In the long human history from the period of the use of stone ax tools and the agricultural revolution to the various phases of the industrial revolution from the 18th century and onwards all sorts of innovative approaches have been applied by humans for the sake of survival and prosperity. In earlier days the environmental impacts due to these solutions were limited—although not always locally or even regionally negligible as the example of hunting of big animals illustrates.
Closer to our times the character of the solutions, their systemic connections and the global width of application has drastically changed the situation. Today it is not only the “classical” industrial manufacture of products that have environmental repercussions, but the entire support system for daily life which includes a global connectivity of food provisions and new kinds of energy solutions as examples. These illustrate the integrated cross sectorial nature of the challenge due to their character, intensity and global embrace. Indeed, humans have during the latest generation taken over as the prime driving force with regard to global environmental impacts. And the character of the transformation is accelerating.
Thus we are quickly moving into a new historical era—sometimes called the Anthropocene. This confronts us with issues about the relation between actions at different scales—including challenges regarding the material base for society and its natural environmental embedding. This has been referred to—in risk handling terms at global level—to a concern for living within a safe space set by "planetary boundaries".
The interplay between the global macro level and other levels, not least with regard to governance and responsibility considerations, i.e. "stewardship", is at the core of our current societal situation. Systems and resilience considerations are now coming into the forefront when approaching this key "grand challenge". But also the societal distributional aspects increase in importance. The basis of our knowledge production and handling in connection to the expressed and used value systems are here of central importance when we have to face what stewardship at different scale levels from micro to macro might entail.
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