Monday, 29 November 2010

The Sustainable Revolution at a Tipping Point

We will look back from the future and identify 2010 as the year when the Sustainable Revolution began. The group of us who are interested in sustainability, and debate what it means, is much larger than five years ago. That is a start but hardly a revolution. There are two incidents in 2010 that will mark 2010 as special; one big and one small.

The big change is the euro crisis. Anyone who thinks the crisis has been solved is deluded. There will be change, and like a revolution it will not be easy to control. Any one of the highly indebted southern European countries could be the first to cave into market pressure and be forced to default on its sovereign debt. In such circumstances this would surely mean also leaving the euro. The change could be more controlled, and much more dramatic, such as Germany deciding to pull out of the euro project.

What has this to do with sustainability? This is the start of understanding that deep rooted sustainability is about fundamental change to society and the economy. Before the financial crisis I wrote about the globalised financial system with the words that ‘more connections bring greater resilience and reduce the chances of collapse, but if collapse does come, there will be no hiding from the consequences.’ More recently, before the euro crisis, I speculated that ‘one or more members will explore the possibility of exit to regain greater financial control.’ These thoughts are not reaction to crisis but come from a carefully considered analysis of the economics of stable sustainable societies.

The euro crisis could be the start of reconfiguring global finance to build a more resilient global economy. This is the big change and a crucial aspect of the Sustainable Revolution.

The small change is David Cameron’s instruction to the Office for National Statistics to devise a measure of quality of life. This does not seem like an important issue, but it is a stage on the journey towards a sustainable society. We must bring ecosystem integrity on to the balance sheet and devise appropriate measures for society that include health and happiness. The Sustainable Revolution will make the old measures of development based on pure economic measures, such as GDP, obsolescent.

What does the Sustainable Revolution mean for policy makers, business and the general public?

Sustainability can be seen in many different ways. For some people it is imperative that we reduce the impact we are having on the environment. Other people see the marketing possibilities or the need to protect and enhancing the reputation of business. For yet others it is all about government regulations. All of these are true but more than anything else sustainability has to be at the core of every important decision taken.

We must take off the blindfold of how society operates now, to see the world as it should be, then look for the opportunities to make the transition. The Sustainable Revolution is finally upon us.

Monday, 22 November 2010

Record Breaking Ambition

South Africa is in the news for a record team effort in stone clearance of the mudflats at Hakskeen Pan. A track 20 km long and 1 km wide has to be cleared of stones ready for an attempt on the world land speed record in 2012.

Richard Noble and his driver Andy Green already hold the world land speed record of 763mph set in the Thrust SSC in 1997. They now plan to put the record out of reach by breaking the 1,000 mph barrier. This exceeds even the official air speed record at low altitude (no longer competed for). The project is being run on a shoe-string budget of approximately equivalent to three week’s expenditure by an F1 racing team. Why put so much effort into, and take so much risk, to break a record you already hold?

This project is both ludicrous and inspiring. If we can do this we can do almost anything. Making houses energy efficient, de-carbonising the energy supply and making transportation sustainable, are easy tasks in comparison. The Bloodhound, as the ‘car’ is called, is not to be admired for its fuel efficiency or miles-per-gallon. It is to be admired as a statement of human ambition, innovation and drive. We need more of this...

Monday, 8 November 2010

Biodiversity – The Mouse in the Corner

Two weeks ago I wrote about biodiversity being the ‘Elephant in the Room’ and hoped that the Nagoya Biodiversity Summit might signal the start of ‘discussion of real-world solutions to the world’s most pressing problems.’ I hoped for too much. The world is regarding the vital issue of biodiversity loss as if it was only a mouse in the corner –easily trapped and killed at a time our choosing.

The Biodiversity summit has come and gone. A new ten year strategic plan has been agreed. This appears to be action. It is worth looking back on the previous decade to see the progress made against the targets agreed at the Convention on Biological Diversity’s COP6 in The Hague, Netherlands in 2002. The Parties responded by adopting the 2010 target of significantly slowing biodiversity loss by the end of the decade. The conference President and Netherlands State Secretary of Agriculture, Nature Management and Fisheries Geke Faber stated that it was necessary to move from policy development and dialogue to action. How have we succeeded eight years later?

On 1 November 2010 Mr Ahmaed Djoghlaf, the Executive Secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity was back at the Hague at the Conference on Agriculture, Food Security and Climate Change. His words should have sent shocks waves around the world. He reported:

During this 2010 International Year of Biodiversity, the news is not good. In May the third edition of Global Biodiversity Outlook showed that species worldwide continue to disappear at up to 1,000 times the natural background rate of extinction. The report further warns that without concerted action massive further loss of biodiversity is projected to occur before the end of the century and that ecosystems are approaching tipping points beyond which they will be irreversibly degraded, with dire consequences for human wellbeing.

The talking continues. The talk of moving to action, is just talk.