makes us us – our DNA – contains a significant amount of genetic material from viruses. He says that we’re already ruled by a primitive artificial intelligence: industrial capitalism. At the same time, he believes that there are some “weird experiential chemicals” in consumerism that will help humanity prevent a full-blown ecological crisis.
Read also: Ecology Without Nature: Rethinking Environmental Aesthetics
Dark Ecology: For a Logic of Future Coexistence