As part of the SPHERE research project and podcast’s aim of developing a comprehensive understanding of the evolution of global environmental governance, this episode features a far-ranging interview with Prof. Frank Biermann, founder of the Earth System Governance Project. The discussion with Prof. Biermann, in addition to covering conceptual aspects of environmental and sustainability governance, includes pressing issues of contemporary international politics such as geoengineering, environmental justice and the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Prof. Biermann, based on some of his latest research, also shares his qualified critique of the planetary boundaries framework, and of what he considers the outdated idea of environmental policy.
While humans have gained the power to alter the global environment, work within certain scientific disciplines since the Second World War has made it possible to assess the impacts of exponential growth on planetary processes and measure environmental change across vast timespans. Scientific advances, coupled with political initiatives, have in a sense rendered the Earth a governable object, while also expanding the horizons of environmental history. Erik Isberg, a PhD candidate in the SPHERE project, joins the podcast to explain how the work of scientists such as glaciologists working with ice cores, and the rise of the integrative field of Earth System Science, underpinned the emergence of global environmental governance, and enabled the writing of human-Earth histories on geological timescales.
In part 2 of the SPHERE interview, STS scholar Sabine Höhler discusses the planetary parallels between Earth system science and Spaceship Earth, as well as the latter’s influence on 1970s science fiction and similarities to scientific conceptualizations such as the Anthropocene and the ‘safe operating space for humanity’ of Planetary Boundaries fame. Also, Dr. Leah Aronowsky provides a pre-history of sorts, explaining how ecological research associated with nuclear testing in the South Pacific played a pivotal role in conceptualizing complex systems.
Integrating ideas from ecology, economics and architecture, the evocative concept of Spaceship Earth emerged in the midst of the space race and environmental awakening of the 1960s, and influenced popular culture in the form of e.g. science fiction. Leading Science & Technology Studies scholar Sabine Höhler, associate professor at KTH and author of “Spaceship Earth in the Environmental Age, 1960-1990”, joins the SPHERE podcast to explain the origins of Spaceship Earth and how it has gained renewed relevance through concepts such as the Anthropocene, Planetary Boundaries and Earth System Science.
In this inaugural episode of the SPHERE podcast, Prof. Sverker Sörlin explains how the idea of “the environment” emerged at the outset of a radical reconfiguration of the human-environment relationship precipitated by an unprecedented post-war economic expansion that put enormous pressure on ecosystems and the Earth. The point of departure for this discussion on the rise of global environmental governance is The Environment: A History of the Idea (Johns Hopkins UP 2018), a foundational work for the ERC-funded research project SPHERE—Study of the Planetary Human-Environment Relationship.