The six points below outline our understanding of the emergent world and inform the objectives and development of all of our work.
We'd also like to share a few recent reports that offer more detailed insight into the roots (1) and implications (1-4) of increasingly connected crises. We recognise the skewed influence of high-income countries in these reports, but consider them helpful starting points to reflect on the role of academia amid Earth's current predicament:
- Crises of Inequality: Shifting Power for a New Eco-Social Contract, United Nations Research Institute for Social Development, 2022;
- This is a Crisis: Facing up to the Age of Environmental Breakdown, IPPR, 2019;
- Global Assessment Report on Disaster Risk Reduction 2022, United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, 2022;
- What is a global polycrisis?, The Cascade Institute, 2022.
1. A systemic sustainability crisis
The world isn’t just suffering from a climate crisis, but also severe damage to the wider natural world. This includes soil degradation, species extinction, water scarcity, and more - all of which damages our wellbeing. At the same time inequality, discrimination, mistrust and other social crises are rife. These environmental and social issues don’t exist in isolation – they are entangled.
2. Driven by systems of exploitation
The pressures on the Earth and our societies have their roots in social, economic, and political systems that have historically exploited people and nature. From colonial to industrial capitalism down to the currently dominating economic order, these systems have entrenched values, norms, and behaviours that are unsustainable, as well as exacerbating inequalities in wealth, political influence and exposure to climate risks and pollution. Who and what we prioritise in our societies is a choice - what we decide now determines our future.
3. Causing severe harms now
Environmental degradation and social instability are already causing wide-ranging, long-lasting, and unpredictable harms. These range from crop failure and supply chain disruption (leading to rises in the cost of living), to loss of land, livelihoods, and lives. It would be dangerous to assume these harms won’t combine in potentially devastating ways.
4. Unequal harm, shared danger
Those who have contributed least to these crises are typically being harmed first and worst by environmental shocks. And those with the most direct influence on decision making and existing power structures tend to be the most polluting and least affected. This injustice entails a moral imperative to act. It is also important to recognise that typically sheltered regions are starting to experience severe shocks. In an interconnected world, even seemingly distant disasters ripple out to produce global harms. These unequal but shared dangers will intensify.
5. Urgent action to avoid catastrophe
If we do not address these crises quickly, we risk harms so severe they overwhelm the ability of societies to cope – something already experienced by the most marginalised. Every moment of delay means a worse outlook for all - even those who profit from it in the short term.
6. Together, we can correct our course
While our situation looks daunting, history shows that rapid social, ecological, and technological transformations across society are possible with sufficient cooperation. Everyone has a role to play but academics, as trusted educators and knowledge holders, have a particular responsibility to challenge the status quo. By ensuring our professional and personal choices bring us into collaboration with others outside our usual sphere, and by building new structures together with those hitherto marginalised, we can face this polycrisis from a place of reflexivity, justice and reconciliation. Together, we can realise a safer, healthier, and fairer world.