Aleksandra Jach: Scientists tell us that we are living in the Anthropocene, even though the geological community has not officially accepted this term. Earlier, we were confronted with various holistic concepts which aimed at describing how the Earth works as a system. I think in recent decades the Gaia hypothesis, introduced in 1972 by James Lovelock, has gained great popularity. Can you explain how you understand the role of such new terms? Do you think that they just popularize some ideas among a wider audience or do they also have the power to transform the scientific community?
Michael Jones: The idea of the Anthropocene is interesting to science and to society. Kate Raworth´s extension of the idea to a develop a safe and just operating space for humanity is even more interesting (http://www.kateraworth.com/doughnut/). They both draw attention to the fact that earth represents a limited resources for life, including human life, and that we need to think seriously about how human society is going to live in harmony with nature instead of attempting to dominate nature with technology. “The Limits to Growth” book, published in 1972, expressed similar ideas using complexity models to develop scenarios describing what might happen if…. The Gaia theory is also holistic in outlook and is based on complexity thinking. It includes the idea that physical parts of the earth behave in life-like ways (orogeny, erosion cycles, plate tectonics, etc.) which is controversial but still useful in helping us understand the dynamics of the planet and life on the planet. The Anthropocene, Gaia theory and “Limits to growth” - all have a certain emotive content which will catch peoples’ attention. Science is a conservative business, so the words themselves are less likely to sway scientific attention than evidence to support the theories and models. The words will have more popular appeal, but I am not sure that it is enough to have a transformative impact on society as a whole. I think that there is something a little scary about the Anthropocene and “Limits to Growth” which will drive some people to denial, others to anxiety and yet others to take action.