What Do We Know?

What do we know and what do we not know? What will our future look like? Is this something that we know? Is it something that we can shape? The future is sometimes a topic which scares me. The uncertainty around it and the plethora of question marks on the edge of its periphery evoke stitches of fear inside me.

Overpopulation. Urbanization and globalization. Poverty. Resource Scarcity. Water Pollution. CO2 emissions. These are only a few of the known contemporary challenges humanity and the planet face. One of the reoccurring questions in my mind is on the topic how it started all. The origins of environmental issues date back to the First Industrial Revolution which incepted the exponential growth of the human impact on the environment. Known as the Anthropocene, the age of humans and their activity has led to the destruction of biodiversity and to the pollution of oceans, air, and soil. An interesting fact lies in the concept of the geological clock which gives a circular clock representation of the development of Earth in geologic time. Humans have lived only for 0.1% of Earth‘s total life, albeit their large impact. We are currently facing an unprecedented life challenge. But do we realize this?

The planetary boundary concept, tailored in 2009, outlines the 9 planetary limits within which humanity can continue living safely. The alarming news is that 4 of these limits have been already surpassed, according to scientists. Those are extinction rate, deforestation, CO2 level in the atmosphere, and ocean acidification. Steffen, one of the Stockholm Resilience Group’s academics who measured the Earth’s limits, stresses that environmental changes are urgent matters rather than issues in the future. Beyond each of the limits, there is a “zone of uncertainty”, which if surpassed, leads to the zone of the unknown.  The concept plays an important role for decision-makers, especially in business as they can use this zone as a “buffer” as Steffen describes it and change the potentially catastrophic outcomes.

Do you fear the unknown? Donald Rumsfeld’s Theory of Knowledge can aid our understanding of the effect of human activity on environmental changes. The philosophy of Pragmatism posits that except for what we know (which is the “known knowns”) there are things we don’t know. Everything that is unknown is divided into two different types in the concept of the Reality of the Unknown – “known unknowns” and “unknown unknowns”. The later are these things we don’t know that we don’t know. The idea of the unknown unknowns resonates with the proposition of the planetary boundaries. Steffen et al. warn us about the unpredictable, unexpected, and unknown outcomes of the future if we, both individually and collectively, do not take immediate action to change the way we live.

Do you fear the unknown unknowns?

We are the writers of this story.

Knowing that there is a better end of the story,



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