International Human Dimensions Programme on Global Environmental Change. That is one impressive acronym. Organized by several different UN-related bodies, the 7th IHDP conference certainly has a laudable mission, to integrate social and human perspectives into our thinking about environmental problems.
After one day of intensive panel discussions, poster presentations and plenary sessions, I am both thrilled and scared. Scared about the amount of spin, the number of already overstretched buzzwords finding their way into ever new combinations such as “sustainable adaptation”. Thrilled about all the work that is going on out there, about the great number of people from all over the world coming together to talk about our common future. In my good moments I think that, post-structuralism and financial crises aside, we are still building that planetary civilization. In my bad moments, I fear that all the economic growth assumptions going into those climate models are about to turn sour, that from here on it is simply downhill.
Both exaggerations, I know. But between the lines I cannot help but wonder if the disintegrative forces are not stronger, all things considered? In the past, humanity has had the good fortune that many of our actions, even if driven by self-interest, have led to desirable collective outcomes (just think about the process of capital accumulation). However, as our environment continues to deteriorate, much of this will change. Instead of laissez-faire we will need a conscious understanding of social transformation, an idea of how to get from a troubled present to a democratically decided future. And that on a global level. In time.
I am not saying that it cannot be done. Only that it will require so much good will, idealism and simple patience with each other.