Mother Pelican
A Journal of Sustainable Human Development

Vol. 7, No. 11, November 2011
Luis T. Gutiérrez, Editor
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The Stockholm Memorandum:
Tipping the Scales Toward Sustainability
~ ~ ~
Neglected Knowledge and the Potential Role
of the Social Sciences and Humanities

Tom R. Burns1,2, Marcus Carson3, Ilan Kelman4,
Scott Littlefield1, Nora Machado5, Frances Sprei1,6

Millennium Alliance for Humanity and The Biosphere
16 September 2011

Author affiliations: 1 Stanford University, California, USA; 2 Uppsala University, Sweden; 3 Stockholm Environment Institute, Stockholm, Sweden; 4 Center for International Climate and Environmental Research Oslo (CICERO), Norway;
5 Lisbon University Institute, Lisbon, Portugal; 6 Chalmers Technical University, Gothenburg, Sweden


On 18 May 2011 the Stockholm Memorandum was personally delivered to the UN High-level Panel on Global Sustainability, which is preparing the 2012 UN Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro (Rio +20). The Memorandum -- Tipping the Scales towards Sustainability – was a product of the 3rd Nobel Laureate Symposium on Global Sustainability (May 16-19, 2011, Stockholm, Sweden) which brought together more than twenty Nobel Laureates, a number of leading policy makers and some of the world's most renowned thinkers and experts on global sustainability. The Symposium was organised by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, Stockholm Environment Institute, Stockholm Resilience Centre at Stockholm University, the Beijer Institute of Ecological Economics and Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. The Memorandum identifies a number of urgent social-environmental challenges and recommends a suite of far-reaching actions to decision makers, urging societies to become active stewards of the planet for the sake of our childrens' future, and that of coming generations.

The Stockholm Memorandum – as an urgent call to action from internationally respected leaders and thinkers – has received much attention, and rightfully so. But dark clouds remain on the horizon. Many of the dangers enumerated in the Memorandum have been recognized for some time, in some cases for decades. The natural sciences have arguably developed a deep and detailed understanding of such dangers to the planet, but also of what changes need to be accomplished to effectively address them and preserve a healthy environment for humanity. Yet even where there is broad agreement, progress toward embracing and implementing such measures has been alarmingly slow. There are, of course, many reasons for such sluggishness – not least as a result of the kind of organized denial that has been mobilized around climate change. Thus far, research has done a far better job of understanding the nature of the environmental and technical hazards generated by modern societies – and also some of the potential remedies – than it has in understanding how to navigate the social, cultural, economic and political hurdles to bring about those remedies.

The accompanying commentaries on the Stockholm Memorandum are intended as a first step to addressing some of those gaps. While the natural sciences have invested heavily in understanding the challenges to environmental sustainability, the social sciences and humanities have been insufficiently engaged. Yet, there is a vast body of knowledge already available on the workings of social, cultural and political life as well as of human psychology, that is directly applicable to the many of the sustainability challenges. Several members of the Millennium Alliance for Humanity and the Biosphere (MAHB) – a global network of researchers in the social and natural sciences and humanities – have prepared remarks about a few of the "missing links" in the Stockholm Memorandum and pointing to the knowledge and essential role of the social sciences and humanities in addressing issues of sustainability. The presentation of the Stockholm Memorandum along with remarks of the MAHB group is intended as a constructive contribution to an ongoing dialog, and as a call to researchers in the social sciences and humanities to build on recent contributions and to more fully engage themselves in addressing challenges to the planet – in cooperation with natural scientists, engineers, policymakers, and activists.

Note: The text of the Stockholm Memorandum: Tipping the Scales towards Sustainability is reprinted below. After each section of the memorandum, the remarks of the MAHB group about the Neglect of Social Science and Humanities Knowledge are inserted in boxes.

I. Mind-shift for a Great Transformation

The Earth system is complex. There are many aspects that we do not yet understand. However, we are the first generation with the insight of the new global risks facing humanity. We face the evidence that our progress as the dominant species has come at a very high price.

Unsustainable patterns of production, consumption, and population growth are challenging the resilience of the planet to support human activity. At the same time, inequalities between and within societies remain high, leaving behind billions with unmet basic human needs and disproportionate vulnerability to global environmental change.

This situation concerns us deeply. As members of the Symposium we call upon all leaders of the 21st century to exercise a collective responsibility of planetary stewardship. This means laying the foundation for a sustainable and equitable global civilization in which the entire Earth community is secure and prosperous.(see Remark 1)

Science makes clear that we are transgressing planetary boundaries that have kept civilization safe for the past 10,000 years. Evidence is growing that human pressures are starting to overwhelm the Earth’s buffering capacity.

Humans are now the most significant driver of global change, propelling the planet into a new geological epoch, the Anthropocene. We can no longer exclude the possibility that our collective actions will trigger tipping points, risking abrupt and irreversible consequences for human communities and ecological systems.

We cannot continue on our current path. The time for procrastination is over. We cannot afford the luxury of denial. (see Remark 2) We must respond rationally, equipped with scientific evidence.

Humanity’s predicament can only be redressed by reconnecting human development and global sustainability, moving away from the false dichotomy that places them in opposition.

In an interconnected and constrained world, in which we have a symbiotic relationship with the planet, environmental sustainability is a precondition for poverty eradication, economic development, and social justice.

Our call is for fundamental transformation (Remark 3) and innovation in all spheres and at all scales (Remark 4) in order to stop and reverse global environmental change and move toward fair and lasting prosperity for present and future generations.


We agree that this formulation of the complex of environmental problems is rightly expressed and something with which most people on earth would agree and would accept. People like journalist Andrew Revkin, climate scientist Gavin Schmidt, and reports by respected bodies such as the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and others, and even some of the signatories to the memorandum are noting that to get from "A" – where we are, to "B" – where we know we need to be to reduce risks to an acceptable level, we need to fully engage the knowledge of the social sciences, history, and the humanities. For instance, one can draw upon social science and humanities knowledge about the ways that a new civilization paradigm – whether it be the “Enlightenment”, a new religion, or the conception that motivated and guided industrialization – emerges and develops. What forces are mobilized? What constraints exist? What are sources and powers of opposition(s)? How can constraints and opposition be overcome?

There is a substantial body of knowledge about such phenomena found in history and related social sciences and humanities. A global task force should be mobilized and asked to address the challenge. At the same time, the task force must be kept aware of the existence of diverse and contentious perspectives. For instance, there is no single, agreed-upon conception of “equitable”, “secure”, or “prosperous”. Meanwhile aiming for population stabilization can alienate many, depending on how it is phrased and implemented. The task force needs to be as inclusive as possible of many viewpoints while keeping in mind the importance of the preamble as expressed in the Memorandum. |Back|


Unfortunately, there is a great deal of denial: about climate change, the risks of many chemicals to human health and environment, and, in general, the many threats to the planet’s environment and human societies. Substantial economic, ideological, and political resources have been mobilized to propagate and reinforce doubt, uncertainty, and denial.

Scientific evidence is, therefore, important but not sufficient. Many people do not believe in or respect the authority of science. Others find its "truths" to be inconvenient and a fundamental threat to their ways of doing business. Many scientists accept the fact that more than science is needed for policy and strategic actions For instance, the 21lst report of the U.K. Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution (1998) stated that scientific assessments must inform policy decisions but cannot pre-empt them, and that public opinion must be taken into account throughout. We need to understand better if and how rational analyses and arguments can address the human challenge of global environmental change.

However, there are many formally organized groups – with millions of open or tacit supporters – who oppose efforts to engage, mitigate or solve global environmental threats such as climate change. In what ways has such denial or resistance emerged and developed? What can be done about it under conditions of democracy? How can similar forces be leveraged in support of environmental sustainability?

We need to mobilize the knowledges of the social sciences and humanities concerning a number of critical questions and socio-political challenges: How has such opposition been overcome in cases in the past, for instance the organized opposition to scientific evidence and policies against smoking? Would the strategies used (or similar strategies) work today? Or, are there new strategies available to overcome denial and well-financed and effective propaganda; or, to overcome the widespread resignation and indifference among significant parts of the human population? Some of these questions are already well-researched in the social sciences and humanities. Mobilizing and applying this knowledge now would be timely and would in all likelihood make a significant difference in the medium to long-term. At the same time, natural as well as social scientists are often enough connected to the rich and powerful, providing avenues of leverage. |Back|


Fundamental Transformation suggests revolution! Most people – except for some of those marginalized, denied appropriate recognition and justice (and possibly prepared to take risks for their causes) – are opposed to revolutionary changes, other things being equal. Alternatively, sometimes “quiet revolutions” or “slow revolutions” do yield a “fundamental transformation” with majority support. We need to know under what conditions – and through what mechanisms and human agency – would the fundamental transformation be possible or even feasible without causing more harm than good? What gradual or “soft” transformations might be most feasible and acceptable? What risks would such efforts entail?

This deserves a global taskforce engaging leading researchers in the social sciences and humanities working together with natural scientists to specify what material transformations of a fundamental character are necessary as well as feasible, given particular strategies.

In most areas of the contemporary world, one is not starting with a vast, open landscape just waiting to be built on with new forms of sustainability arrangements. Researchers and policymakers must take into account old and rigid ingrained forms, social and infrastructure lock-in, vested powerful interests, arenas of struggle, generalized fear and suspicion, and resistance (often, with diverse motives). The social sciences and humanities, as social cartographers, are able to provide rough maps of the modern world (and its historic background), revealing a highly complex and changing landscape – with difficult terrains, diverse hazards, and potentially catastrophic pitfalls. To move forward in such a world, it is essential to marry the capabilities of both natural and social scientists and humanists in articulating and promoting a more sustainable future. |Back|


Many people feel positive about “innovation” in general-- but not all of the people, all of the time, accept all innovations. For example, innovations in solar and wind production of electricity are not welcomed by the coal industry, but solar and wind are increasingly supported by many businesses, local governments, and publics. The factors accounting for these differences in the acceptance of technological progress need to be sorted out -- as numerous studies of technical, economic, governance, and cultural studies of innovation have shown. Again, social science and humanities investigations have identified some of the ways in which innovation takes place, and is successful (or fails, as the case may be). They assist in identifying entrepreneurs and other change agents, the institutional and cultural opportunities, facilitators, and barriers while taking into account the influence of larger institutional and cultural contexts.

For instance, in its investigations of drivers of and constraints on social change, social science research has identified several key factors, even in complex social contexts: (1) socio-cultural mechanisms of re-framing, re-definition, and other cognitive shifts such that problems are seen from new perspectives and new solutions envisioned; (2) development of new narratives and discourses which play a major role in many value shifts and cognitive changes; (3) social movements which raise awareness and play critical roles in cognitive and value shifts and the development of new identities such as "responsible corporations" and "green citizens"); (4) the role of institutional arrangements and social power dimensions which may facilitate (or, alternatively constrain) innovation initiatives and their successes (or failures) (for related research on innovation in energy technologies and policies, see works of Burns and collaborators);(5) the influential role of "cultural educators and protagonists" in developing a new sustainability ethos and practices.

For instance, research shows how governments and NGOs may "pressure" not only a national business community to take on sustainability as a mission but may impact on global developments through a "civilizing business mission or movement" (e.g. stressing Global Compact, Global Reporting Initiative, and OECD guidelines). Thus, Nordic countries (joint efforts of governments and NGOs) have been particularly active in strengthening the international dimension of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and the extension of the CSR movement to all countries including developing countries. |Back|

II. Priorities for Coherent Global Action

We recommend a dual track approach:

a) emergency solutions now, that begin to stop and reverse negative environmental trends and redress inequalities within the current inadequate institutional framework (Remark 5), and

b) long term structural solutions that gradually change values, institutions and policy frameworks. We need to support our ability to innovate, adapt, and learn. (Remark 6)

1. Reaching a more equitable world

Unequal distribution of the benefits of economic development are at the root of poverty. Despite efforts to address poverty, more than a third of the world’s population still live on less than $2 per day. This needs our immediate attention. Environment and development must go hand in hand. We need to:

  • Achieve the Millennium Development Goals, in the spirit of the Millennium Declaration, recognising that global sustainability is a precondition of success.
  • Adopt a global contract between industrialized and developing countries to scale up investment in approaches that integrate poverty reduction, climate stabilization, and ecosystem stewardship. (Remark 7)


Natural scientists, engineers, and social scientific and humanities researchers can play a role in addressing immediate problems where some negative environmental trends can be reversed with minimal social and political barriers – or opposition – to overcome. For instance, great progress is being made with respect to the regulation of chemicals in Europe and elsewhere (for example, California). Also, “black carbon”, which contributes to global warming and also causes considerable health problems appears on the basis of current research to be much more amenable than GHGs to regulatory control (through dealing with diesel engine requirements). But it is well to keep in mind that asbestos and formaldehyde took decades to be regulated effectively (EU and the USA, respectively), long after their deadly effects were well-known. Social science and humanities studies explain this apparent irony. Forms and bases of institutional and cultural inertia abound in historical and contemporary life. As well, social sciences and humanities studies of regulating individual risk taking such as smoking, seat belts, and alcohol have plenty to contribute with regards to individual choices for environmental sustainability. |Back|


The long-term changes in values, institutions, and policy frameworks are well-known social science and humanities topics of research. Related to such changes are parameters affecting the differential capacities to innovate, adapt, and learn, and social strategies that increase these capacities and rates of innovation, adaptation, and learning.

In the area of sustainability, it would be highly useful for systematic knowledge as well as policy purposes to identify and analyze the various ways groups are organizing and pressuring to promote sustainability, for instance with respect to climate change and other areas, the change strategies and tactics they use, and to assess their organizational resources and capacities in specific contexts. Doing so would enable “movers and shakers” to better coordinate and collaborate across groups in civil society as well as sectors (government, industry, civil society) – not only on regional or national levels but global levels as well.

Part of the available knowledge is based on Social Science research identification of a variety of mechanisms of "soft means" to advance public policy and institutional change. The EU methods, in particular, put a stress on incentives and pressures, which strictly speaking are non-economic and not coercive: framing of issues (e.g., defining a policy issue as "European"), particular data collections and distribution, standardization of measurements and classification schemes, monitoring of opinion and behavior, supporting consciousness raising and opinion formation as well as mutual learning processes, the diffusion of "best practices", collecting and sharing standardized and comparable data among member states, making international comparisons and applying peer pressures (including "benchmarking") to align policy among member-states and other social agents. |Back|


Such global agreements are particularly difficult to achieve because of the number of negotiating agents, the diversity of interests, and the substantial inequalities in powers. This is likely to be even more the case if one pursues an “integrated approach” to include poverty reduction, climate stabilization, and ecosystem stewardship, among others, in one package deal. Bear in mind that just in the area of global trade, the Doha Development Round negotiations have been going on since 2001 with agreement still not accomplished. The negotiations have been tied up over major issues relating to agriculture, industrial tariffs and non-tariff barriers, and services, among other things. As generally recognized, the most significant differences are between the traditionally more affluent countries led by the European Union (EU), the United States (USA), and Japan and the emerging economic powers led and represented mainly by Brazil, China, India, and South Africa. Part of the contentiousness and negotiation deadlock relates to critique against and between the EU and the USA over their massive agricultural subsidies – which serve effectively as trade barriers against many other countries.

This is only one example. Similar differences and struggles are found in the area of climate change (and control of GHGs), the future of the IMF, the prices and distribution of pharmaceuticals, aid to developing countries, addressing diseases such as HIV, etc. Negotiation theory and negotiation studies in the social sciences and humanities shed light on some of the problems of, as well as strategies for, accomplishing global deals. Also, there are studies of relatively successful cases, showing how such contracts are negotiated and achieved (there exist literally thousands of global agreements today; and in some regions of the world such as Scandinavia and the EU, there has been developing a “negotiation expertise and culture” for reaching complex agreements). Much can be learned from this body of knowledge; it has major practical implications. Successes are achievable under some conditions – although rarely without particular strategies to confront the significant difficulties - the negotiations in many cases are highly complex processes with multiple agents, multiple values and goals, and diversity in perspectives and powers. There are marshlands of negotiations and volatile winds of public and political opinion. |Back|

2. Managing the climate - energy challenge

We urge governments to agree on global emission reductions guided by science and embedded in ethics and justice. At the same time, the energy needs of the three billion people who lack access to reliable sources of energy need to be fulfilled. Global efforts need to:

  • Keep global warming below 2oC, implying a peak in global CO2 emissions no later than 2015 and recognise that even a warming of 2oC carries a very high risk of serious impacts and the need for major adaptation efforts.
  • Put a sufficiently high price on carbon and deliver the G-20 commitment to phase out fossil fuel subsidies, using these funds to contribute to the several hundred billion US dollars per year needed to scale up investments in renewable energy. (Remark 8)


Imposing a high price on carbon [for instance, through a carbon “tax” (or fossil fuel energy tax)] makes perfectly good, rational sense. But powerful interests – and hundreds of millions of global citizens – are reluctant or opposed to such prudent but drastic action. Air travel alone produces 33 million tons of carbon each year (and alternative fuels aircraft designs are being developed, but this will take a much longer time to have an impact than an immediate radical price hike). Much is at stake in air travel. More generally, making fossil fuels highly expensive when the whole modern economy is built on relatively cheap energy – major industries and entire infrastructures are dependent on it – is arguably an enormous hurdle – not least because of the public and political resistance it engenders.

Europe failed to adopt a carbon or energy tax (although it might be accomplished in the medium to long-run); it is very unlikely to succeed in the USA in the short to medium run. China and India are unwilling to jeopardize their development paths with such measures.

Incremental and indirect changes are being introduced, for instance increasing substantially taxes on large, heavier automobiles; or, changing the standards of emissions for diesel driven vehicles. In sum, while taxes might be the most direct and effective solution from a pure economic theory point of view, research is needed on which “second best policies” might be appropriate from political, social, and even economic points of view.

Task forces should be established to identify and understand better successful patterns of change, incremental ones as well as revolutionary ones. |Back|

3. Creating an efficiency revolution

We must transform the way we use energy and materials. In practice this means massive efforts to enhance energy efficiency and resource productivity, avoiding unintended secondary consequences. The “throw away concept” must give way to systematic efforts to develop circular material flows. (Remark 9)

We must:
  • Introduce strict resource efficiency standards to enable a decoupling of economic growth from resource use.
  • Develop new business models, based on radically improved energy and material efficiency. (Remark 10)


Again, this proposal makes good sense, a goal with which most would agree in the abstract. When we start exploring concretely how we are going to go about achieving it, we come up against established institutions, built environments, powerful interests – the Devil is in the details! Much social science research demonstrates the likely resistance – and, indeed, the “massive efforts” that will have to be made. This leads to another “how question.” How are these massive efforts to be mobilized, led, and problems of reluctance and indifference, not to speak of powerful opposition, to be overcome.

Through what mechanisms – or social and policy strategies – can the “throw away” culture be transformed. Millions have lifestyles and practices built on this. Industries, employment, community and regional economies are claimed to depend on it – without attention to the research which demonstrates potentially more worthwile alternatives in terms of employment, economy, and community?

The “automobile culture” is another case in point. Powerful manufacturing and oil industries, highway infrastructures (with their own vested interests), and 100s of millions of people whose status, lifestyles, and practices all are interlocked in a system, which will not be readily or easily transformed, unfortunately for the health of the planet and its peoples

The picture is not completely negative. There are successful cases from which lessons can be drawn -- there are strategies that work, under some conditions, to overcome indifference, reluctance, and opposition. But this knowledge, principally from the social sciences and humanities, needs to be brought to light and applied in practice, a matter touched upon earlier. For example, we are currently experiencing a window of opportunity with respect to a questioning by different actors of the conventional idea of what is a “car”. In order to exploit the transformative potential of this window of opportunity, cooperation between engineers and researchers in the social sciences and humanities is needed to find beneficial solutions and pathways to achieve these solutions. |Back|


The development of new business models is a worthy challenge. Already there are numerous models and more coming on stream – this development is occurring at the corporate and sector levels but even at more global levels as new conceptions are formulated of “green capitalism” and “sustainability capitalism” as well as other hyphenated capitalisms.

Management scientists as well as other social scientists need to be mobilized in one or more global task forces to establish a systematic comparative assessment and development of models of capitalism, which would be the basis of further innovation and development toward sustainability. There is a need for projects to investigate and assess feasible alternatives and to conduct systematic experimentation. Conferences reporting and continuously assessing developments would be an important part of the learning and innovation processes. |Back|

4. Ensuring affordable food for all

Current food production systems are often unsustainable, inefficient and wasteful, and increasingly threatened by dwindling oil and phosphorus resources, financial speculation, and climate impacts. This is already causing widespread hunger and malnutrition today. We can no longer afford the massive loss of biodiversity and reduction in carbon sinks when ecosystems are converted into cropland. We need to:

  • Foster a new agricultural revolution where more food is produced in a sustainable way on current agricultural land and within safe boundaries of water resources. (Remark 11)
  • Fund appropriate sustainable agricultural technology to deliver significant yield increases on small farms in developing countries.
  • Government intervention in the agricultural sector (through subsidies) is notorious for producing waste on a massive scale – lakes of milk and mountains of butter in the EU – and negative innovation – corn ethanol and high fructose corn syrup in the US. Meta-analysis and other methods can be use to conclude how negative outcomes of major government intervention can be avoided. Also, other interventions (for instance, providing knowledge inputs and discussions), which have in some cases worked effectively need to be analyzed.


A new “agricultural revolution” as suggested in the Memorandum would necessarily involve massive transformations of material, social structural, and population conditions. Such a transformation would surpass those referred to earlier, for instance, a transformation of the “automobile system” or of “the throw-away culture.”

Opposition and resistance would come not only from powerful agricultural interests in agro-business but from 100s of millions of relatively small farmers and their families and communities whose way of life could be threatened and, indeed, radically changed. Even if all possible threats were minimized, most adult populations are not enthusiastic about revolutionary transformations of their lives and life conditions. There are usually too many unknowns, or it is to far outside most people’s comfort zone.

Historians and social scientists have a substantial body of knowledge about major societal transformations, the impacts they have on people’s lives, the resistance they foster, the conditions under which they were brought about (or conversely, the many failures of transformative efforts). For instance, religious and socio-political movements have played significant roles in successful “revolutions”, even agricultural revolutions (as the one that transformed Danish agriculture in the 19th Century). Thus, we are not only pointing out the barriers and oppositions to transformation but also suggesting facilitating conditions and developments, which social science and humanistic research would help identify and analyze. |Back|

5. Moving beyond green growth

There are compelling reasons to rethink the conventional model of economic development. Tinkering with the economic system that generated the global crises is not enough. Markets and entrepreneurship will be prime drivers of decision making and economic change, but must be complemented by policy frameworks that promote a new industrial metabolism and resource use (Remark 12). We should:

  • Take account of natural capital, ecosystem services and social aspects of progress in all economic decisions and poverty reduction strategies. This requires the development of new welfare indicators that address the shortcomings of GDP. (Remark 13)
  • Reset economic incentives so that innovation is driven by wider societal interests and reaches the large proportion of the global population that is currently not benefitting from these innovations. (Remark 14)


Remark 10 called for the mobilization of one or more global task forces to systematically investigate, analyze, and develop “models of capitalism”. This work would identify feasible alternatives. Conferences reporting and continuously assessing results and developments would be an important part of the learning and innovation processes. |Back|


The development of new welfare and “quality of life” indicators has been going on for some time in the social science communities, in large part in reaction to the obvious shortcomings of monetary measures of profitability and GDP in accounting for particular social and environmental conditions. Economists and other social scientists as well as management researchers have been working at developing new as well as extending existing systems. In general, the challenge will be to transcend and eventually replace the established accounting systems which are historical products and were never designed to take into account social and environmental dimensions. “Triple bottom line” is a good start, but insufficient, since the economic, social, and environmental dimensions are not commensurable (or reducible to a single measure). No convincing candidate, for instance an algorithm, for “translating” between the measures has been formulated; and, in any case, it would be far away from being institutionalized in accounting and regulatory practices.

A new conceptual framework of accounting – when and if it is accomplished – will need to be institutionalized. And this will entail the exercise of power and struggle. Who are the agents who will drive this transformation? How will it be accomplished? What is a realistic time frame?

Once again, we are back to issues of paradigm shifts, societal transformations, and the importance of mobilizing and exercising social power. These are key components in the Memorandum’s “Black Box” of society about which the social sciences and humanities have an enormous knowledge to offer. |Back|


Reorienting the economy – and the millions of enterprises which make up the global economy is, of course, a major challenge. Considerable resistance to a new accounting (and calculating) system will come from within these ranks (see our previous point). But more than a change in accounting framework will be necessary. “Economic incentives driven by wider societal interests” means empowering these interests – transforming them from subjects or targets of power maneuvers to “stakeholders”. This implies mobilizing and exercising power to bring about systemic change –, in effect, revolution (again, our major topic in this context).

Major societal transformations have been brought about peacefully. We need to collectively know more about this, the conditions and ways such shifts have been accomplished. Use needs to be made of theories of revolution and social transformation, empirical cases, and conclusions from a substantial body of social science and humanities knowledge. |Back|

6. Reducing human pressures

Consumerism, inefficient resource use and inappropriate technologies are the primary drivers of humanity’s growing impact on the planet. However, population growth also needs attention. We must:

  • Raise public awareness about the impacts of unsustainable consumption and shift away from the prevailing culture of consumerism to sustainability (Remark 15)
  • Greatly increased access to reproductive health services, education and credit, aiming at empowering women all over the world. Such measures are important in their own right but will also reduce birth rates. (Remark 16)


Earlier we pointed out the vested interests, particularly within some parts of the global capitalist system, supporting and driving the culture of hyper-consumerism. Thus, we are led to considering or imagining types of capitalism that would not depend on such consumerism (or in any case would be much less dependent). In other words, what kind of functioning capitalism, if any, would not require full-blown consumerism.

How would one bring about changes in everyday practices and lifestyles toward greater sustainability without autocracy and draconian measures? Even autocracy and draconian measures have been shown to have their limitations. “Democratic” measures are highly promising under some conditions, but not always reliable or effective. |Back|


As the authors of the Memorandum are fully aware, there are nation-states, religious communities, and large populations opposed to empowering women and, in particular, supporting “reproductive health services” (which includes contraception and abortion). We need to draw on already existing knowledge as well as to conduct further systematic investigations into what can (and cannot) be accomplished in the short to medium run in these areas. We need a global map. We need comparative historical studies. And we need new concepts, data, and strategies which NGOs and policymakers as well as applied science can utilize. |Back|

7. Strengthening Earth System Governance

The multilateral system must be reformed to cope with the defining challenges of our time, namely transforming humanity's relationship with the planet and rebuilding trust between people and states. Global governance must be strengthened to respect planetary boundaries and to support regional, national and local approaches. We should:

  • Develop and strengthen institutions that can integrate the climate, biodiversity and development agendas.
  • Explore new institutions that help to address the legitimate interests of future generations. (Remark 17)


This calls for drawing upon and developing institutional analyses and related empirical data in the social sciences and humanities to identify institutional changes and new designs for such a challenging task. Established research – including research on institutional design – can assist in strengthening institutions appropriate for sustainability and also in designing entirely new institutions that might address effectively the “legitimate interests of future generations.” |Back|

8. Enacting a new contract between science and society

Filling gaps in our knowledge and deepening our understanding is necessary to find solutions to the challenges of the Anthropocene, and calls for major investments in science. (Remark 18)

A dialogue with decision-makers and the general public is also an important part of a new contract between science and society. We need to:
  • Launch a major research initiative on the earth system and global sustainability, at a scale similar to those devoted to areas such as space, defense and health, to tap all sources of ingenuity across disciplines and across the globe. (Remark 19)
  • Scale up our education efforts to increase scientific literacy especially among the young (Remark 20).
We are the first generation facing the evidence of global change. It therefore falls upon us to change our relationship with the planet, in order to tip the scales towards a sustainable world for future generations. (Remark 21)


The major investments would presumably encompass the social sciences and humanities as well. |Back|


A growing number of respected experts and authoritative bodies are already pointing out the importance of engaging the social sciences and humanities communities in this necessary endeavor and especially focusing on working across and without disciplinary boundaries. A much greater investment in the natural and related sciences is clearly required, and matching such initiatives with comparable investments in the social sciences and humanities is essential given that many if not most of the major fundamental problems and their solutions relate to human behavior and hence concern the social science and humanities. Such a substantial shift in support would be a revolution in itself, a major turning point in the history of science and knowledge production and application generally. |Back|


One must include literacy in the humanities and social sciences concerning the complex social systems – their histories, their institutions, their cultures - in which we live and which will require systematic transformation in the decades ahead. The field of education and pedagogy is huge within the social sciences and humanities, again demonstrating the need to involve scientists from all disciplines—and working across and without disciplinary boundaries. |Back|


In sum, these MAHB remarks on the Stockholm Memorandum argue that without the mobilization and application of appropriate and substantial knowledge of the social sciences and humanities, we are left trying to construct a new world without all the necessary strategies and tools. We know a lot about where we need to go, but perilously little about how to map out and accomplish that journey. This needs to be presented in a way that cannot be read as competition between the natural and social sciences or as an effort to garner more resources for selfish reasons. It is all about problem solving that simply cannot be accomplished without the knowledge and understanding provided by (or sought by) the social sciences and humanities. We require “wise agency” commanding and integrating essential knowledges: natural science and engineering, of course, and much more than thus far the engagement of the social science and humanities. |Back|

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