Earth stewardship: Shaping a sustainable future through interacting policy and norm shifts

Peer Reviewed
4 April 2022

F. Stuart Chapin, Scott Barrett, James Wilen, Brian Walker, Jason F. Shogren, Simon A. Levin, Nils Kautsky, Joern Fischer, Stephen R. Carpenter, Juan-Camilo Cardenas, John M. Anderies, Elke U. Weber, Kathleen Segerson, Marten Scheffer, Carl Folke, Stephen Polasky, Anne-Sophie Crépin, W. Neil Adger, Jeroen van den Bergh, Reinette Biggs, Elena M. Bennett, Aart de Zeeuw

AbstractTransformation toward a sustainable future requires an earth stewardship approach to shift society from its current goal of increasing material wealth to a vision of sustaining built, natural, human, and social capital—equitably distributed across society, within and among nations. Widespread concern about earth’s current trajectory and support for actions that would foster more sustainable pathways suggests potential social tipping points in public demand for an earth stewardship vision. Here, we draw on empirical studies and theory to show that movement toward a stewardship vision can be facilitated by changes in either policy incentives or social norms. Our novel contribution is to point out that both norms and incentives must change and can do so interactively. This can be facilitated through leverage points and complementarities across policy areas, based on values, system design, and agency. Potential catalysts include novel democratic institutions and engagement of non-governmental actors, such as businesses, civic leaders, and social movements as agents for redistribution of power. Because no single intervention will transform the world, a key challenge is to align actions to be synergistic, persistent, and scalable.


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Publication reference
Chapin, F. S., Weber, E. U., Bennett, E. M., Biggs, R., van den Bergh, J., Adger, W. N., Crépin, A.-S., Polasky, S., Folke, C., Scheffer, M., Segerson, K., Anderies, J. M., Barrett, S., Cardenas, J.-C., Carpenter, S. R., Fischer, J., Kautsky, N., Levin, S. A., Shogren, J. F., … de Zeeuw, A. (2022). Earth stewardship: Shaping a sustainable future through interacting policy and norm shifts. Ambio, 51(9), 1907–1920.
Publication | 22 August 2022