Sustainability for both the eye and the brain

Photo from the book. An orangutan, like hundreds of other orphans, is kept at the Nyaru Menteng rehabilitation center in Kalimantan, Indonesia. The loss of dipterocarp trees in this region has led to significant reductions in the populations of many species like orangutans that are dependent on forests. Photo: Mattias Klum

Communicating sustainability isn’t easy. The story about what is happening to the planet and what we ought to do about it tends to become either so simplified that the solution to this very upsetting problem seems to be to buy the right “green” car – or so detailed and technical that very few feel it actually concerns them personally.

Coral reef in Indonesia. Photo: Mattias Klum.

So how do you unite the emotional and the “brain” understandings? In a new book, which was released during the Rio+20 meeting and will have its Swedish release next month, there’s a serious ambition to do just this.
The Swedish photographer Mattias Klum has been all over the world an taken photos of Earth, with its beautiful natural habitats, endangered species, burned rainforests and people that inhabit cities and rural areas.

To accompany these moving photos, Johan Rockström, who is the executive director of Stockholm Resilience Centre, has written texts that nail down the scientific realities behind what we see. Taking a systems perspective on the challenges that humanity faces, he explains the complexity of this system, what is at stake if we don’t learn to stay within the planetary boundaries and what he thinks must be done about this (“a sustainability revolution”).

I find this boundary-breaking approach to information, where more artistic ways of expression can meet the hard facts, very useful. To make your own opinion about it, read the e-book preview of the book here.

Tebaran, a blowpipe hunter in Sarawak, Malaysia, sees a difficult path ahead for indigenous people in Borneo, as logging operations and palm oil plantations rapidly engulf the land of his ancestors, rainforests that were abundant in plants and animals. Photo: Mattias Klum.

  • Pol – Croatia

    Good pictures can be very powerfull in transmiting messages, both emotionaly and rationaly, indeed.

    Even if we live on a common planet, and we have global (although not perfect) information networks, most of us doesn’t have the possibilities to see what’s happening very far so clear and firsthanded as would be needed to fully realise the situation.

    We live mostly local lives, although it seems global trends and problems infliltrate downwards, so by the time they hit the individual who should do something about, everything is almost done and finished.

    But, it is odd people do not have enough information even about pretty evident large scale phenomena, like unusualy high temperatures and lack of precipitation we face in the last time. Obviously, the goverments and scientific community have seriously failed here or something really too strange is happening to understand.

  • sarajeswani

    Thank you for your comment, Pol. Yes, I fully agree with you that it’s odd that people still seem to need more information in order to act. Maybe it’s the emotional understanding that is missing?

  • Pol – Croatia

    Yes, it is hard to emotionaly connect with someone or something, with which you do not have some form of real enough contact. It is like non existent. Nor is the world yet the place we would feel enough socialy connected and mutualy interdependent to sense some form of collective interconnection (beyond economical).

    It is strange, for instance, when i remember the times living in ex. Yugoslavia, which was 5 times larger then Croatia, and of course in more social system, the feeling as i remember was pretty different then today. Of course, the rational element must work also to be succesfull, especially in the long run. …