NEWS 2022-06-18

How to ramp up transformation to Earth stewardship

There is increased public demand for an “earth stewardship vision” that replaces competitive consumerism with an ethic of responsibility, care, and empathy, according to a recent study in the journal Ambio. The study indentifies five pragmatic and strategic leverage points for transformation toward earth stewardship. It stresses that all countries can and must contribute, but at the same time current and historical responsibilities and uneven access to power and resources must be considered.

Youth climate activism is one catalyst for Earth stewardship according to the article. The picture shows Fridays for future-demonstrations in Germany 2019. Photo: Mika Baumeister_Unsplash (Front page teaser photo by Markus Spiske_Unsplash)

We are long overdue to transform our societies to become more sustainable. Now we need to shift swiftly from ever-increasing material wealth to a vision where we become wise and careful stewards of the planet’s climate and ecosystems – and distribute resources equally.

Such “Earth stewardship vision” requires simultaneous changes in both policy incentives and social norms, according to the study which is the result of one the annual Askö meetings arranged by the Beijer Institute, with several Beijer Institute researchers and Beijer Fellows on the author team. The Askö meetings were initated already in 1993 and has generated unique cooperation between internationally leading ecologists and economists throughout the years.

Read the article

”There are many signs we are reaching a social tipping point in public demand for an earth stewardship vision,” says co-author Carl Folke, director of the Beijer Institute and chair of the Stockholm Resilience Centre board.

Catalysts for earth stewardship

Earth stewardship is defined as “the proactive shaping of physical, biological, and social conditions to sustain, rather than disrupt, critical earth-system processes in support of nature and human wellbeing at local-to-planetary scales.”

A number of potential catalysts for earth stewardship were identified, including novel democratic institutions and engagement of social movements.

One example is “the Greta Thunberg effect”: climate activism by youth directly calling for the change of social norms among everybody, regardless of political perspective.

When it comes to policy incentives, the authors highlight how Covid-19 demonstrated that massive concerted global action can happen quickly despite short-term economic costs.

“The Covid-19 response invites us to reimagine how to create a large-scale stewardship effort that coordinates top-down and bottom-up actions to build new pathways toward a more sustainable future for nature and society,” they write.

Five leverage points

The study focused on approaches that can be initiated now by all countries, but emphasizes the need to consider current and historical responsibilities and uneven access to power and resources. The authors also stress the importance of finding the best places to intervene in a system to trigger transformations.

Five strategic leverage points are listed in the paper:
1. Change vision and goals
2. Shift social norms and behaviour
3. Incentivize sustainable production/consumption decisions
4. Engage influential actors
5. Foster deliberative democracy

Reference: Chapin III, F.S., E. Weber, E. Bennett, R. Biggs, J. van den Bergh, W.N. Adger, A.-S. Crepin, S. Polasky, C. Folke, M. Scheffer, K. Segerson, J. Anderies, S. Barrett, J.C. Cardenas, S.R. Carpenter, J. Fischer, N. Kautsky, S.A. Levin, J. Shogren, B.H. Walker, J. Wilen, and A. de Zeeuw. 2022. Earth stewardship: Shaping a sustainable future through interacting policy and norm shifts. Ambio