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Skip to 0 minutes and 6 seconds The anthropocene is a scientific definition based on the evidence we have gathered over the past 30 years showing clearly, from observations, that we’ve entered a great acceleration in human pressures on the planet over the past 50 years. And these pressures have now reached a scale that we can compare this with the determining factors that has been regulating the state of the planet and its geological history, I mean millions of years back. And we can today conclude scientifically that we humans surpass the natural causes behind the planet going in and out of ice ages, which has been our distance to the sun and our relationship to the big planets in the universe.

Skip to 0 minutes and 54 seconds But we humans are today a force that is larger than these natural forces. Which means that we have entered a whole new geological epoch which has been baptised the anthropocene. Anthros for us humans. So anthropocene means humanity is today the largest single driving force determining the state of the planet, meaning determining the outcome for humanity. And in that complexity, which has everything to do with urbanisation, energy use, plastic, technology, building, and food. We know that food is a predominant and so fundamental determinant of the outcome of the state of the planet. So in the anthropocene, food is not only a big but essentially the major player.

Skip to 1 minute and 45 seconds I mean just for one little statistic, we’ve transformed roughly 50% of the land surface on Earth to different forms of agriculture. We have come to a point where 70% of the marine systems on planet Earth are overfished. We’ve come to a point where we’ve reached 1.2 degrees Celsius warming, which is even outside of the Holocene, which is the last epoch we’ve been in since the last ice age, and agriculture is a large cause behind this change. So, food production is a driver of the anthropocene. And we are at this new juncture for humanity on earth. Food systems are fundamental for sustainable development in many respects.

Skip to 2 minutes and 30 seconds The first and core issue is that we need to recognise that the way we produce and eat food is the single largest cause behind unsustainable development on planet Earth. So the single largest emitter of greenhouse gases is agriculture, the single largest consumer of freshwater is agriculture, the single largest cause of losing biodiversity– we’re in the sixth mass extinction of species– is agriculture, the single largest cause behind over pollution of our waterways– both from nitrogen, phosphorus, but also chemicals– is largely from agriculture. So food in its production and consumption, is a very determinant factor where whether we’ll have a chance to secure a sustainable pathway for humanity. Meaning meeting the sustainable development goals.

Skip to 3 minutes and 19 seconds But then you see food is also fundamental for economic development, for equity, for peace and security, to avoid conflict in the world. So if we’re serious about really having prosperity in our societies, we need to have not only healthy but also a stable supply of food and we need to have an equitable sharing of food for a world population which is today at 7.2 billion, but soon at nine, ten billion. So I would argue that food is a determining factor for planetary and for humanity in the future. To use natural resources sustainably means, to put it very simple, that we now need to recognise that in the anthropocene, humanity has become a big entity on a small planet.

Skip to 4 minutes and 9 seconds And we’re started to hit the biophysical ceiling of the capacity of the earth system to be stable. So sustainable management of natural capital and natural resources means being smart stewards of the remaining environmental space we have on Earth within the safe operating space of stability. So it means, for example, for climate that we need to recognise that there is a maximum amount of greenhouse gases we can emit. Otherwise we cross a boundary that could take us into abrupt, irreversible, and potentially catastrophic change. Same on soil, same on freshwater, same on nitrogen, same on phosphorous– that we need to stay within global budgets, within a safe operating space, and within this we can be innovative and have circular economic models.

Skip to 4 minutes and 59 seconds We can be very sustainable, we can have growth, we can have good well-being. But if we go outside of that safe operating space, we risk triggering irreversible, potentially very dangerous, changes. So to me sustainable natural resource management today is to stay within Earth’s safe operating space.

Food systems in the Anthropocene

In this video, Johan Rockström, of Stockholm University and the Stockholm Resilience Centre, argues that the Earth has entered a new geologic epoch, the Anthropocene, where humans are the largest drivers of change on the planet. He considers the implications for current and future food systems, including changing natural resource use and environmental impacts, tying together what we have learnt this week.

Getting food systems right is crucial for achieving development that is sustainable - economically, socially and environmentally. Next week we will explore the concept and goals of sustainable development in more detail, focusing on the importance of achieving sustainable food systems for various health and nutritional outcomes.

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This video is from the free online course:

Food and Our Future: Sustainable Food Systems in Southeast Asia

Stockholm Environment Institute