Anthropogenics: a science of adaptive behaviour?


Niels Roling, Wageningen University

It is 90% certain that climate change is anthropogenic. That is now official. Can we cut our coat according to our cloth? Niels Röling probes the merits of anthropogenics as a science for understanding and changing the human causes of our predicament.


For those who come from an Enlightenment tradition and believe in the human ability to develop the knowledge required to make the world a better place, the qualification of humans as a major force of nature raises interesting questions: can we do something about ourselves? What are humans capable of in this regard? Can the institutional tools we have created to serve wealth creation, such as the global market, be adapted to serve sustainable development? Is the intentionality that drives the consumer economy capable of adaptive behaviour? Does climate change imply an end to the expansion of preferences through exposure to the good life and if so, by what other principles for ‘progress’ can we develop? Can humans muster the collective intelligence and shape the global institutions for a form of governance that leaves (undiscounted) opportunities for subsequent generations? Can democratic systems deal with anthropogenic climate change or will centralised hierarchical power reclaim lost ground as it did after 9/11? How much can be achieved by appealing to individual behaviour change, and what is the role of government and collective action? (New Scientist 8 December 2007:53). These would be some of the research questions for anthropogenics.

About the speaker
Niels Röling (1937) obtained his MSc in Rural Sociology with a minor in Agricultural Economics at Wageningen University in the Netherlands, and his PhD at Michigan State University in the US. His supervisor was Everett Rogers of Diffusion of Innovations fame. After a number of years in East Africa, in 1973 Röling became a staff member of the Department of Extension Studies (now Communication and Innovation Studies) at Wageningen University. He retired from it in 2002. In this capacity, he held a number of different jobs, such as team leader of a project called ‘The Small Farmer and Development Cooperation’, a substantial number of international consultancies (including a number involving IPM Farmer Field Schools), memberships of boards, etc. He has (co-) supervised some 70 PhD students. His perspective on innovation has shifted from diffusion, to the impact of technical change on equity, to an Agricultural Knowledge and Information System (AKIS) perspective which considered innovation the emergent property of a system comprising multiple stakeholders (book in 1988 called ‘Extension Science’, Cambridge UP). Soon he regretted this book and moved to a soft systems and constructivist perspective (edited volume in 1998 called ‘Facilitating Sustainable Agriculture’, Cambridge UP). He is in the process of regretting this book also. At present Röling’s main pre-occupations (in terms of work) are (1) institutional conditions for small farm development in West Africa (he is involved in a Project called Convergence of Sciences: Strengthening Innovation Systems in Benin, Burkina, Ghana and Mali that is currently being considered by DGIS), (2) The International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) for which he is a chapter editor and writer, and (3) Anthropogenics, the study of people as a major force of nature.

Venue: Conference Room, 4th floor, Keizer Karelplein 19

Date: 28 February 2008

Time: 16:00 - 17:30


UNU-MERIT