Conservation 2051: Planet in Sight is a visionary initiative with practical goals. Through broad investigation, debate and discussion of long-term threats and potential solutions, C2051 aims to uncover a shared path to a safer, brighter environmental future. At the outset, C2051 will convene a wide range of interdisciplinary thinkers to project the outcomes of current trends and thereby anticipate the most significant environmental problems the planet is likely to face by mid-century. C2051 hopes to discover common ground across disciplines that will help new and innovative ideas for action emerge. By disseminating findings and encouraging ongoing discussion among participants, C2051 aims to support the environmental movement in longer-term thinking, address under-appreciated challenges and highlight promising new concepts and organizational strategies.
Why look ahead?
In the midst of the many critical efforts underway in the private and public sectors, it can be difficult to look further ahead than the next product line or political battle. But it is only by casting our glance beyond the struggles of the past and present moment that the environmental community can zoom out to see the bigger picture and develop the innovative ideas required to meet the future with a strong vision.
That future brings with it tremendous challenges. We approach issues of conservation in the context of the following global demographic and economic trends:
- The world population is rapidly growing; by 2050, global population is projected to reach 9.1 billion people;[i]
- The world’s cities are rapidly enlarging; by 2050, 70% of the world is projected to live in metropolitan areas;[ii]
- The world economy is expanding; by 2050, total global economic activity is projected to triple; [iii]
- The use of resources is intensifying; for example, by 2050, projections show that 70% more food[iv] and twice as much energy[v] will be consumed by households.
We believe the language used to define and describe environmental issues is important, and that our word choices impact the way individuals approach, analyze and act on issues. We have chosen the word “conservation” carefully, defining it as the wise use of natural resources. Our understanding of wise use is shaped by our recognition of the macro-level economic and demographic trends described above.
We know from experience that big ideas can reshape public debate and intellectual frameworks. For example, the term “sustainable development,” introduced in 1987 by the Brundtland Report, was a novel concept: development that could meet the needs of the present without compromising the future. Following the Brundtland Report, the addition of “sustainability” to the lexicon catalyzed a fundamental shift in the way leaders, innovators and consumers approached development. The idea that environmental degradation was inevitable lost credence once progress could be viewed through this new lens. And years later we are seeing results: surges in low-emissions products, building retrofits, green packaging design, renewable energy alternatives, and more. Unfortunately, accelerating climate change and related environmental problems prove even these efforts have not been enough. “Sustainable development” shifted the status quo in 1987, and today it must be shifted again.
What New Ideas?
Conservation 2051 will begin by interviewing business leaders, non-governmental organization (NGO) executives, community organizers, environmental thinkers, scientists, designers, and artists about the future complexities we will face around conservation, resource use and climate change, and what we should do to address them. What are likely to be the greatest challenges in the middle of the 21st century, and what can the environmental movement do now to better prepare ourselves and our communities? By soliciting ideas from a wide range of thinkers across disciplinary lines, C2051 aims to identify common trends, break down environmental compartmentalization, and encourage collaboration among previously “siloed” sectors.
More specifically, Conservation 2051 has three objectives:
- Elicit deep thinking about the conservation issues likely to most dramatically impact our world over the next forty years, and disseminate that thinking in order to:
- Highlight common ground among disciplines that could help shape a cohesive, innovative vision for the future, and thereby
- Encourage greater coordination and longer-term planning by environmental organizations and businesses, helping the conservation community meet the future with renewed strength and actionable strategies.
[ii]United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs/Population Division 1
World Urbanization Prospects: The 2007 Revision.
[iii] The World in 2050: Quantifying the Shift in the Global Economy, HSBC Research, January 2011: http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&source=web&cd=1&ved=0CBwQFjAA&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.research.hsbc.com%2Fmidas%2FRes%2FRDV%3Fao%3D20%26key%3Dej73gSSJVj%26n%3D282364.PDF&rct=j&q=hsbc%20world%20in%202050&ei=i0eQTYbPLKiw0QG8kJ28Cw&usg=AFQjCNFz0oZr7CF02AJkNDddtW2HyznvrQ&sig2=kROCJE9484CLLorvWI6XRg&cad=rja