Friday, December 28, 2012

World in Transition, a Great Transformation

Looking at climate change and sustainability challenges it's clear that individual action, our actions, are necessary. However we struggle when faced by scale and speed - a fast and revolutionary global shift is needed. How can any one person make a difference?

The German Advisory Council on Global Change puts individuals at the heart of a radical new 'business basis'.  They say:
"individual actors can play a far larger role in the transformation of social (sub-)systems than the one that has been accorded to them for quite some time"
The council, a scientific advisory body to the German government, in its beautifully written 400+ page report (World in Transition: A Social Contract for Sustainability) rest the prospect of a 'Great Transformation' on 4 pillars:
  1. knowledge (evidence) based, 
  2. individual actors and change agents, 
  3. a proactive state (governments) and, 
  4. establishment of effective global governance. 
We've seen unsustainable societies - such as the USSR, communist eastern Europe, Libya and Egypt -fall in recent times. Today's unsustainable global carbon society could be similar but we have to actively plan for our future.

The council compares our the change we'll undergo to only two in human history - the neolithic (farming)  and the industrial revolutions. The difference is it requires consious guidance rather than the evolutionary change seen during these previous revolutions.
"This ‘Great Transformation’, then, is by no means an automatism. It very much depends on ‘organising the unplannable’ if it is to succeed within the available tight timeframe. This is unique in history, as the ‘world’s great transformations’ of the past were the result of gradual evolutionary change.
And the Council's take home line? It "has reached the ultimate conviction that the great transformation into a low-carbon society is not just necessary, but really feasible."

Monday, December 3, 2012

More Love, Less Loss

We struggle with the word biodiversity. While deeply insightful and meaningful it's a whole system, a new word, a multifaceted problem and anything but 'cute and cuddly'.

So it's highly refreshing to see Futerra take up the challenge of communicating this and generating positive action:
Imagine the incredible complexity that makes up life on earth, bottled up for mass appeal. What if the word ‘biodiversity’ represented not just a set of scientific concepts, but emotions of awe and wonder? Could biodiversity communications then trigger worldwide action to protect it?

We believe so. We’ve explored the psychological evidence to find out what actually drives people to conserve nature. We’ve taken a critical look at today’s biodiversity messages to see whether they align with the emotions of the people they are aimed at. And we’ve combined these with the principles of branding, not simply logos and slogans, but a coherent set of values and promises which will trigger action. The results are both provocative and exciting. They challenge us to deliver a new nature message.
Branding Biodiversity argues we'll take action out of love. More Love, Less Loss. Back this up with the reasons for action ($s) and there's a story for change.

There's a lot that back this up such as Fear Won't do It, the gap between knowledge and action and Futerra's earlier Climate Change work.

Monday, October 22, 2012

A transformational society

This blog has been very quiet while I've been reaching into the evidence. In my work at the Environment Institute, University of Adelaide, there are an array of outstanding scientists. The evidence produced by this work is transformational. However, at the same time we simply - individually and collectively - do not act in our own self interest or on evidence. That is don't act on this evidence at anything like the rate that would make rational sense.

There are many obvious environment examples from climate change to species survival but, money is often cited as the answer for why such action does not occur. This is something of a paradox as we will also ignore risk free financial returns that is actions we can take that will make us a profit. These are often profits that also create positive environmental outcomes.

This paradox challenges the idea of humans acting "rationally", to maximise profit. New economics writer Eric Beinhocker recently summarised this succinctly. He "does not accept the orthodox theory that has dominated economics for the past several decades that humans are perfectly rational, markets are perfectly efficient, institutions are optimally designed and economies are self-correcting equilibrium systems that invariably find a state that maximises social welfare. Social scientists working in the new economics tradition argue that this theory has failed empirically on many points and that the 2008 financial crisis is only the latest and most obvious example."

If you accept that humans often don't act in a rational financial manner it's then a small step to also challenge the idea that we're not acting on environmental evidence simply because of the cost. And to start looking for a decent map of what creates effective action from evidence.

Effective action from evidence, and the lack of it, is the focus of the next few blog posts.

Image: Earth from above by Yann Arthus-Bertrand

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Biodiversity to slow Climate Change

Photo by ratschan - Hövsgöl Shore West
Climate Change will have a significant impact on many of the world's plants and animals. While we intuitively think that the reverse is true, that is vegetation may slow the impacts of such change (in addition to its ability to sequester carbon), this World Bank report contains a great case study.

Hövsgöl National Park contains the ancient Lake Hövsgöl - known as “the blue pearl of Mongolia”. It is about 200 km southwest of Lake Baikal, in mountainous northern with long -40° winters. However the forest edge is retreating impacted by uncontrolled grazing by domestic animals - sheep, goats, and cattle - on the mountain slopes around the lake and the gathering of wood for fuel.

The loss of forest exposes the ground to sunlight and removes different plant covers that were insulating the permafrost. Preserving forest will slow the rate of permafrost melt and help to protect Mongolia’s water resources, biodiversity, and natural ecosystems.

The World Bank points out such lessons are relevant across Eastern Europe, Russia and the northern China mountains. Protecting these resources is not just for species but provides significant economic benefits.

Photo: ratschan - Hövsgöl West Shore. Read more in the report (pdf) on page 12.