The challenges of the Anthropocene
The notion of crisis to qualify the issues of our time (for example the climate crisis) is too simplistic because it does not take into account the irreversible aspect of the situation. The term Anthropocene allows it to go beyond the notion of crisis. The concept of the Anthropocene designates a new geological epoch marked by the consequences of human activities. The overstepping of planetary limits such as climate change and the erosion of biodiversity are markers of this.
30,000 billion tonnes (Tt) of objects for the vast majority of techno-fossils cover the planet, ie more than 5 orders of magnitude greater than the mass of living things. This layer, which we call the Technosphere and which we must inherit, is also one of the markers of this new geological era. While some climatic changes may still be reversible, many aspects of the Anthropocene are not, such as the extinction of species, the depletion of natural resources, etc.
A limit of this term is to place the responsibility on a humanity which would be one and indivisible. Other terms therefore exist to highlight a particular aspect: Urbanocene, Technocene, Capitalocene, Euclidocene, etc.
The framework of planetary boundaries defines a safe space of operations for living beings and in particular humanity. This framework is based on the intrinsic biophysical processes that regulate the stability of the Earth system. Strong imbalances in these cycles, such as those induced by human activities cause profound changes at various scales and can induce a shift towards a new state of stability of the system with implications not necessarily compatible with life as we know it.
Today two variables have crossed the line : biodiversity, phosphorus and nitrogen cycles. As for carbon and the artificialization of soils, there is still time to act to avoid disasters.
One of the markers of the Anthropocene is climate change induced by fossil fuels. 85% of the primary energy consumed today is fossil in nature. The stock of these fossil fuels requires more and more energy to be extracted, which makes their access more uncertain in the future. This dependence on fossil fuels therefore creates a strong risk of precariousness. These fossil fuels are also the main contributors to the warming power of Greenhouse Gases (GHGs) which help to modify the climate, generating other risks (health, biodiversity, soil fertility, extreme climatic phenomena).
To mitigate the impacts of these risks and prepare for their consequences, urgent action is therefore needed. Any organization, company or territory, must contribute to the global effort to reduce this dependence.
- Whether it is energy consumption for production, material supply, transport, IT management, waste management, each activity of an organization can be approached from the angle of its GHG emissions.
- The carbon indicator is therefore a very good operational indicator : environmental and social performance, long-term economic viability.
- Carbon accounting makes it possible to identify ways for improving the performance of the company from a transversal and systemic perspective.
Carbon accounting makes it possible to see the avenues for improving the performance of the company from a transversal angle. This allows concrete actions to be taken as early as possible.
The carbon footprint® of your organization is also an opportunity to initiate a reflection on the purpose of each flow and operation by considering their associated activities and their carbon dependencies.
Complex comes from “complexus” in Latin, meaning “that is woven together”. The complexity is due to a large number of actors, elements working together and interfaces. Beyond a certain level of complexity, it is not possible to understand the ins and outs of an action or a given aspect of a project completely, without a dedicated technique or approach.
The activity of companies and communities is most often part of a broader framework of networked actors, with a large number of actors and whose action and development is not always under the control of the ‘business. This complexity improves the ef ﬁ ciency of the systems thus formed, but it can also make them more fragile. Finally, to effectively reorient deleterious activities, it is important to take into account all the dependencies linked to these activities.
- Unwinding the carbon and energy thread linked to the activities of the organization is a good way to understand the complexity of the energy transition.
- The concept of Systems of Systems in particular can help generate coherent strategies. This approach is based on the practices of System Architecture and System Engineering. These are traditionally used to design and deploy infrastructures and optimize their performance. The Systems of Systems approach goes further by emphasizing the dependencies of systems, their possible evolutions, and their conditions of reproduction with a view to strong sustainability. By nature collaborative, it is a learning (or de-learning) phase for the organization.
- The investigation and the design, in any case, can help reveal relevant levers of action by placing oneself as close as possible to the actors.
What ecological strategies to face the challenges of the Anthropocene?
The 4 possible ecological strategies
Faced with the challenges of the Anthropocene and to maintain the habitability of part of the Earth, 4 ecological strategies can be considered and are currently in competition:
- The revolution or the flight (zad, urban exodus): make a clean sweep of the past and start from scratch. This amounts to simply abandoning our infrastructures without any real solution.
- Reconnect to the living. According to this philosophy, the loss of our links with nature would explain the ongoing ecological disaster. It would then be a matter of reconnecting us to the living. This approach is certainly essential. However, it is insufficient on its own because it does not solve the infrastructure problem.
- The ecological transition reduces the Anthropocene to a crisis that must be resolved by modifying our technological means. This reformist and conciliatory thought is the target of many criticisms because it is based on erroneous implicitations. It turns out to be ineffective.
- Ecological redirection learns to inherit a whole heritage and believes that we must now learn to shut down a whole set of human activities.
The implicits of the transition and their limits.
Criticisms of the ecological transition
|IMPLICITS OF ECOLOGICAL TRANSITION||CRITICISMS|
|« La situation écologique est un ensemble de problèmes à régler ou une crise à gérer. »||The Anthropocene is not a crisis.|
|The world is not made up of reversible objects with well-defined outlines|
|“The ecological situation is above all a problem of technical means which must be optimized.”||We cannot de-correlate the ends and the means of our development model|
|Technical optimizations are limited.|
|The technical promises pose a problem of temporality (at the current rate, it would take 400 years to transform the energy system).|
|The technical optimizations are canceled out by the rebound effects.|
|“The ecological transition can reconcile economic development and ecological lifestyle.”||As of yet, we have no evidence that decoupling is possible.|
|“The ecological transition can be achieved by resolving the unfortunate consequences of human activities on nature.”||The transition confuses conditions and consequences.|
Ecological redirection: a path to explore
Ecological redirection starts from the observation that “green growth” (decoupling), “sustainable development” or CSR (compensation) type approaches are outdated. This framework developed by Alexandre Monnin, Diego Landivar and Emmanuel Bonnet is both conceptual and operational. It helps organizations to imagine new ecological strategies to align them with planetary boundaries, even if it means closing certain activities that threaten the habitability of the Earth.
Ecological redirection is a question of clarifying in a protocol of renunciation the elements necessary for the implementation of the transformations of our modes of subsistence: the strategic address, the technical and methodological levers as well as the political and democratic processes. The redirection is based on the survey and design process. Other tools can be used, depending on the needs, such as: Systems of Systems approach, carbon accounting and quantification tools, material balance, etc.
- The spring 2021 special issue of Horizons Publics magazine, dedicated to ecological redirection, contains exemples of redirections in progress :
- Ecological redirection of parking infrastructure
- Ecological redirection of municipal swimming pools,
- Ecological redirection of new construction,
- Ecological redirection of a textile company,
- Ecological redirection of a manufacturing industry,
- Ecological redirection of an airport terminal,
- Ecological redirection of institutions in a French metropolis,
- Ecological redirection of our relationship with sharks.
- One of these redirects concerns renouncing new construction in Ile de France region. This study was ordered by the company Arp Astrance and carried out by Philippe Bouteyre (Praxilience), Herve Moal (Loma Management) and William van Gelderen. After raising the strong environmental impact of new construction, it verified to what extent it is possible to give up the new construction of offices, shops and housing in Ile de France. Then it explored the potential levers to facilitate the switch from new construction to the renovation of the existing buidling stock while taking into account the social and economic attachments of the actors concerned.
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