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Distance determines the perception we have of an object.

In my attempt to improve my perception of the world, of my species in this world, and of myself, I aim to take the view from the distance. Putting myself as an alien into a spaceship approaching Earth, here is what I perceive:

This amazing planet is home to a complex viable web of life, and one very particular species, Homo sapiens (or humans), is embedded in, and part, of the Earth's life-support system (ELSS). The virulent activities of this species over recent centuries have greatly increased the flows of materials and energy from the ELSS to human communities and back into the ELSS. New flows have been created and fundamentally change the planetary physiology. As a result, Home sapiens has greatly degraded the ELSS and is on a path to an undesirable future. In fact, the increasing syndrome of modern global change is now threatening the planetary health of the ELSS.

The available evidence shows that there is a massive degradation of the ELSS in progress from local to global scales and it is expected that this degradation will accelerated under continuing modern global change. This degradation is caused by a global human population expanding in numbers, economic activities and land use. The welfare of all life on earth, including humans, depends on a healthy ELSS. Safeguarding the viability of Earth should be, and for a thriving humanity must be, at the center of all activities of Homo sapiens.

The degradation of the ELSS has created a new class of risks, a class some humans denote as Anthropocene Risks, and most of these risks are global catastrophic risks (GCRs). Knowledge of these risks is well established. However, many of the humans ignore the knowledge and continue down a path to global collapse for apparent short-term benefits, not seeing that these benefits only server a very few of them. These few have established a system of governance that is comparable to a global beehive, with a few oligarchs in the center and a large enslaved body of workers serving their greed for more wealth. Rescue can only come if the workers free themselves and break up the global beehive.

Based on Hamm (2010) and Hamm (2014).

My life in Atmospheric CO2

  • 312 ppm: Birth
  • 320 ppm: Started as Carpenter
  • 331 ppm: Started at university
  • 338 ppm: Diploma
  • 350 ppm: PhD
  • 373 ppm: Married
  • 395 ppm: Started current job
  • 415 ppm: Today (May 2019)

My “age” in CO2 increase: 102 PPM.
Increase over the last 20,000 before industrialization: 120 PPM.
The increase in my life-time was 300 times faster than on average during the pre-industrial 20,000 years.


My column “On the Edge” is published in ApogeoSpatial. Latest column 22: Changing Global Risk perception — Learning what is needed to increase community resilience from from the "stress test" pandemic

Plag, H.-P., 2020. Modern Climate Change: A Symptom of a Single-Species, high energy pulse. In Miller, D. E., Egglestone, B. (eds.): Moral Theory and Climate Change: Ethical Perspectives on a Warming Planet. Taylor and Francis/Routledge, 2020, pages 6-34.

Plag, H.-P., Jules-Plag, S-A., 2019. A Transformative Concept: From Data Being Passive Objects to Data Being Active Subjects. Data, 4(4), DOI: 10.3390/data4040135.

Plag, H.-P., Jules-Plag, S., 2019. A Goal-Based Approach to the Identification of Essential Transformation Variables in Support of the Implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. International Journal of Digital Earth, DOI: 10.1080/17538947.2018.1561761.

Smail, E. A., DiGiacomo, P., Seeyave, S., Djavidnia, S., Celliers, L., Le Traon, P.-Y., Gault, J., Escobar-Briones, E., Plag, H.-P., Pequignet, A.-C., Bajona, L., Zhang, L., Pearlman, J., Steven, A., Hodge, J., Racault, M.-F., Storlazzi, C., Skirving, W., Hoeke, R., Marra, J., Muller-Karger, F., Cripe, D., Takaki, D., 2019. An introduction to the Oceans and Society: Blue Planet Initiative. Journal of Operational Oceanography, DOI: 10.1080/1755876X.2019.1634959.

Plag, H.-P., Jules-Plag, S.-A., 2017. An economy for humanity: Transition to an economy for a thriving humanity and planetary future. ApoGeoSpatial, 32(2), Spring 2017, 30-35.

Plag, H.-P., Jules-Plag, S., 2013. Sea-Level Rise and Coastal Ecosystems. In Pielke Sr., R. A., Seastedt, T., Suding, K. (eds.): Vulnerability of Ecosystems to Climate, Volume 4 of: Climate Vulnerability: Understanding and Addressing Threats to Essential Resources, 163-184, Elsevier.

Plag, H.-P., Jules-Plag, S., 2013. Sea-Level Rise and Health. In Pielke Sr., R. A., Adegoke, J., Wright, C. (eds.): Vulnerability of Human Health to Climate. Volume 1 of: Climate Vulnerability: Understanding and Addressing Threats to Essential Resources, 39-47, Elsevier.

Plag, H.-P., Rizos, C., Rothacher, M., Neilan, R., 2010: The Global Geodetic Observing System (GGOS): Detecting the Fingerprints of Global Change in Geodetic Quantities. In Chuvieco, E., Li, J., and Yang, X. (eds): Advances in Earth Observation of Global Change, Springer Verlag, Berlin, 125-143.

Plag, H.-P. & Pearlman, M., eds., 2009. Global Geodetic Observing System: Meeting the Requirements of a Global Society on a Changing Planet in 2020, Springer Berlin, 332 pages.


Plag, H.-P., 2020. Can the Economy in Modern Society Work Without Polluting the Environment with our Growing Waste? Lecture at the Institute for Learning in Retirement, August 20, 2020, pdf.

Plag, H.-P., 2020. Modern Climate Change: A Symptom of a Human-Caused High-Energy Pulse. (Virtual) Lecture Series at the Christ and St. Luke's Episcopal Church, Norfolk. Part 1, May 3, 2020: The Baseline, Part 2, May 10, 2020: The Syndrome and Diagnosis, Part 3, May 17, 2020: The Prognosis and Therapy.

Hill, E., Zajchowski, C., Plag, H.-P., Lobova, T., DeSocio, A., 2020. Assessing High-Impact Practices: The Role of Triple Loop Learning in Fostering Future Conservation Leaders. Poster presented at the Undergraduate Research Symposum, Feb. 8, 2020, Old Dominion University, Norfolk, Va.

Hill, E., Zajchowski, C., Plag, H.-P., Lobova, T., 2020: Assessing High-Impact Practices: The Role of Tripple-Loop Learning in Fostering Future Conservation Leaders. Abstract published in Journal of Outdoor Recreation, Education & Leadership, Vol. 12, No. 2, pp. 258–260, https://doi.org/10.18666/JOREL-2020-V12-I2-9834.

Plag, H.-P., 2020. Modern Climate Change: A Result and Determinant of Global Order. Invited presentation at the meeting of the World Affairs Council for Greater Hampton Roads, January 11, 2020, Virginia Beach (pptx).

Plag, H.-P., 2019: Understanding and Adapting to Modern Climate Change and Sea Level Rise. Invited keynote, Mid Atlantic Biosolids Association 2019 Summer Symposium, July 17-18, 2019, Iselin, New Jersey (pptx)

Plag, H.-P., 2019: The United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Lecture at the Institute for Learning in Retirement, Virginia Beach, January 17, 2019 (pptx).

Plag, H.-P., 2018. Plastics: A rapidly growing global challenge for Earth's life-support system and humanity. Presentation at the workshop held in Brest, France, on November 26-27, 2018 (pdf).

Plag, H.-P., 2018. Will the Global population Have Enough Water to Sustain Itself? Presentation at the workshop on “Grand Challenges in Geodesy”, East Lansing, November 8-9, 2018 (pdf).

Plag, H.-P., 2018. Modern Climate Change: A Symptom of Humanity's Evolution into a Growth-Addicted Industrialized Civilization. Lecture at the Institute for Learning in Retirement, Virginia Beach on October 18, 2018 (pptx).

Plag, H.-P., 2018. Gaps in Ocean-Related Knowledge, Products, and Observations. Presentation at the workshop on “Implementing and Monitoring the Sustainable Development Goals in the Caribbean: The Role of the Ocean” on January 16-18, 2018, St. Vincent and the Grenadines (pdf).


Story of Life

The autumn leave that is about to fall off the branch,
The moment that captures the story of life,
The remnants of the past beauty,
The story of a full summer written on the colorfull leave
The decay that is the emerging future.

The human whose life is slowly expiring,
The moment that captures the story of life,
The beauty of the past still shining through,
The signs of a full life written on the aging body,
The death that is the emerging future.

The moment of accepting the story of life.


Jem Bendell in his excellent essay “The Collapse Of Ideology And The End Of Escape” discusses the ideology of e.s.c.a.p.e that is in all of us, deeply engrained in our (western) society. I think, we need to replace this ideology by an ideology of r.e.s.c.u.e.

  • Responsibility: instead of being entitled to have more than we need, we are responsible for the consequences of our actions. Enbedded in the earth's life-support system (ELSS), and changing it with each of our actions, the consequences are many, and as the most successful and powerful species that we have become, we need to exercise self-limitation in our action and not do all we can but rather make a choice to do what is needed and what safeguards the ELSS. Living our responsibilities can bring us to a better future.
  • Equality: The ELSS is maintains, and is, a complex web of life, and in it we all are equally important and we all have equal rights. We are not an exceptional species, just a bit more evolved than some others. Within humanity, we also are all equal, no matter what hair color, eye color, skin color, gender, or cultural background. Seeing the beauty in the diversity of human beings and enjoying the equality of all of us will bring us to a richer and peaceful future.
  • Stewardship: Being exceptional in the sense of having capabilties no other species on Earth has comes with responsibility. Being able to alter the ELSS fundamentally puts us inhernetly in the role of the steward. We can do a poor job as stewards, but we cannot reject this role: we are the stewards of the planet. We better accept this and live up to it, to ensure the welfare of all of us.
  • Community: The individual is little without a community around. Humans depend on the community: I am because of you. Embedded in a community that is embedded in the ELSS, autonomy is an illusion. Our own indivudual welfare depends on the community around us.
  • Unity: There is only one life-support system and we are an unseparable part of this. Consciousness connects us with the web of life around us and enjoying the unity with the web of life provides for a rewarding future.
  • Education: Education is the door to a better future. Helping our young people to learn about life, to understand the ELSS and the web of life, to reflect on the meaning of life, to see the beauty of life provides a foundation for a better tomorrow. Without education, there is no better tomorrow.

The Gesturing Towards Decolonial Futures collective in a recent article also proposed an alternative to E.S.C.A.P.E.:

“In response to ESCAPE, we have created a provisional list of dispositions that might orient us away from harms reproduced through ESCAPE, and toward deepened responsibility for our shared existence on a finite planet, across species and across generations. We called it “COMPOST”:

  • Capacity for holding space: for painful and difficult things without feeling irritated, overwhelmed, immobilized or wanting to be coddled or rescued.
  • Owning up to one’s complicity and implication in harm: the harms of violence and unsustainability required to create and maintain “the world as we know it” with the pleasures, certainties and securities that we enjoy.
  • Maturity: to face and work on individual and collective “shit”, rather than denying or dumping it onto others, or spreading it around.
  • Pause of narcissistic, hedonistic and “fixing” compulsions: in order to identify, interrupt and dis-invest from harmful desires, entitlements, projections, fantasies and idealizations.
  • Othering our self-images and self-narratives: in order to encounter the “self beyond the self”, including the beautiful, the ugly, the broken and the fucked up in everything/everyone.
  • Stamina and sobriety to show up differently: to do what is needed rather than what is pleasurable, easy, comfortable, consumable and/or convenient.
  • Turning towards unlimited responsibility: with humility, compassion, serenity, openness, solidarity, mutuality and without investments in purity, protagonism, progress and popularity.”


Jem Bendell's essay “The Collapse Of Ideology And The End Of Escape” ...

A message for us: Opening Video of the 2014 Climate Conference ...

Zadie Smith on Deana Lawson in The New Yorker ...

Edgar Allan Poe's Eureka ...


2019, Brest, France: Marine Debris Indicators: What’s Next?: This workshop further developed the road map for monitoring ocean plastics and other marine debris. Read the Workshop Summary Report or visit the Workshop Page ...

2018, Brest, France: Technologies for Observing and Monitoring Plastics in the Oceans: The workshop reviewed the observation needs and assessed the state of observation techniques for the detection and quantification of plastics in the ocean. Read more ...

Supporting The British Virgin Island in Hurricane Recovery: During the workshop on “Implementing and Monitoring the SDGs in the Caribbean: The Role of the Ocean”, which was organized as part of a NASA grant to ODU in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines in January 2018, a workshop delegation was invited by Hon. Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines to participate in the handing over of a first of 3,000 soursop trees the government of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines is providing to the British Virgin Island in support of hurricane recovery. Read the Inside ODU article or visit the Workshop Page...

Derek Clarke, Hans-Peter Plag and Frederik Scholtz during a review of the geodetic program at HartRAO, the Radio-Astronomy Observatory at Hartebeesthoek, South Africa on June 24, 2016 at the National Research Foundation of South Africa. The review report is available here, and the response of the NRF management can be accessed here.