Katherine Richardson is the Leader of the Sustainability Science Centre at the University of Copenhagen and a Professor of Biological Oceanography. We discuss the needs of billions of people for food and energy, finding solutions within our finite resources, and tipping points in climate and in societal behavior.
The UN’s Sustainable Development Agenda
The United Nations Sustainable Development Agenda for 2030 lists 17 goals designed to improve human well-being, while also managing the Earth’s resources for the future. We have been moving further from completing our environmental goals every year because well-being comes at the expense of the global environment. The sustainable development goals are a set of tools to maximize human well-being and minimize the negative effects of increased development. For instance, making sure everyone in the world has access to electricity is a well-being goal, and making sure that energy is clean is an environmental goal.
Resources as Money
We currently undervalue the use of natural resources because our economic model is designed to maximize profits, not protect the environment. Prices need to accurately reflect the reality that these resources are finite and must be used as efficiently as possible. No one uses more money than necessary to purchase a good or service, but all of us use more resources than necessary to maintain our lifestyle. We are able to regulate a global economy; we should also be able to regulate the global commodities market of resources.
There are two types of tipping points in the climate change debate: environmental and social. Environmental tipping points include scenarios like losing all of the ice on the North Pole, which makes climate change much worse. There are also tipping points in social systems, such as the dramatic fall in smoking, or the use of seatbelts in cars. Individuals and societies can change and sometimes do so very quickly. If we can manifest social tipping points around climate change that impact governance, our economic systems, our behavior, and our technology, we can mitigate the damage caused by climate change, and hopefully avoid the most devastating tipping points in our environment.
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Katherine Richardson is the Leader of the Sustainability Science Centre at the University of Copenhagen and a Professor of Biological Oceanography at the Center for Macroecology, Evolution, and Climate. She is also a member of the 15-person panel that wrote and delivered an update for the 2030 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals at the UN General Assembly in 2019.
You can follow her on Twitter @KRichardsonC.