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Our Strategic Sustainability Approach to Climate Change
Submitted by Geoff Stack on October 5, 2009 - 9:51pm.
Climate change is real, and it’s a threat to our worldwide society. Based on widespread scientific consensus there is no doubt that:
- The Earth’s temperature is warming due to human industrial activity.
- Our culture and species are in grave danger.
We must take action.
And yet there is no doubt that climate change is only ONE symptom of the larger disease of un-sustainability that we suffer from as a society. While we address climate change, scientific consensus also tells us that to build a sustainable society, we must also simultaneously:
- Increase quality of life by creating service-based economies and maintain a global society where people are able to meet their own basic needs and are not subject to political or economic abuses.
- Manage the flows of natural and man-made materials in a way that eliminates gradual increases of their waste-residues in natural systems.
- Eliminate our overharvesting and gradual physical destruction of natural systems.
We have a much better chance to make it through the climate crisis if we simultaneously work on the interconnected problems of un-sustainability in a strategic and step-by-step way.
At first, this approach may sound too complex, and therefore counter-intuitive. But in our work in helping all kinds of organisations move strategically towards sustainability, we have found over and over again that this whole-systems approach helps us deal with this complexity in a more manageable way.
Beginning our planning efforts with the whole system in mind provides us with the best chance we have of moving towards meaningful and lasting success because this approach helps us avoid “solving one problem” in a way that might cause another. When we work with all parts of the system at once, we can deal with many issues simultaneously and not just react to the current crisis.
Because of the interdependence between species in ecosystems, and between society and the ecosystems, and between people and institutions in society, we must deal with the whole of the problem in a comprehensive and not a piecemeal fashion. If we focus solely on the single issue of reducing the release of greenhouse gasses, we run the risk of missing not only other challenges, but also opportunities for improving the quality of life for those within our communities - the ultimate goal of our work. If we only focus on transportation and industrial efficiency and energy generation, we may lose out on the benefits of taking a larger whole-systems approach. For example, by simultaneously:
- Increasing the integrity and productivity of forests and farmlands, we can promote the absorbance of atmospheric carbon and also increase bio-diversity and food production.
- Improving the quality and magnitude of material flows, we are able to provide more human utility per resource throughput, avoid the release of powerful greenhouse gasses and also create healthier working conditions.
- By recapturing, recycling and reusing the existing metals and mined materials that we already have available to us, we can reduce the need to burn carbon to dig up new resources at the same time as we can save financial resources.
- Focusing on how to help people more fully meet their human needs, we can reduce the amount of stuff we consume, the carbon footprint of that stuff and also help individuals lead more fulfilling lives - sustainably.
- Focusing on the services to people in the context of their needs, in a global context, rather than on the commodities as we see them today we can promote innovation and improve the quality of life around the globe.
The point is that we will not simply reap the rewards of these added potentials if we do not start by addressing the interconnections of the system.
Those who are working to address climate change cannot stop their efforts – the tcktcktck campaign is a brilliant example of mass mobilisation towards the climate talks in Copenhagen - which we desperately need. And yet we urge businesses, communities, NGOs and all others working in various fields to take the time to place their work within the context of a whole-systems approach and work to discover those connections to other people and issues that might help to advance their work. Above all we need these efforts to grasp the positive side of sustainable development. It’s not just about avoiding catastrophes and solving problems – it’s about building a better, fairer world.
Taking a strategic sustainability approach to any issue will reveal new resources, partnerships, and insights that were not previously available and help us address the challenges that we are all facing together.