The challenges of achieving sustainability in the face of climate change are significant. One pressing issue is the way that humans can become unwitting victims of problems that originate far from their immediate environment, and which are often out of their control. In a recent article in the National Science Review, Jianguo “Jack” Liu, MSU Rachel Carson Chair in Sustainability, argues that our traditional approaches to governance, which tend towards addressing issues in isolation, are inadequate for dealing with the complex and interconnected world we inhabit.
When natural events or human decisions in one part of the world to protect, reroute, or corral resources shift an unwanted impact to other places of the world, global justice can be threatened. The wronged party may not even be aware that injustices have been inflicted upon them. Examples of the unintended consequences of local behavior, such as the recent Canadian wildfires, which emitted smoke that affected the northeastern United States, demonstrate the way in which local events can have far-reaching impacts, particularly with the increasing frequency of natural disasters.
Liu suggests that using the lens of metacoupling, which enables us to understand and interact with our environment as a complex system, will help us better understand how human activities generate widespread impacts. A metacoupled perspective allows us to view the world as it truly is, with humans and nature interacting across space and time, free from the constraints of governments or academic disciplines. Through the application of the metacoupling framework, scientists and stakeholders can identify the complex ways in which local actions generate profound impacts worldwide, for example, through policies that regulate the sale of wild animals or those which are related to the release of greenhouse gases.
The impact of our actions can be both positive and negative. For example, China’s giant pandas, which are rare and endangered, inspire global adoration and are the subject of conservation efforts that have grown into a successful panda loan program. This program has distributed dozens of pandas to countries such as the United States, raising awareness, support, and money for conservation programs. However, the success of this program, including the transportation of bamboo, the movement of pandas, and the travel of visitors around the globe, also has a significant carbon footprint, which contributes to climate change they try to address.
Liu does not argue against trade or panda loans. Instead, he outlines ways to promote accountability for the impact of our actions at a global level. The metacoupling framework is flexible and comprehensive, and with good data and participation from scientists from many disciplines, can help identify the causes and effects of the complex socio-environmental interactions that occur across space and time worldwide. This application is essential for fostering sustainability science, which is foundational to global sustainable development. It can also provide a basis for governance, management, spatial planning, and ecosystem restoration essential to ensuring a sustainable future.
Liu argues that dealing with cascading interactions at a local and global level requires effective management and an understanding of how human activities affect the planet. The metacoupling framework provides a way to do this, a significant step in achieving a sustainable future worldwide.
Jianguo Liu, Leveraging the metacoupling framework for sustainability science and global sustainable development, National Science Review (2023). DOI: 10.1093/nsr/nwad090
Provided by Michigan State University
Where there’s smoke, there are lessons in demands of global sustainability (2023, June 12)
retrieved 12 June 2023
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