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Evan Barba, Eleni Charoupia, Sally Sutherland, and Clément Vidal

Georgetown University | University of Aegean | Vrije Universiteit Brussel | University of Brighton

Improving and equalizing the health of humanity within rapidly deteriorating global ecosystems is increasingly unsustainable.

The panel discussed the overall health of our planet, its ability to sustain life, and how to negotiate responsibilities to it and to each other.

Human exceptionalism’s impacts on ecological systems continue to have catastrophic effects on the planet’s health. These effects disproportionately affect the most marginalized global communities, an example being the recent devastating floods in Pakistan. Researchers and practitioners working with systems thinking and design argue that their work can enable exploration, understanding and even problem-solving. As such, the systemic design community has engaged with issues of environmental and human sustainment since its beginning, and RSD11 continues this tradition.

While many believe that preserving the diversity of life on our planet, human and otherwise, should be a fundamental goal of humanity, not everyone agrees on this point. Some argue that the ability of our planet to sustain life will increasingly become an engineering problem that results in a more controlled and likely less diverse landscape. Geoengineering solutions such as cloud-seeding (stratospheric aerosol injection) and carbon capture embrace technological solutions as the primary means by which we will increase or maintain the earth’s capacity to sustain human life. Their proponents argue that any attempt to reduce the pace of technological advances, despite their unintended consequences, is unethical and will lead to human suffering.

Others argue that uncritical acceptance of technological progress has already created ecological conditions that are inhospitable to life, and further technological development will only exacerbate the global problems faced. The most extreme version of this logic suggests that moving from hunter-gather societies to agricultural societies was a technological shift that began current exponential trends—trends that have led to the mismanagement of the earth’s climate and resources can only be corrected by a return to low-energy and “primitive” lifestyles.

Many arguments exist between and in relation to these two extremes. Some argue for more intentional and nuanced technological advances, as well as social arrangements that support only specific and controlled human development aimed at minimizing the ecological footprint of humanity. Others contend that it is too late to avoid the most catastrophic ecosystem damage or to change the organization of human societies and that humans, therefore, should simply go on living as best we can while we still can.

Planetary health series

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Citation Data

Author(s): Evan Barba
Year: 2022
Title: Radical Shifts in Planetary Health
Published in: Proceedings of Relating Systems Thinking and Design
Volume: RSD11
Article No.: 017
URL: https://rsdsymposium.org/radical-shifts-in-planetary-health
Host: University of Brighton
Location: Brighton, UK
Symposium Dates: October 3–16, 2022
First published: 18 October 2022
Last update: 30 April 2023
Publisher Identification: ISSN 2371-8404