By Laura Pereira and Jaci van Niekerk with thanks to Maike Hamann for the original blog template.

On 3 and 4 November 2014, more than 60 academics, practitioners, and students from around South Africa gathered at the Stellenbosch Institute for Advanced Studies (STIAS) for an open science dialogue on the “Seeds of a Good Anthropocene: A Southern African Perspective”, organised by SAPECS and the Centre for Studies in Complexity at the University of Stellenbosch.

As eloquently put in the Science Dialogue Invite:

There is a growing recognition that dramatic socio-cultural, political and technological changes are required to achieve a ‘Good Anthropocene’ – a future that meets the deeply intertwined development and environmental challenges society faces, in a world profoundly shaped by human actions… A fundamentally different way of generating prosperity is required if we are to realise equitable human development for the large portion of the world’s people, including many yet unborn, who continue to live in poverty. Although discussed in some quarters, returning to pre-industrial era human populations and lifestyles is not a viable option for addressing this challenge. Instead, we need to find a different way of living in the Anthropocene.

The Stellenbosch science dialogue was aimed at challenging participants’ thinking around radically different, but positive, futures for humanity as we live on the planet. Of particular interest to the group was to gather ‘Seeds’ that were relevant to the southern African, developing-region context. The aim was to identify hopeful Seeds that would emerge to create a more desirable future for the planet in the Anthropocene. In this way it would allow researchers not only to be able to communicate challenges more effectively, but also to adjust their thinking in how to tackle the complex problems facing humanity in a positive way.

Each participant had to submit a description of what they thought was an example of a ‘Seed of the Good Anthropocene’, and on the basis of those submissions the organisers were able to group the Seeds into seven main themes:

  • Governance
  • Social catalysts/innovation
  • Change/collective action
  • Rethinking resources
  • Economy
  • Urban
  • Frameworks for thinking

Examples of Seeds ranged from global social movements like Transition Towns, upscaling agro-ecology; local partnerships and initiatives like the Cape Flats Nature project, to a shift in attitudes like accepting insects as a major protein source in our diets.

Group discussions around the seven Seed themes formed a large part of the dialogue, with the addition of provocative ‘Food for Thought’ presentations scattered throughout the two-day workshop. Keynote speaker, Carl Folke – science director of the Stockholm Resilience Centre – highlighted the speed at which connectivity and new technologies were developing and cautioned against the consequences of short-term planning. He cited an example from Australia where intensive food production had led to soil salinisation, putting an end to farming, and thus inducing a loss of identity – a possibility that could present a substantial threat to populations in Africa.

Photo: Organisers and speakers 

Back: Laura Pereira (UCT), Rika Preiser (Stellenbosch University), Jane Battersby-Lennard (UCT), JP Landman (independent consultant), Oonsie Biggs (Stockholm Resilience Centre)

Seated: Julian May (University of the Western Cape), Warren Nilsson (UCT), Carl Folke (Stockholm Resilience Centre), Ashraf Jamal (Cape Peninsula University of Technology)