Brisbane 2011: Living with Floods and Dancing with Dugongs: Part 13- Conclusion

Bill Dennison ·
24 February 2012
Queensland Floods | 

I want to wrap up with a little bit of vision towards the future and a ray of hope and optimism. And that comes from an analysis I did of the history of paradigm shifts that have occurred in societies starting in the 1500's.

Paradigm shifts
Paradigm shift can lead to a sustainability revolution

There is a great book, "Human accomplishment: the pursuit of excellence in the arts and sciences, 800 B.C. to 1950", by Charles Murray that analyzes citation classics for arts and sciences and tracks how important these impacts were. The Copernican revolution, as we call it, was when Nicolaus Copernicus, a Polish astronomer, established that the earth moved around the sun, instead of the sun moving around the earth. So the revolution wasn’t people in the streets and guns, it was about how people viewed their place in the universe. He published it in 1543 and promptly died, so he didn’t suffer any repercussions. However Galileo, a great astronomer who invented the telescope, very publicly, did a very important science demonstration. He took two cannon balls of slightly different sizes and he dropped them at the same time. The point was that they landed at the same time. He said, “Where can I drop these, I need to have a public building that is kind of leaning so I can drop them straight and they won't hit the side of the building? The Leaning Tower of Pisa.” So he did this very public demonstration. He espoused Copernicus and got thrown in jail because the Catholic Church didn’t believe in it and he was under house arrest. But it transformed the whole idea of the heavenly bodies. Kepler, the astronomer who looked at the orbits of the planets and showed that they were elliptical, not oval. Newton, with the theory of thermodynamics, and the revolution he led was that there are natural laws that exist throughout the world. Linnaeus took all the wild and wonderful plants and animals that the explorers were bringing back to Europe at the time, and thought of a way to categorize them that we still use today (the Linnaean system of genus and species). Lavoisier, the chemist who invented the field of chemistry and debunked the phlogiston theory and showed that oxygen was the thing that combusted. Lyell, the geologist who debunked the biblical six-thousand-year age of the earth and set up his very famous student, Charles Darwin on the trajectory of the theory of natural selection--a best seller in his day. Einstein with relativity, leading to the atomic revolution with nuclear power and the atomic weapons. Watson and Crick in 1953 discovering the structure of DNA leading to our biomedical revolution and biotech revolution. Each of these dead white men are mostly Europeans and that is because of where the science was, where the action was, that led to a quiet revolution, and they did it because society needed to know something. Society needed to know where we were, and where we come from, and what we’re made out of, fundamental questions. The fundamental question today is sustainability. We need to know how we can accommodate these billions of people on this planet, and create a revolution in sustainability. So I hope that a younger, non-white, non-male person can take the reigns to lead this sustainability revolution.

I conclude by saying that our Queensland floods are our societal learning moment that we are trying to capture. There are global lessons about flood responses that we are  trying to look to from around the world. We can develop conservation icons and charismatic ecosystems, we can dance with dugongs, we can use sustainability models for the future that transcend any of the individual things that we're doing, and I’d like to acknowledge a tremendous set of friends and colleagues that I have had the privilege of working with. Mark Pascoe and Barry Ball from the International WaterCentre; Paul Greenfield and Eva Abal from the University of Queensland; Kate Moore, the science communicator that I dragged around the country, who helped me on this presentation; and my good friend Peter Oliver who is a great communicator; and of course my colleagues back home that I have abandoned and I will be returning to next week. So, thanks very much.

This blog post was created from a presentation by Bill Dennison, delivered at the historic Customs House in Brisbane, Australia on 8 July, 2011 (full powerpoint presentation can be accessed on IAN Press.

About the author

Bill Dennison

Dr. Bill Dennison is a Professor of Marine Science and Vice President for Science Application at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science (UMCES). Dr. Dennison’s primary mission within UMCES is to coordinate the Integration and Application Network.

Next Post > Brisbane 2011: Living with Floods and Dancing with Dugongs: Part 12- Charismatic Environmental Initiatives

Post a comment