The Human Predicament of the 21st Century

Can humans become a force for good in the Anthropocene? And if so, how? Invest in nature and its ecosystems and aim for carbon-neutral economies, said Johan Rockström in his keynote at our symposium “Prosperity in the 21st Century: Securing Future-Proof Economies After Corona”.






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The Symposium “Prosperity in the 21st Century: Securing Future-Proof Economies After Corona”, co-hosted by the Forum for a New Economy and The New Institute on 31 August 2021, provided lively and constructive discussions, ranging from concrete measures for societal wellbeing beyond GDP to the question of new economic paradigms that can adequately address the pressing social and ecological challenges our of time.

The symposium started off with scientific input by Johan Rockström, Professor in Earth System Science at the University of Potsdam and Director at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK), who has coined the term of planetary boundaries together with colleagues at the Stockholm Resilience Centre since 2009.

In his keynote address at the symposium, the expert made clear that this decade is decisive in containing the climate crisis. He explained that the planet is already on the edge of reaching its ecological boundaries, particularly in terms of biodiversity loss, CO2 emissions and the biogeochemical cycles of nitrogen and phosphorus. He placed extreme weather events such as the recent floods and heat waves in the northern hemisphere in the larger context of climate change and clarified that even a temperature increase by 1.5°C would mean at least two meters of sea level rise by the end of the century.

He urged the audience to take note of the nine main interconnected ecological systems that are showing signs of reaching tipping points and that some of them, such as the Amazon rainforest, are already turning from carbon sinks into carbon sources.

The new geological age of the Anthropocene, shaped by human geophysical influence on the planet, is characterized by a high scale, speed and interconnectedness of system changes. According to Rockström, one example is the exponential increase in zoonotic diseases such as Covid-19, which is connected with the dramatic loss of biodiversity – in the last 50 years, more than two thirds of the wildlife population has already died out and about one million species are currently threatened with extinction.

In order to guarantee societal and economic wellbeing for future generations, a combination of mass movements, political progress, market forces and technological disruption is needed. Mr. Rockström conveyed the urgency of following science-based targets so as to keep both climate and nature intact. It became urgently clear that, on the way to a zero-carbon future, we need to rethink economics and contribute to its “Copernican turn”.

Watch the keynote here:



During the high point of market orthodoxy, economists argued that the most 'efficient' way to combat climate change was to simply let markets determine the price of carbon emissions. Today, there is a growing consensus that prices need to be regulated and that a carbon price on its own might not be enough.