“The Human Quest” Shows How to Prosper Within Planetary Boundaries

“We try to communicate why there is a new narrative and that we need to respect planetary boundaries,” Johan Rockstrom told a well-heeled crowd at an exclusive event space in Rio de Janerio. The King and Queen of Sweden were reportedly in attendance, as was a former president of Finland.

Rockstrom is executive director of the Stockholm Resilience Center and a professor of natural resources management at Stockholm University. He is also the co-author of the new book The Human Quest (Langenskiolds), a beautifully produced tome that comes alive with vibrant color photos by co-author Mattias Klum, a longtime National Geographic photographer.

“We need to protect the planet’s beauty for our own economy,” said Rockstrom, as guests sipped cocktails blended from fresh tropical fruits and cachaca, the Brazilian spirit distilled from sugarcane.

“We wanted to combine the rational, science, with the emotional, photography,” Rockstrom added. “Our book summarizes the science, and shows the damage, but also the beauty we need to preserve. Please flip through the book, enjoy it, but also use it as a tool for dialog to change the agenda.”

“I hop from beautiful place to beautiful place, and I get paid for it,” Mattias Klum joked. “But I see the flip side. I’ve been so close to poison dart frogs and jaguars in Brazil, but I’ve also seen the impacts of palm plantations in Borneo, or on our own Baltic Sea, which is not doing so well,” he said.

“What we need to do, in the midst of this important meeting in Rio, is find what’s in our hearts,” said Klum.  “I think of my own kids, and I would like them so badly to see the beauty I have seen in 25 years of National Geographic photography, though maybe not get the leeches and malaria,” he joked.

“We are at the crossroads, we are behind schedule, but we hope The Human Quest will be one little chisel in that toolbox [to make a difference],” Klum said.

“Heart and mind are packed together in this book, not 50% of each but 100% of each,” said Niclas Kjellstrom-Matseke, CEO of the Swedish Postcode Lottery, which backed the book. (National Geographic also recently announced a partnership with the Swedish postcode lottery to support research and exploration in Northern Europe.) According to Kjellstrom Matseke, the lottery has given 5.4 billion euros to various projects, making it “the third largest contributor to good causes in the world.”

The Human Quest illustrates the link between research, politics, and how we live our lives,” said Kjellstrom Matseke.

The book takes a sweeping scope, showing the impact of palm oil plantations in Malaysia, and consumer waste in Sweden. It includes thought-provoking diagrams of the nesting of human economics within the natural world, and it makes a compelling case that current development trajectories will lead to a much impoverished planet.

The Human Quest is also full of solutions, and lays out specific targets for agriculture, water use, energy, climate change, and other key areas. As the authors write, “Preserving natural beauty is more than a moral imperative; it is also a strategic investment in our own resilience and prosperity.”

The Human Quest from Mattias Klum Tierra Grande Films on Vimeo.


Brian Clark Howard is on location at Rio+20. Follow updates here.

Howard is an Environment Writer and Editor at National Geographic News. He previously served as an editor for TheDailyGreen.com and E/The Environmental Magazine, and has written for TheAtlantic.com, FastCompany.com, PopularMechanics.com, Yahoo!, MSN, Miller-McCune and elsewhere. He is the co-author of six books, including Geothermal HVACGreen Lighting and Build Your Own Small Wind Power System.


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