2016 - 2017 THEME: Shifting Landscapes: Environments, Perceptions, Forces, Definitions, and Emotions

The Earth is a dynamic system of abiotic and biotic components, conceived and set in motion more than four billion years ago. Since then, the interplay of physical, chemical and for at least 3.5 billion years, biological forces have created, changed, and otherwise sculpted the planet as a series of shifting landscapes - never static, impossible to duplicate exactly, and never to reappear except in the crudest sense, once gone through historical narratives, scientific records, and various artistic expressions.

The Earth’s shifting landscapes transcend the physical and the biological to include the perceptual, intellectual, and the emotional. Disturbances, both natural and anthropogenic, shape the changing landscapes of the past, present, and future, and the human response has been complex.  Management policies as well as cultural, scientific, and educational systems are geared towards stable, largely invariant physical and social environments.  Yet, has there ever been environmental, perceptual or cultural stability? The evolution of knowledge systems and doctrines always creates stress and can often result in significant societal and psychological unrest. The relative inability of humans to adapt to this is quite surprising.  More than 160,000 years ago, changing environmental conditions recast the landscape and served as the chief reason anatomically modern humans exited Africa for Europe and beyond. Although people have adapted to seasonally cyclical conditions, and have inhabited extreme environments from the artic to deserts to moist tropics, we find that societies and governments are paralyzed by the current trends of climate change.

Shifting landscapes of this planet are the norm.  The world, its people and their interactions have never remained stable because change is embedded in the fabric of the Earth’s system itself.  This Think Tank will focus upon the nature of shifting landscapes.  We will explore the relationship of environmental change, regardless of cause, to human based systems through perception, emotion and scientific or cultural expression.  How do we deal with shifting topographies when we are tied emotionally to past expressions of landscape? How does the invention of new technologies that allow us to see other worlds in space alter the way we see our own world? The vast proliferation of virtual images - imaginary, surrealist, utopian and dystopian landscapes, many computer generated, or painted, on album covers, in advertising, and in the most commonplace venues - has changed the way we look at such imagery and the way we react to it. How has this impacted the way we view past and present representations of our own world or how we create new representations in art? What does landscape mean now with the constantly shifting virtual world we find ourselves immersed in? How do we develop scientific, cultural and artistic frameworks to embrace change? How can we re-express policy and scientific and educational practices to embed resiliency into biological and human systems alike? How can forging a better understanding of shifting landscapes assist us in achieving a future that incorporates change into frameworks for managing natural and cultural resources?