Suicide or Survival (SOS) Symposium – Diagnosing the State of the Earth

DAY ONE

An Introduction

Jane Madgwick, Wetlands International

Jane took on the role of Chairperson on the first day of the SOS Symposium and she rightly urged from the beginning that transformational change is needed. Sticky issues such as political will, slow action and inequitable distribution of choices need to be overcome by shifting development into new patterns. The speakers of Day One did just that by breaking down their scientific and non-scientific assessments to provide the audience with recommendations for change and action. 

Save Our Skies

Prof. Dr. Rik Leemans, Wageningen University & Research

Starting with the skies, Rik made the distinction between naturally occurring and human-induced temperature changes and how some climate deniers choose to interpret this fluctuation in temperature in their favour. However, contemporary science has determined that Earth has been experiencing concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere that is far outside its natural range, causing the jetstreams to meander more erratically, particularly now that the poles are warming much faster than usual. This results in extreme weather patterns that we observed in 2017 and will continue experiencing in 2018. It was even as far back as late 1800s that concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere was a topic of discussion by scientists John Tyndall and Svante Arrhenius. Rik then spent much of his presentation examining the “burning embers” diagram that sets out the five major risks associated with the future of climate change: 

  1. The risk to unique ecosystems
  2. The risk of extreme weather events
  3. The human extent of the risk
  4. The economic and health risks
  5. The risk of hitting “tipping points”

Given the timeframe set by climate change conventions to reduce emissions and limit the temperature rise to 1.5 degrees, attention must be given to the exact numbers related to how much gigatons of carbon is allowed by when and by whom. Added to this formula is also the notion of responsibility. For example, although China is the biggest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world, 50% of this emission is consumed by the developed countries of the world. Judging by the current emission’s upward trajectory, staying below the 1.5 to 2 degrees will not be possible unless we make a steep downward transition to zero. Time is of essence and efforts to encourage negative emissions by using carbon capture and storage as well as mass commercialising this type of technology. 

Save Our Skins

Dr. Maarten van Aalst, Red Crescent Climate Centre

In his presentation, Maarten emphasised that preventing climate problems by looking at the risks of environmental hazard on human well-being in relation to exposure and vulnerability is a key part of his work. In addition, equity was also mentioned as an exacerbating factor to the livelihoods of more vulnerable groups. There is much scientific uncertainty surrounding the extent to which such groups can adapt to changes in extreme weather events. This is because the world has yet to understand the efficacy or in-efficacy thereof of technologies in the years to come and whether they will be available in time to deal with the climate of the future (i.e. year 2100). Suggestions are welcomed by Maarten on how to reduce this gap of uncertainty. In an example of the heatwaves that hit Europe in 2003 and 2006, it was not until 2006 that the Ministry of Health in the Netherlands came up with a proper heatwave plan, using the health of the older generation as an excuse for this tardy response. However, by combining statistics and frequency of specific events, scientists are now better able to predict extreme climate events with more certainty by employing a method called attribution science. One should note that this method is not without its caveats; human-made assessments can lead to variability in accuracy – this is mother nature after all. The situation of scientific certainty becomes more difficult in the global south where there are no proper technologies in place to measure weather statistics. International response to widespread weather-related deaths have been slow as was seen in the 2011 droughts that hit East Africa. Despite the foreseeability of the October 2011 droughts, humanitarian and other types of assistance were not deployed until half a year later. To make matters worse, conflicts, tensions and organised crime activities can lead to prevention of much-needed humanitarian access. Nonetheless, climate information can be relevant and actionable. By using the Paris Agreement to signal more political willingness, there is definitely an opportunity to strategically advise on the risk reduction investment. Instead of the traditional response to build “hard” infrastructure, more sustainable solutions in the form of non-hard infrastructure should be explored. For example, mangroves can work just as well, if not better, as coastal defence against natural hazards when compared to sea walls. Science has also been exploring other methods of cooling down the planet using geo-engineering. Although this technology has not yet entered mainstream discussions, rapid changes in the climate in relation to human impact may push this as a potential agenda item for a 2021 UN General Assembly resolution in our attempt to keep the temperature to below 1.5 degrees. 

Introduction To The Hydrosphere

Prof. Dr. Eddy Moors, IHE

Water underpins many aspects of sustainable development. In other words, many of the SDG goals cannot be met if water is not dealt with. In introducing the audience to the hydrosphere, Eddy alluded to the lack of data on water pollution and urges for more attention in this area. The impacts of groundwater depletion in some parts of the world (e.g. Cape Town) are just as severe as the impacts of experiencing too much water. In the latter case, floods can severely interfere with urban life as can be seen in major cities around the world when they get hit by storm surges, monsoons or fall victim to infrastructure breakdowns (i.e. bursting dams, overflowing sewage, etc). Although technologies are available to treat polluted water and desalinise it for everyday use, the lead time to wider implementation is still slow. An important point that Eddy mentioned was the need to generate investment in valuable green infrastructure (e.g. wetlands). The restoration, maintenance and operation of green infrastructure functions are needed for the longer-term support of livelihoods. Whilst a few rivers are revered for their religious symbolisms (e.g. the Ganges and the Brahmaputra), the turn of the century has seen a few rivers being granted legal status equal to that of a human being (e.g. the Whanganui, Yamuna and Vilcabamba). Such reverence for rivers help increase awareness of rivers as arteries of earth and may help in preventing further pollution that is detrimental to achieving some of the SDG goals. This does not detract from decades-long of successful water cooperation and diplomacy, which should continue regardless. Conflicts may have been prevented through peaceful means and treaties but perhaps the time is also ripe to renew some of these treaties to reflect current and future trends

Save Our Seas

Dr. Lennart de Nooijer, NIOZ

As most people know, oceans play a huge role in controlling the earth’s climate as it is the largest active carbon reservoir. The oil, gas and cement industries have contributed significantly to the raising levels of CO2 in the atmosphere. Part of this is absorbed by the oceans. Lennart spent most of his presentation talking about the research findings from his studies on uni-cellular organisms found from his expeditions to the deep seas and oceans. One expedition in particular is the Nico Expedition across the Atlantic where part of Lennard’s job is to collect sediments from the ocean floor using a coring piston device and other devices to understand the health of the seas, seawater and coral reefs. Zooming into ocean acidification, the audience learned that by using uni-cellular organisms as samples one can understand what the CO2 concentrations were hundreds of thousands of years ago. CO2 that enters the oceans react with water to turn into carbonic acids which in turn introduces protons that decreases the level of Ph in the water, making it more acidic. Compared to drinking water which has a Ph level of 7, seawater has a Ph level of 8. Ocean acidification occurs on a miniscule scale but the change is by no means insignificant. It is in fact a big change even if seawater drops by 0.1 on the Ph scale. This downward trend has been observed by the scientific community. However, this did not prevent many climate sceptics from asserting that ocean acidification is not real since seawater still has not reached the Ph level of 7. The shells that Lennard study is likened to a coffee machine that has been calcified. By introducing vinegar, the calcium in the coffee machine can be dissolved. The same process happens to shells. However, as a living organism, this means that it becomes harder for shells to precipitate. Continued exposure to acidity results in shells dissolving. The study into ocean acidification is at best only 20 years old. More research is needed to examine the results on ocean acidification on the larger hydro-ecosystem. 

Save Our Shores

Prof. Dr. Dano Roelvink, IHE Delft

Climate change can be an exacerbating factor of coastal erosion but human-induced activities can also play a big role. Sea level rise that is projected to happen by the IPCC needs to be understood as unequal. As the ice caps melt, gravitational effects will cause tropical areas to experience higher rates of sea level rise, with Kiribati experiencing this on a catastrophic level. As an introduction to his presentation, Dano showed some disheartening examples of the effects of coastal erosion in areas that are or were heavily populated. Erosions of 10 to 30 metres per year is not uncommon and this can have severe impacts on tourism, the fishing industry and liveability of the areas affected. Erosions are both naturally occurring and man-made. In the latter case, sand and gravel are often used for construction and land reclamation. This has knock-on effects on areas within proximity and is particularly evident where touristic spots are affected. Also, land subsidence due to groundwater extraction can trump sea level rise. Reports of 4 metre subsidence in Jakarta in a 30-year period, 4 centimetres subsidence in the Mekong Delta per year and 1 centimetre per year in Louisiana alludes to a very unsustainable practice. Reversing these effects by regenerating the land will prove very difficult but not impossible. See for instance the city of Venice where groundwater extraction was stopped entirely at the end of the 1960’s. Groundwater extractions need to be stopped if they are without recharged. Another solution is to consider the entire sediment-sharing system when designing big, hard infrastructures such as dams and ports. Also to consider is sand nourishment using big dredges but as long as mining sand activities continue, this cancels out the benefits of sand nourishment. As a last resort, governments can introduce hard law such as regulations to prevent unsustainable mining activities. 

Save Our Streams

Prof. Dr. Ken Irvine, IHE Delft

Freshwater systems are subject to human activities such as agriculture damming, sand extraction and pollution. However, excessive enrichment of freshwaters with nutrients of minerals or eutrophication is also problematic as it brings invasive species which can have an effect on the livelihoods of the population nearby and fisheries, such as is happening in Lake Victoria. The proliferation of oil extraction over the years have also interfered with livelihoods and the biodiversity of water bodies in the vicinity. In order to fix these issues, it is not enough to deal with the impacts; one needs to deal with the root causes too. Ken, hailing from Ireland gave an example of how Ireland declined from having 500 of the highest quality waters to just 21 in 30 years. All this is due to increased cattle farming to meet the global demand for dairy products. The interconnectivity of elements that drives European agriculture is very complicated. Yet, most things are dealt with in silo mentality. Cross-cutting emphasis on biodiversity akin to the food-water-energy nexus is needed in order to create a sustainable life support system. A new initiative called the Alliance for Freshwater Life has been set up with the ambitious idea to change the game; to inform stakeholders about the importance of high quality fresh water biodiversity and to connect different aspects of data, policy, research and conservation. 

Save Our Soils

Prof. Dr. Violette Geissen, Wageningen University & Research

Violette likened the earth’s soil to the human skin. However, unlike skin, soil is very rarely seen as essential to the health of earth’s lithosphere. In her first argument, Violette states that soil and the SDGs are very strongly connected. To demonstrate this, soil scientists have linked ecosystem services to the SDGs as a way to appease policy makers. Food security is explicitly covered under SDG 2 but this has big implications on soil and the quality of soil thereof. Although technological advances have made for better food security, the widespread use of pesticides can run counter to this goal if soil pollution becomes a problem. There is also the threat of organic matter decline linked to water and wind erosion as extreme weather events become more and more regular. On the opposite extreme, some countries may experience strong surplus of nutrients. Together, soil contamination by pesticides, soil erosion and the composition of soil nutrients make for potential soil degradation on a global scale. Unfortunately, there is no soil monitoring programme that exists. The only programme that comes close is the LUCAS database of 2015 where 11 European countries participated in analysing 317 soil samples from various crops. From these 317 samples, analysis was done on the content of pesticides found in top soils. Only 17% of the sample soils did not contain pesticide residues. The values are measure in milligram per kilogramme but there are no studies to show what risks are attached to these values. Notwithstanding these shortcomings, sampling size and scope remains a problem. Out of 1 million soil organisms, only 5 have been tested in the laboratory for a maximum time of 56 days. Naturally, there were no negative effects found from this sampling. Therefore, legislation is needed for soil protection if the direction is to move into food security and healthy food from healthy lands for the burgeoning population. 

Save Our Space

Prof. Dr. Eberhard Gill, TU Delft Space Institute

Space systems (i.e satellites and space stations) are critical infrastructures that the modern society is incrementally more and more dependent on, whether it be for telecommunication, navigation or the monitoring of earth. Eberhard indicated other useful aspects of the systems including for military use and space research and exploration. However, space debris is becoming a problem. An ESA (European Space Agency) definition of space debris is “all non-functional, human-made objects, including fragments and elements thereof, in Earth orbit or re-entering into Earth’s atmosphere”. In fact, space debris poses three main threats: 

  1. Loss of operational space infrastructure (e.g. where debris collides with satellites)
  2. Increased risk of human space activities (e.g. where debris gives reason for astronauts to evacuate the International Space Station)
  3. Unusability of specific orbits (e.g. geostationary ring)

Space debris monitoring is currently performed by a global network of radar stations and optical lasers in the United States, Russia and Europe. Within the geostationary ring, these technologies can detect debris of around 1 metre. This year’s cataloguing of space debris has brought up the total of existing debris to more than 18,000 entries, ranging from satellites (accounting for 25%) to defunct rocket bodies and debris (accounting for 75%). Collisions and explosions can happen either intentionally or accidentally. An intentional collision at an altitude of 850 kilometres in 2007 generated over 3,400 pieces. This number has been reduced to 2,800 through natural deceleration of the debris themselves making them sink back down into the atmosphere and then burning up (decaying). Eberhard then explains that the most frightening situation is defined by the Kessler syndrome. Here, an exponential increase in debris by way of collisions is inevitable and could therefore hinder the altitudes to be reached by future satellites as the debris cascades down to earth. China leads the way in the number of things in orbit that are not in use. Some solutions to deal with space debris include relying on natural decaypushing out-of-use satellites further upor deploying service missions to repair or capture debris. Efforts are already underway to increase awareness on space debris through space situational awareness programmes and the increased use of Very Low Earth Orbits (VLEO).

DAY TWO

An Introduction

Johan van de Gronden, IUCN-NL

Johan brought up an anecdote on Day Two of the Symposium and it concerns a phone call from the International Space Station from Andre Kuipers, a Dutch astronaut to him. Awed by the beauty of planet earth from space, Andre volunteered to be an Ambassador for the Wereld Natuur Fonds (or Dutch World Wildlife Fund) upon returning to earth. He recognised the fragility of our blue planet and Johan expressed that with this anecdote he hopes that the audience will feel mobilised to action from the presentations of Day Two. 

Save Our Species

Dr. Christine Breitenmoser, IUCN

In order to explain the importance of saving our species, Christine started her presentation by giving a definition of “ecosystem services” as per the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment Framework which provides that “ecosystem services are the conditions and processes through which natural ecosystems, and the species that make them up, sustain and fulfil human life. They maintain biodiversity and the production of ecosystem goods”. IUCN Species Survival Commission is perhaps one of the most competent bodies dealing with conservation today; with 136 specialist groups and 7,500 volunteer experts from around the globe. Its job Is to strategically device plans for action on identified species for national implementation, followed by monitoring. A very good point of reference is the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. This list is a measurement tool to convey the urgency and scale of conservation problems. Currently, about 30% of total species assessed (79,800) are threatened. In addition, the Red List is the official indicator mentioned in SDG Goal 15(5). There is still a tremendous amount of work needed if conservationists aim to have 164,000 species assessed by 2020. Successful conservation efforts include the one concerning the Iberian lynx. Here, its status became less of a concern when it dropped a point from “critically endangered” to “endangered” in a span of 13 years. Christine emphasised that solutions are useless unless they are acted upon. Partners (even corporate ones), funding, training and more will be needed to create action. Big brands like Cartier have been active in creating awareness around leopards whilst INTERPOL has gone from strength to strength in training customs officers all over the world in recognising illegal wildlife parts and related products. The presentation ended with a quote from Former US Secretary of the Interior: “Conservation needs to move away from random acts of kindness and instead mobilise strategic, coordinated action.” 

Save Our Selvas

Prof. Dr. Rene Boot, Tropenbos International

Forests play two vital roles for the environment: they regulate the global climate and they regulate the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Rene proceeded in giving the audience an overview of the status of global forest cover: only 15% intact, 38% already fragmented (i.e. presence of roads and tracks, settlements, agriculture, etc that result in a mosaic of different land use forms), 19% degraded with reduced biodiversity and climate regulation capabilities, and 28% completely deforested, especially in the boreal and tropical regions. Trends in reforestation varies between continents, with Europe showing the most progress through natural regeneration. Deforestation is largely caused by agriculture, whether it be for larger commercial purposes or local subsistence. The main drivers behind degradation of forests are predominantly timber logging and to an equal extent for charcoal in all regions and Africa respectively. REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) worked very little to reduce global emissions as success is dependent on national policies supported by financial incentives. Rene then explained the relationship between forest cover, vegetation, distance to the ocean and rainfall. Rainfall declines with increasing distance towards inland. Likewise, interior rainfall is dependent on the presence of continuous forest cover. This suggests that the climate change debate may change from one relating to carbon to one that relates to water security and by association, food security and conflicts as well. Forests are also inextricably linked to a lot of the SDG goals (see SDGs 1, 2, 3, 6, 7, 9, 13, 14 and 15. Climate change adaptation requires integrated approaches to mitigation and adaptation, not just focusing on reducing carbon emissions. Broader policies should complement narrow ones whilst any innovation in helping this process should have local ownershipcomponents. Also, more private sector initiatives such as the Tropical Forest Alliance 2020 should be encouraged and replicated. 

Save Our Seeds

Dr. Robbert van Treuren, Wageningen University & Research

(no permission to publish)

Save Our Systems/Civilisations

Prof. Dr. Klaas van Egmond, Utrecht University

In order for change to happen, values matter. At the beginning of his presentation, Klaas swiftly went through the human-made causes of climate change (i.e. the industrial revolution), its many impacts (i.e. droughts, extremism), exacerbating factors (i.e. the economic crash of 2008), increasing worldwide population in relation to the capacity of our ecosystem, relatively weak governmental responses and inequality. Klaas suggested that a new moral framework and ethical awareness should be revived. In other words, a resurrection of Aristotelean thinking where human nature is accepted at a deeper level of thought of how we ought to be rather than how we happen to become. Ethics is the element that bridges this gap in value thinking. Klaas spent most of his presentation on the 4 quadrants transposed unto Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man where he distinguished between the Mind versus Material things and Individual versus Collective thinking. Clockwise, this is represented by the Mind, Individual thinking, Material things and Collective thinking. If religion and culture belonged in the 4thquadrant (between Collective thinking and the Mind), science and nature fell in the 3rdquadrant (between Material things and Collective thinking). Using European history as a background, one will observe a counter-clockwise movement from Collective thinking to Individual thinking. Capitalism is predominant in the post-modern world where truth does not exist and everything is a construct. If the movement continues counter-clockwise, one would find themselves in the 1stquadrant between Individual thinking and the Mind. Here, small-scale transition towns become the norm expunging of the material world and subscribing to idealistic values instead. Despite the symbolic meaning of the categoric quadrants, Karl Gustav Jung was the psychiatrist who believed that consciousness is achieved in the centre. In ending, Klaas summarised that collective value orientations from the periphery should be moved towards the centre in conjunction with de-materialisation (i.e. expunging oneself from taking too much from nature), re-appreciation of culture and art and less ego. Such a re-organisation should lead to the environmental solutions that are sought. 

Save Our Souls

Johan van de Gronden, IUCN-NL

Instead of using slides, Johan thought to give his presentation a more human touch by just speaking to the audience. And so Johan began by reflecting on the lecture of Henry David Thoreau in 1851 entitled “Walking”, which sparked a debate that would last for decades: “I [Henry] wish to speak a word for Nature, for absolute freedom and wildness, as contrasted with a freedom and culture merely civil.” Thoreau penned down this lecture and published it shortly before his untimely death in 1862. As one of Johan’s favourite readings, he agrees that the essay articulates the quintessential quest of civilised land for another community of life where oneself is but a visitor. Moving 40 years ahead, Johan then brought up the work of Frederick Jackson Turner entitled “The Significance of the Frontier in American History”. In this essay, Turner argued that even with the conquest of the construct, which was decidedly called the Wild West at the end of the century, this American “project” remained incomplete. America had to rescue its soul. According to Turner, the country needed to have set aside large tracts of wild land for future generations. This talk marked the start of a Golden Age in North American nature conservation and the beginning of a world-renowned national park system that is still enjoyed to this very day. Then in 1966, Lynn White Jr. in his address in front of the members of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, said this of the historical roots of human’s ecological crisis: “Our environment reflects how we think about ourselves in relation to things around us”; “human ecology is deeply conditioned by beliefs about our nature and destiny”. White blamed the Western Judeo-Christian tradition for instilling a devastating idea into man’s head that he is superior to nature and that nature is merely there to serve him. Men traded progress for their souls and along the way have lost their connection with the natural world. According to stoic philosophers like Epictetus, our physical reality is a tightly-knit cosmos answering to a predetermined and divine order. Humans are part and parcel of that law-governed order yet are the only living beings capable of reflecting on that order. The idea that the natural world is a creation to serve humans is alien to stoic philosophers. The term “nature conservation” would have been an unacceptable concept to Epictetus because it denotes men as gods or demigods in charge of nature. In 2015, Pope Francis in his sweeping encyclical called for swift action on climate change, thus giving moral legitimacy to scientific findings and uniting all souls irrespective of religion. The debate on conservation needs to be less utilitarian (i.e. pay less head to economist or policymaker talk). There is no price tag on nature and wildlife.

Save Our Science

Jan Paul van Soest, Author of The Doubt Brigade on Climate Science, Misinformation and Denial

Jan Paul began his presentation by espousing that some parts of science need to be saved. This is because mega powers like President Trump have actively undermined science. One example comes to mind where President Trump claimed that global warming was created by the Chinese to make America less competitive. This is notwithstanding the Climate Research Unit email controversy or “Climategate” affair of 2009 and the proliferation of misinformation or fake news which have led to mistrust in science. Climate negotiations are often products of societal negotiation processes where negotiations regarding the commons, be it the use, overuse or sustainable use of natural resources, are achieved with a variety of stakeholders (i.e. governments, NGOs, businesses), including the scientific community. Here, science informs the process in such a way that it offers all stakeholders a common ground to which all may be able to agree upon. Trust in science comes from the following formula:

Trust = f(Vested Interests, World views, Media, Science and scientists)

Unfortunately, the denial industry exists. This industry is heavily sponsored by the those who have vested interests such as the oil and gas industry, mining industry and wealthy elites to influence politicians and also think tanks. The sponsored recipients receive misinformation and uses the information to cast doubt on science through various means. Such a tactic was learned from the tobacco industry who did a very good job in undermining science. In the equation is also one’s world views that are perceived and influenced by, amongst others, one’s own ideas, morals, cultures and philosophies. In many polarizing debates such as climate change, abortion or the death penalty, the full richness of world views is not covered. This means that debates become a singular polarity issue; either right or wrong or a right-wing or left-wing view. When one is confronted with information or world views that are contrary to one’s beliefs, the reaction is often one of fight or flight. To overcome this, one should try to appreciate the values and perspectives behind an idea. The media is also susceptible to abuse where scientific messages can be distorted or suppressed to weaken the impacts of accuracy. This false balance is created by confronting scientists with sceptics to sway the public’s opinions. It is also inevitable these days that scientists make political-esque statements. Words like “we should” or “we must” have been used to deflect from the neutrality of scientific facts and the power of those facts alone to persuade. As a recommendation to scientists who want to communicate effectively, Jan Paul referred to 4 idealised modes of engagement as was described in the book “The Honest Broker”: 1) science arbiter, 2) pure science, 3) issue advocate, and 4) honest broker of policy alternatives. Already there is a rapid response team of 30 climate scientists and some writers who respond to climate scepticism pieces within 2-3 days by presenting just scientific facts without any political stance.

Save Our Security

General (Ret) Tom Middendorp

In his introduction, General (ret) Middendorp weighed in on the risks and responsibilities the military puts upon itself where others cannot. Having served 40 years in the military, it was not until 2 years ago that the General spoke out on the impacts of climate change, much to everyone’s surprise despite the fact that other army Generals before him have also been vocal about climate change. It was during a panel discussion in 2016 that the General stated that climate change can be a catalyst in countries that are vulnerable to conflicts and that there is no security without climate security. The North Sea flood of 1953 devastated the country, left many homeless and rendered affected land areas infertile. Such socio and economic impacts is felt the world over. Trade can be easily disrupted as a result of such calamities, with climate affecting energy production, water security and food prices. Research has shown that the soaring price in food led to the 2007 and 2008 demonstrations in Cairo. Civil unrest in Syria was not just a result of poor governance and economic mismanagement; the people were already at their wits end by the time the unrest occurred, having experienced successive years of record-breaking droughts. Farmers were forced to relocate to the cities where they could not find work and youths became more and more vulnerable to extremist ideologies. This civil war would later have far-reaching regional and international consequences, including the worst refugee crisis since the second World War. It is in these fragile countries that climate change can feed the root of instability. There is no silver bullet to the climate crisis but together, one can make a difference. The military is always there to provide humanitarian aid, including when dealing with the effects of natural disasters. The impacts of climate change is a slow-moving emergency with a great deal of uncertainty. It is often trumped by something else seemingly more urgent and thus not a very attractive agenda point for the average politician. Fortunately, there is now an increasing sense political sense of urgency regarding climate change and it is slowly being recognised as a collective problem – not one that only concerns the left anymore. According to the General, no one is too small to deal with a problem this big. With unlimited thinking capacity and the drive to look for opportunities, one may be able to find solutions that could have a big and lasting impact on other people’s lives. Alternatively, one could also offer financial help, brain power, network or an institution’s platform from which others could build upon. In 2017 at a conference that the Ministry of Defence organised, the General was approached by a man claiming to know how to produce water out of thin air. The man turned out to be an artist who designed a device that could extract water from air using solar. The artist believed that his technology was the solution to any water shortage crisis and managed to convince the General to test his technology in the desert in Mali where the military has its base. Beside the artist, the General also brought along a young social innovator who had invented a water treatment device the size of a coffee machine. The field testing of both ideas were great successes in Mali. This goes to show that solutions are possible by joining forces – sharing expertise and networks, and by synchronising efforts. 

CONCLUSION

Based on all the presentations from the speakers and the rich discussion with the audience of the Symposium, one can deduce that Earth is in dire need for an immediate emergency response plan, to be prioritised by the presentation of scientific facts that are by now no longer new information. Climate denial is a serious impediment to such a plan but not one that cannot be overcome with a well-presented case file. Governments have been known to take the slow-burn way to deal with climate change. However, this should not deter any individual, group, company, community, municipality, ministry, region or the likes from taking action of their own. Investment in green infrastructure should be one of the longer-term sustainable solutions to mitigation and adaptation. Importantly the private sector is slowly becoming a very relevant and active participant in effecting change. Such involvement has been met with positivity and is strongly encouraged. It is not enough to deal with the impacts of climate change on Earth and its biodiversity; all stakeholders must also address the root causes of climate change (i.e. societal values, lifestyles, etc). 

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